And what an amazing back room it is at Animusic. The company is currently in preproduction for Animusic 3, and there's even talk of releasing Animusic|studio, their proprietary animation and music sequencing software, to the rest of us. Imagine composing a piece of MIDI music, importing those tracks into Animusic|studio (or sequencing directly in the program), and leaning back in your desk chair to watch as your music magically morphs into fully rendered Animusic animations.
"It's been discussed," Lytle confirms. "But that is still a ways off. There are many ways Animusic|studio could find its way into the hands of users—from simple tools that kids could goof around with to a fully professional tool not unlike what we use here every day to create the Animusic discs. It's a matter of deciding what makes sense for the company. I'd like to see us release this to the world someday. But when a creative content company like ours releases its software, suddenly things change a lot—it's no longer just a few people working in predictable ways, sitting next to the developers who wrote it. Users will try all kinds of crazy things and," he laughs, "the software would probably go up in flames within minutes."
Animusic founder Wayne Lytle wanted to make music-driven computer animation back in 1982, but the technology wasn't available. Over the years, he developed his own software to make it happen.
Lytle and his team have plenty of other projects to keep them busy. They're currently switching from their longtime rendering tool, Autodesk's 3ds Max, to Pixar's RenderMan. They rendered Animusic and Animusic 2 with 3ds Max on networked dual-processor Windows machines, but things are different now out amongst the cows. There's a lot of music synthesis going on, as well.
"We run a ton of software synths in parallel to the realtime graphics animation," Lytle explains. "I have one dual-processor machine fully dedicated to 3D animation while two other dual-processor machines are dedicated to the audio. That way they all have enough cycles. We keep them synced together through MIDI.
"There is a lot of setup involved in Animusic|studio, but once the setup is in place, it's completely automatic; as the music changes, so does the animation—automatically. The heart of Animusic|studio is a set of algorithms called MIDImotion that analyze the MIDI music fed in and look forward and backwards in time. And there are secondary motions, such as stage platforms moving up and down, which are keyframed manually, as well as other things such as camera moves and lighting changes."
In "Pipe Dream 2," balls shoot out of pipes and smack into drums and chimes. Each flying ball represents an individual note. (Click here to play a 5.4MB QuickTime movie excerpt.)
Lytle has progressed through a variety of MIDI sequencers over the years, from Roger Powell's Texture 3.0 to MOTU Performer and Digital Performer, then to Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo. But eventually he couldn't resist the temptation he'd had for years to write his own music sequencer. The result is now built into Animusic|studio.
"I've integrated my favorite features from all the sequencers I ever worked with into Animusic|studio," Lytle says. "It's now a very customized MIDI sequencer tuned just for me. I would never claim it to be a general sequencer that everybody would enjoy using, but for the way I work, it's very fast and fully integrated with the animation generation processes. It makes a huge difference when it comes to constantly tweaking the music and seeing the resulting animation immediately. I actually used to have to 'sneakernet' every sequence change from my MIDI studio to the animation studio by car; it took 15 minutes. Now we see the effect of every single note change reflected immediately in the realtime wireframe previews."
For instance, Lytle says he could never have completed the complex "Gyro Drums" on the Animusic 2 DVD without integrating his MIDI sequencing module into the Animusic|studio suite.
"Animusic|studio is all written in C++ using OpenGL for the realtime graphics and Trolltech's Qt for developing the GUI stuff," Lytle continues. "I can't say enough good stuff about Qt. It rocks, I'm a huge fan. In the '70s I was a huge fan of various bands; now I'm a huge fan of software. I've gone from gazing at record covers to gazing at online help files, which is a little sick, now that I think about it. Maybe I need some professional help!" he laughs.
"Gyro Drums" was one of the most challenging pieces to animate, consisting of 150-odd drums and three spinning robot drummers. (Click here to play a 4.5MB QuickTime movie excerpt.)