Home > Features > Feature Article : Firm Profile

AFR - Anthony Frausto-Robledo, Editor
KC - Kevin Cahill, CEO
AA - Akiko Ashley, CTO
MB - Michael Boyle, Dir. Tech. Implementation
DI - David Isyomin, Visual Effects Supervisor
MH - Mark Hatlan, Supervising Animator

AFR How did Luminetik get started?

AA It actually started as a collaboration between Kevin, I and two animators in the beginning. Basically Kevin has a background in architecture for the last twenty years and...Mark and Sean are character animators that collaborated with Kevin on some architecture projects. And they saw that there was much more in their architectural skill base so they expanded.

AFR How long ago was that?

AA Three years ago.

AFR Now your background is a little different. Can you talk about that and how you came into Luminetik?

AA I came into Luminetik when I realized that visual effects, animation or even architectural renderings requires someone who understands the technical side of the business.

I ran a technical consulting business both on the Macintosh and PC side for four years. So basically I was able to bring new technology into Luminetik and change the pipeline so we could be more cost effective.

AFR Was your background, in terms of your consulting business, focused on 3D firms?

AA Yes, I had quite a few of those, plus special effects houses and ad agencies. Ad agencies also use 3D software.

AFR Let's shift gears a bit. What types of projects launched the firm three years ago?

AA Well, Kevin was still doing architecture 3D but he was adding, like, his little flair...like having character animators design little characters for his architecture scenes, and he started collaborating with the character animators and using his visual layout skills...and combining the two skills to give realistic looking environments.

AFR So it began with architecture. And you have done some work for a number of architects, including the famous Maya Lin.

AA Let's have Kevin talk about that one.

AFR So what did you do for Maya Lin?

KC The work was related to landscape architecture and it was more for a visualization of lighting design.

I do a lot of renderings in Lightscape. In that case we actually wound up building a physical model as well. They were more hands on. It was the Grand Rapids Michigan Pavilion. That was about two years ago.

She had this idea of taking the midnight sky on the millennium and placing it in the ground, using fiber optics under the ice, so the concept required us to find a software—which we actually used Starry Night—to calculate the star calculation of the sky, put that into ArchiCAD, and then map onto working drawings so that they could actually build it that way.

AFR Wow...

KC Which is a little unusual...(laughter). It was kind of like using a PICT image then tracing it as a vector drawing and turning it into a schematic design to actually construct it.

AFR How well did an architectural education prepare you for your job as a 3D specialist?

KC Well...actually really well. When I was in school—I went to Temple in Philadelphia—we had the first computer design studio, which I think was in 86'.

It was supported by certain teachers and we were doing full blown 3D, animations and lighting, the whole deal.

All of the tools, the same tool set crosses over to 3D animation easily. Animators are much looser than architecture people so you wind up being more detail oriented or more lighting oriented than they are...which is good because the animator people are more organic oriented, and the combination makes a nice fit.

AFR So you graduated from architecture school and began your career as an architect...and then you made this big transition to 3D. What was that transition like for you?

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KC It's been weird because I took a transition and did some 3D renderings and then because of these 3D renderings—which were mostly on the architectural side—I wound up getting design projects working for architects. And then I moved over to the 3D side again and it flip flopped.

KC Not long ago we got a project where an architect said, "give me a 17 story high rise conceptually", because he saw what we could do and also respected our designs....and we came up with something without any opinion from him at all.

AFR That's pretty nice to have that freedom.

KC It is nice, and so we were basically taking a designers raw ideas and putting them into 3D form so they could see them.

AFR With Lumentik, where do you want to go with architectural 3D?

KC We're trying to give architects the ability to have the full blown animated techniques that you can have with film and broadcast. The typical architectural walk-throughs today are typically very low-end compared to the CG effects world. However we could bring them up to the film level, giving them the ability to have real interactive-animated parts of the building and people walking and full blown effects...more than just cardboard cutouts stuck inside a Photoshop montage—which has kind of become the standard now.

AFR Right, kind of bring these otherwise static images to life?

KC Right. Which totally changes...when you move and see this transition over time, or the sun changing or things like that...it totally changes your perception of the space.

AFR What kind of tools will you be using to do that kind of work?

KC We have a pipeline of a bunch of things. On the CAD side we definitely use ArchiCAD, that's are mainstay...which we use on the Macintosh. We have Lightwave 3D on the Mac as well, and we use Lightscape on the PC, which works very well with stuff coming off the Mac.

On the dynamic animation side, what really comes in is Lightwave and Maya. Then we end up compositing effects together in a post situation...

