The world behind the scenes in Montreal is wondrous.
It remixes technology, art, business, careers, French and English, but most of all an avant-garde creative force that continues to shake the planet.
I thought it time to take an account inspired by what the book What the Doormouse Said did for the 60’s countercultural dawning of the computer age.
What exactly is software? Moreover, what is 3D software? What is compositing? And what (OMG) is 3D projection mapping?
When I came aboard SoftImage had already happened. So had discreet logic.
Richarde had had the Jurassic Park dinosaurs on his Silicon Graphics workstation way before most of the world had heard about chaos theory.
And my first assignment as this very nascent technical writer was to document how to import models from three high-end packages—LightWave, 3ds Max, and Maya, into their new creative tool built to bring 3D interactivity to the web: something more than 20 years later which has still not been popularized.
In this accelerated learning curve whereby I was working with the former animation architecture team of the aforementioned SoftImage, I would quickly learn about, and have to then myself explain, how to do particle animation, inverse kinematics and skinning (for character animation), 3D lighting and rendering, combined with maybe nowhere else in the world at the time: game-type interactivity, and also all to be delivered over the web; the game truly was on.
In 3D graphics you have spheres, and cubes, and tauruses, you can bend them and combine them, you can map images onto them, you can build whole worlds out of them, and it was a religion then it is a religion now.
For a moment 3D was synonymous with a division of the makers of AutoCAD (discreetly) nestled in the Old Port of Montreal called Autodesk: Media & Entertainment.
The 3D world was consolidated there at 10 Duke when Autodesk put the final nail in the coffin and bought SoftImage, after buying up Toronto’s Alias Wavefront makers of Maya, after much earlier buying Kinetix’s 3ds max. Lightwave was basically not used anymore, so development for all the major very complex 3D packages were now housed there in Old Montreal.
Counterintuitively, I was not hired as a technical writer on the 3D side at Autodesk, but on their compositing team to work on the famed products Flame and Smoke and this brings us to discreet logic.
The name does say a lot: discreet logic. This once king of Hollywood post-production was according to what I know just a gleam in the eye of former SoftImage marketing executive name Richard Szalwinski who would ride it to, if temporary, get a lock on high-end special effects studio work worldwide.
The advanced systems once known by their acronym IFF-FS (Inferno, Flame, Flint, Smoke etc.) are essentially a crossbreed between a 3D modelling software like 3ds Max and SoftImage—in that they work in full 3D space—with the more traditional nonlinear film and video systems like those from Avid and Apple’s Final Cut Pro.
All of this real time creative compositing work is powered by very expensive semi-custom hardware including disk arrays and, in some cases, supercomputers like those put into production for a related product called Incinerator used for colour correction in conjunction with a product developed in Budapest (and also since bought), called Lustre.
At Autodesk I became a sort of jack of all trades working across their large technical documentation / localization team that numbered once more than 15, now down to only a few. I worked on Flame & Smoke, as I previously introduced on their high-end colour correction solution Lustre, as well as on their pipeline backend product called Backburner rendering output for their 3D products as well as the high-end compositing solutions, and also for Cleaner XL and Cleaner on Mac: at the time the most popular software on the market for web transcoding.
The graphics world in Montreal and globally marches on and a few years would pass before I heard about, and get my moment to work with Moment Factory on a new converged software called X-Agora.
I was hired to translate the documentation for their X-Agora 3D multimedia projection software from English to French.
This company, who worked on the closing show for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, is a big deal in Montreal.
The head of the software I was working on is now the Product Manager for Google Chrome, again, in Montreal.
The latest is that the Google sign has mysterious disappeared from the building that housed their offices on McGill College: where have they gone?
Moment Factory is basically an offshoot of Cirque du Soleil, focusing on the more technical side of live events.
And What’s Left
The 3D and effects, and gaming industries, still thrive in Montreal.
Especially with the video game engines having beach heads in the city, namely Unity and the Unreal Engine.
However, personally with issues such as the climate crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, economic polizarization, etc., it seems quite frivolous and dangerous to be stuck in so-called virtual worlds any longer.