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Kindly provided by Toby Thain at Telegraphics

Jens Moeller interview

by Robert Jan Kila, date 20 May 2005

ramjac Software is a subdevision of ramjac Images - founded in 1997. They are a small animation studio that primarily uses the Electric Image Animation System rendering software for their day to day animation work. When they started they soon realized that writing software utilities would enhance the productivity tremendously. ramjac uses several exclusive inhouse utilities such as file and motion converters to go back and fourth between other software packages and Electric Image Animation System.
Today ramjac releases the second version of OBJ2FACT.. Time to ask Jens for an interview.

Robert: Hi, Jens. Thanks for your time.

We all know you as the guy behind Ramjac. Can you tell us more about what you do at Ramjac? When was if founded? And who are working there?

Jens: ramjac was founded in 1997 as an animation studio. In some animation projects we made we realized that we would need a programmer to make some custom solutions for us. This was when I met Patrick Enoch, who is actually the man who writes all ramjac Software. First Patrick made some really simple drag and drop utilities for us. One day I discovered the GETOPO30 DEM file online and was absolutely faszinated by the idea to have a 3D model of the whole earth at my fingertips. Unfortunately there was no MAC utilitie to actually use this data. I showed this to Patrick and we started an ambitious software project called "Sphere" which should become a general purpose web based DEM modeler. The software presents the user a map of the earth as interface where you can marquee select any region you want. After that you define a resolution for your model, projection, elevation, texture maps etc. Than you render and you get a perfect UV-textured terrain model for the use in your favourite 3D application. Sphere made it to version 0.0.8 and I still use it when I am in the need of accurate earth models. The driving force behind all ramjac products has always been desire - the desire to be able to use this or that or to have a certain feature. It seemed logical to simply extend our current animation tool than to learn a new one only to be able to use a feature that was not present in the current version.

Robert: We all are familier with Obj2Fact and since a short time Xpressionist. Can you tell us more when and why Obj2Fact was made?

Jens: It was made because of Poser :) I am not a big Poser fan (as an animation tool) but I like it as a fast and full featured model library for human or animal models. It was not possible to get Poser people over to EI back than. It was possible to get the geometry over but since there are zillions of free (and very good) textures and models for Poser it was of course desirable to also get them with the correct textures and UVs over to EI. Since EI has always supported UVs I did some research how this works. I told Patrick and within an afternoon he had a rough converter that did convert Poser OBJs to FACT. It was like Christmas.

Robert: Probably the most inovative solution was and still is Xpressionist (Xp). Sure a clever means to implement scripting into EIAS. Who was this idea formed and worked out into a workable solution?

Jens: It was not so much an idea but a nessecarity. I do a lot of car engine animation and for such animations an expression tool is substantial. The first engine that I have animated where completly hand animated. That means calculating rotations for sprockets and pistons and the combustion manually and set keyframes. It is doable this way but you can't really accelerate or decellerate the engines motion since if you try to animate a part dynamically you never get all other parts fit the animation. The next step - on the second engine I did - was to use Excel. We made a big Excel sheet that calculated all rotation values for the engine. I could give it only the rotation of the crankshaft and it calculated all animation. After that the cell data needed to be converted to .bvh and load back to EI. This also worked quite well and now I was also able to animate the engine dynamically - but what a PITA. One day i said to Patrick "The Reel Motion plugin can make effectors and also write animation to them. The Psunami plugin can read animation data from an effector that was animated and use this data. So it should be possible to make a plugin that can read animation data, calculate on them and write the result back to another object." And he again Patrick sat down and within an afternoon we had the first version of Xpressionist. It than took a lot of development to come up with a complete scripting tool. The funny thing was, when I showed Xpressionist 1.0 to Matt Hoffman he said, he would not have thought that this was possible with the plugin API. I took this as a big compliment.

Robert: Can we expect more EIAS plug from you in the future?

Jens: Yes. I will not say what it will be but definately yes.

Robert: Besides developing plugs you work with EIAS yourself. What kind of project do you do mostly of the time?

Jens: I am an Animator with my studio JCM Animation and I do everything a client wants me to do. But I have my main strengths in cars and car technology. The EIAS is the best tool for this jobs since I mostly get CAD databases form the manufacturers and they tend to be huge. To be able to simply render an engine that has about 10 mio polygons is essential for my work. I couldn't do it with anything else. The EIAS is a heavily production oriented tool - it has a very professional approach to 3D. It is one thing to model an SDS car and throw a HDRI at it in 3Dmax or C4D and render a cute car image - but the CAD database of a real car is definately a completely different challange. On a current project where also some Maya people where involved which chewed on the databse before me they said "...but it is 2.5mio polygons, only the car exterior! When we load a rearview mirror we wait three and a half hour to only load the model...". I said "So what?!?" :) This is only possible with the EIAS and nothing else.

Robert: We all are waiting for what next is to come from EI Technology Group. But since a year the operating system of Apple has changed to system 10 (Unix based). Obj2Fact does not work under this current OS. Will there be a Mac Os X upgrade of Obj2Fact soon? And for Windows?

Jens: There will be an OSX update very soon. We will not do O2F for windows.

Robert: If I look closer to the main 3D applications, like 3D Max, Cinema 4D, Maya, Modo, scripting is becoming more and more important. The scripts are still evolving and expanded with new operators and new functions. Will Xp evolve likewise in the future?

Jens: Yes, sure. There are many ideas for Xpressionist. The development of this software has no end, sicne it does not do something specific like a shader or a particle plugin. I would like Xpressionist to be able to be all of this: A geometry engne, a particle creator, a shading system simply a sytsem to script all of this and to bake it to custom plugins.

Robert: Since Xp is technical most people have difficulties to use this scripting within EIAS. Will there be scripts from the hand of Ramjac included sometime??

Jens: This is really hard to answer. We try to do our best to put out useful and most of all general scripts. But due to the nature of scripts to be very project related it is not so easy to make them. Scripting is what it is: Scripting. Everybody who wants to achive something with scripting needs to learn a syntax - this is not different in other packages. We see that there are people who think this is too hard for them to learn - mostly due to their sensitive artistic nature... I can talk and talk how easy it actually is but instead to sit down and just use it - make the Quickstart or whatever - they say it is too hard in the first place, without looking at it. I know of this so I really think hard about how it could be made easier. But until I have a solution all I can say again and again: People, Xpressionist is not hard to understand and to use. Please just try it.

Robert: As manager of Electro303 I know EIAS users are really looking forward to the next EIAS upgrade and some more spectacle from Ramjac company.

Jens: I am also looking very forward to the next release of the Electric Image Animation System although we sure already are in the know what it is like since we are beta testing - and also developing it due to Xpressionist. EITG is a small company so the development may not progress in such huge steps as in the leading packages. But the features - and this has always been the caes with EIAS - are very well thought out, stable and reliable and ready for production work. I think the next update will be well worth it and I also think it is the best EIAS update since a long time..

Thanks for your time.


Where to buy OBJ2FACT >>> here Webite ramjac Software: www.ramjac.com