AFR I see...

KC ...which is actually Final Cut now.

AFR So you have moved to Final Cut Pro?

KC Ya, basically it's awesome!

AFR What were you using before for these compositing effects?

KC After Effects and Premier.

KC Which are still good, I know them better than Final Cut, but with Final Cut we just got a Matrox MT Card for the Mac...it's what you can do for a $10,000 system for $1000 now.

AFR That's pretty amazing isn't it?

KC It's awesome! It's a breakout box, you can put it to your DV tapes, put it on your monitor.... It's amazing what you can do with it.

AFR Do you find that more of your architectural clients are interested in that type of dynamic rendering?

KC We were asked about a week ago to do an on-the-Web, rotatable island with all the buildings built on to it, so you can zoom around the island and see this world...but the tools to do that on the Net are just pushing the envelope right now. Just to calculate that stuff before was insane.

That's the kind of stuff that people are starting to ask for. They see this stuff in the films and they automatically assume you can do that on the desktop. So we are trying to meet that need as best as possible, but a lot of it is educating the client about time and budget.

AFR Sure. That makes a lot of sense. Can we talk now about non-architectural 3D. I would like to cover this area in some detail because this is where Luminetik is really going.

KC Sure. Akiko should probably discuss much of this with you as well.

AFR OK. Was there a particular project—beyond the architecture 3D—that really gave you the sense that Luminetik was going to take off?

AA Well...basically I learned a couple of things working at Luminetik. You know when we first started there was only four of us, and with just four people there was very limited work that we could do. But several companies were calling us like Nickelodeon, HBO, Time-Warner, VH1...and they were asking us, you know, to work on projects that we didn't have the personnel to do. So we realized at that time that we either had to grow as a company so we could take on this type of work, or we couldn't do it.

And so, as far as a business plan, it didn't make any sense not to grow because we wanted to be in a financially better area.

AFR Sure. So what did you do?

AA So...what we did is put out an ad and started recruiting and found some of the best animators, modelers, people in architecture, and started interviewing them. And we went through 400 people...and we came out with the top 10 percent.

And once we put together the teams we were also putting together the reels and we were looking at everybody's work. And when we saw that—this database of work—we realized that there was a huge opportunity here in New York City. Because for a long time advertising agencies, film companies, and broadcast people have been going to LA, because they like the LA pipeline. They like the way LA does the work, they like the way LA does the business.

And we wanted to give New York—the East coast—a LA like pipeline. Where they could talk to somebody here who had that type of experience...that type of way of dealing with clients...and also an understanding of the technology, the business and the market.

AFR Isn't New York a growing community of digital specialists?

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Tools for Success
Power Mac G4 733, 450
Power Mac Dual 450
PowerBook G3
PowerBook G4
IBM Intellistation P3
Apple Studio Displays
Panasonic Pro SVHS/VHS Deck
Canon XL-1 & GL-1
Epson 1270, 750 Printer
nVidia Geforce 3 Card
ATI Radeon Card
QuickTime Pro
Final Cut Pro
True Motion Compression
Pro Tools & Peak
Maya 3.0
Lightwave 6.5
Adobe After Effects
Adobe Illustrator
Media Cleaner Pro
MS Office 2001 Mac

Luminetik's view is that you develop the best technology 'pipeline' by using the best tools for the job. In some cases that may involve NT, Unix or the Macintosh.

However, as you will learn in this interview, the heart of Luminetik's 3D pipeline is the Power Macintosh computer. And the firm has a number of them, including the mobile workstation that has caught the PC world's eye of late, the Titanium PowerBook G4.

Primary 3D work is done in ArchiCAD or Lightwave on the Macintosh. For some architecture items Artlantis is used for rendering. More often Lightscape is used for advanced rendering of a number of types.

For animation work Lightwave on the Mac and Maya (currently) on the PC is used. Nearly all post production work and compositing is done on the Macintosh, as is Web development and graphics.

The Firm's Big Wish List:

The firm isn't against the PC per se, but if given the choice, given the apps, the Macintosh would likely replace all their NT equipment. As they explain in the article, technically there are a number of unique advantages for doing 3D animation on the Mac. But raw power and speed is often of a critical nature as well.

Therefore, currently their big wishes are for more powerful graphics cards on the Mac platform (WildCat) and for some NT or Unix apps like Lightscape.

The Firm's Biggest Loves

Final Cut Pro is currently a big hit in this young studio. For a total solution with compositing nothing even comes close...and the app is beautifully crafted, they say.

What they're Looking At

Unix render farms...and a keen eye on Maya for Mac OS X!

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