Wavefront Technologies

Last updated

Wavefront Technologies was a computer graphics company that developed and sold animation software used in Hollywood motion pictures and other industries. It was founded in 1984, in Santa Barbara, California, by Bill Kovacs, Larry Barels, Mark Sylvester. They started the company to produce computer graphics for movies and television commercials, and to market their own software, as there were no off-the-shelf computer animation tools available at the time. In 1995, Wavefront Technologies was purchased by Kroyer Films, Silicon Graphics, Rhythm & Hues and merged with Alias Research to form Alias|Wavefront.

Computer graphics Graphics created using computers

Computer graphics are pictures and films created using computers. Usually, the term refers to computer-generated image data created with the help of specialized graphical hardware and software. It is a vast and recently developed area of computer science. The phrase was coined in 1960, by computer graphics researchers Verne Hudson and William Fetter of Boeing. It is often abbreviated as CG, though sometimes erroneously referred to as computer-generated imagery (CGI).

Computer animation art of creating moving images using computers

Computer animation is the process used for digitally generating animated images. The more general term computer-generated imagery (CGI) encompasses both static scenes and dynamic images, while computer animation only refers to moving images. Modern computer animation usually uses 3D computer graphics, although 2D computer graphics are still used for stylistic, low bandwidth, and faster real-time renderings. Sometimes, the target of the animation is the computer itself, but sometimes film as well.

Cinema of the United States Filmmaking in the USA

The cinema of the United States, often metonymously referred to as Hollywood, has had a large effect on the film industry in general since the early 20th century. The dominant style of American cinema is classical Hollywood cinema, which developed from 1917 to 1960 and characterizes most films made there to this day. While Frenchmen Auguste and Louis Lumière are generally credited with the birth of modern cinema, American cinema soon came to be a dominant force in the industry as it emerged. It produces the total largest number of films of any single-language national cinema, with more than 700 English-language films released on average every year. While the national cinemas of the United Kingdom (299), Canada (206), Australia, and New Zealand also produce films in the same language, they are not considered part of the Hollywood system. Hollywood has also been considered a transnational cinema. Classical Hollywood produced multiple language versions of some titles, often in Spanish or French. Contemporary Hollywood offshores production to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.



Wavefront developed their first product, Preview, during the first year of business. The company's production department helped tune the software by using it on commercial projects, creating opening graphics for television programs. One of the first customers to purchase Preview was Universal Studios, for the television program Knight Rider. Further early customers included NBC, Electronic Arts, and NASA.

<i>Knight Rider</i> (1982 TV series) 1982-1986 American television series

Knight Rider is an American television series created and produced by Glen A. Larson. The series was originally broadcast on NBC from 1982 to 1986. The show stars David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, a high-tech modern crime fighter assisted by KITT, an advanced artificially intelligent, self-aware and nearly indestructible car. This was the last series Larson devised at Universal Television before he moved to 20th Century Fox.

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial radio and television networks that is a flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The network is one of the Big Three television networks. NBC is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting. It became the network's official emblem in 1979.

Electronic Arts American video game company

Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) is an American video game company headquartered in Redwood City, California. It is the second-largest gaming company in the Americas and Europe by revenue and market capitalization after Activision Blizzard and ahead of Take-Two Interactive and Ubisoft as of March 2018.

Some of Wavefront's early animation software was created by Bill Kovacs, Jim Keating, and John Grower, after they left Robert Abel and Associates. Roy A. Hall, and others after him, developed the company's flagship product, the Wavefront Advanced Visualizer.

Bill Kovacs American animator

Bill Kovacs was a pioneer of commercial computer animation technology.

John Grower is a special effects pioneer who was the Post-Production Art Director on Tron for Walt Disney Pictures. Later, he was Supervisor of Special Effects at Robert Abel and Associates, and Director of Production at Wavefront Technologies.

Robert Abel and Associates (RA&A) was an American pioneering production company specializing in television commercials made with computer graphics. Robert Abel's company, RA&A was especially known for their art direction and won many Clio Awards.

In 1988, Wavefront released the Personal Visualizer, a desktop workstation interface to their high-end rendering software. As with Wavefront's other software, it was developed for Silicon Graphics computers, but it was later ported to Sun, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Tektronix, DEC and Sony systems. Wavefront purchased Silicon Graphics first production workstation after their offer to buy the prototype they were given a demo of was knocked back.

Workstation High-end computer designed for technical or scientific applications

A workstation is a special computer designed for technical or scientific applications. Intended primarily to be used by one person at a time, they are commonly connected to a local area network and run multi-user operating systems. The term workstation has also been used loosely to refer to everything from a mainframe computer terminal to a PC connected to a network, but the most common form refers to the group of hardware offered by several current and defunct companies such as Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Apollo Computer, DEC, HP, NeXT and IBM which opened the door for the 3D graphics animation revolution of the late 1990s.

Silicon Graphics former American company

Silicon Graphics, Inc. was an American high-performance computing manufacturer, producing computer hardware and software. Founded in Mountain View, California in November 1981 by Jim Clark, its initial market was 3D graphics computer workstations, but its products, strategies and market positions developed significantly over time.

Sun Microsystems Defunct American computer hardware and software company

Sun Microsystems, Inc. was an American company that sold computers, computer components, software, and information technology services and created the Java programming language, the Solaris operating system, ZFS, the Network File System (NFS), and SPARC. Sun contributed significantly to the evolution of several key computing technologies, among them Unix, RISC processors, thin client computing, and virtualized computing. Sun was founded on February 24, 1982. At its height, the Sun headquarters were in Santa Clara, California, on the former west campus of the Agnews Developmental Center.

In 1989, the company released the Data Visualizer, an early commercial tool for scientific visualization.

Scientific visualization

Scientific visualization is an interdisciplinary branch of science concerned with the visualization of scientific phenomena. It is also considered a subset of computer graphics, a branch of computer science. The purpose of scientific visualization is to graphically illustrate scientific data to enable scientists to understand, illustrate, and glean insight from their data.

In 1991, Wavefront introduced Composer, an image manipulation product. Composer became a standard for 2D and 3D compositing and special effects for feature films and television.

Compositing combining of visual elements from separate sources into single images

Compositing is the combining of visual elements from separate sources into single images, often to create the illusion that all those elements are parts of the same scene. Live-action shooting for compositing is variously called "chroma key", "blue screen", "green screen" and other names. Today, most, though not all, compositing is achieved through digital image manipulation. Pre-digital compositing techniques, however, go back as far as the trick films of Georges Méliès in the late 19th century, and some are still in use.

In 1992, Wavefront released two new animation tools that worked with the Advanced Visualizer. Kinemation was a character animation system that used inverse kinematics for natural motion. Dynamation was a tool for interactively creating and modifying particle systems for realistic, natural motion. Dream Quest Images used Dynamation and Composer to create over 90 visual effects sequences for the film Crimson Tide .

In 1994, the same year that rival Alias made a deal with Nintendo, Wavefront partnered with Atari to develop the GameWare game development software. GameWare was the exclusive graphics and animation development system for the Atari Jaguar.

Wavefront software was used in numerous major films, including Luxo Jr. , The Great Mouse Detective , Akira , Tin Toy , Technological Threat , Knick Knack , All Dogs Go To Heaven , Rock-A-Doodle , Outbreak , Aladdin , True Lies and Stargate . Electronic Arts' Richard Taylor, said that Wavefront's software was "so beautifully designed that even a non-technical person could learn it. Wavefront was a major reason that CG took a leap forward." [1]

Acquisitions and mergers

Wavefront was involved in several mergers of major computer graphics software companies through the 1980s and 1990s. In 1988, Wavefront acquired Abel Image Research, a division of Robert Abel and Associates, where founder Bill Kovacs had previously worked. The acquisition was partially financed by the Belgian government, following Wavefront's establishment of an office in Ghent in association with Barco Graphics of Kortrijk. Acquiring Abel Image Research increased Wavefront's presence in Japan. The Japanese conglomerate CSK became a part owner of Wavefront Japan in 1990, helping to expand the company further in Asia.

Wavefront acquired rival computer graphics company Thomson Digital Images [2] of France in 1993. TDI's software featured innovations in NURBS modeling and interactive rendering. The company also had extensive distribution channels in Europe and Asia.

On February 7, 1995, Silicon Graphics announced that it would purchase Wavefront Technologies and Alias Research, in a deal totaling approximately $500 million. SGI merged the two companies to create Alias|Wavefront, with the goal of creating more advanced digital tools by combining the companies' strengths and reducing duplication. At the time of the merger, Wavefront had a market value of $119 million, and 1994 revenues of $28 million.

What partially motivated this merger was Microsoft's purchase of Alias and Wavefront's competitor Softimage. SGI saw Microsoft's entrance into the market as a threat and merged Alias and Wavefront to compete with Microsoft. Alias is now owned by Autodesk, as is Softimage as of October 2008.

Academy Awards

In 1997, whilst working at Wavefront, Jim Hourihan received an Academy Award for Technical Achievement for the creation of Dynamation. Bill Kovacs and Roy Hall received a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award in 1998 for their work on the Advanced Visualizer.

In 2003, Alias|Wavefront was awarded an Academy Award for scientific and technical achievement for their Maya software, which had been created from a combination of the earlier software of Wavefront, Alias, and TDI. [3]

Related Research Articles

IRIX operating system

IRIX is a discontinued operating system developed by Silicon Graphics (SGI) to run on the company's proprietary MIPS workstations and servers. It is a variety of UNIX System V with BSD extensions. In IRIX, SGI originated the XFS file system and the universally adopted industry-standard OpenGL graphics system.

Autodesk Maya 3D computer graphics software

Autodesk Maya, commonly shortened to just Maya, is a 3D computer graphics application that runs on Windows, macOS and Linux, originally developed by Alias Systems Corporation and currently owned and developed by Autodesk. It is used to create assets for interactive 3D applications, animated film, TV series, and visual effects.

Alias Systems Corporation, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was a software company that produced high-end 3D graphics software. The company was formed in 1995 when Silicon Graphics bought Alias Research, which was founded in 1983, and Wavefront Technologies, founded in 1984, then merged the two companies. It became part of Autodesk in 2006.

Autodesk Alias

Autodesk Alias is a family of Computer-aided industrial design (CAID) software predominantly used in Automotive Design and Industrial Design for generating Class A surfaces using Bézier surface and NURBS modeling method.

Softimage, Co. was a company located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada that produced 3D animation software. A subsidiary of Microsoft in the 1990s, it was sold to Avid Technology, who would eventually sell the name and assets of Softimage's 3D-animation business to Autodesk.

Autodesk Media and Entertainment is a division of Autodesk which offers animation and visual effects products, and was formed by the combination of multiple acquisitions. In 2018, the company began operating as a single operating segment and reporting unit.

Autodesk Softimage 3D computer graphics and animation programme

Autodesk Softimage, or simply Softimage is a discontinued 3D computer graphics application, for producing 3D computer graphics, 3D modeling, and computer animation. Now owned by Autodesk and formerly titled Softimage|XSI, the software has been predominantly used in the film, video game, and advertising industries for creating computer generated characters, objects, and environments.

PowerAnimator and Animator, also referred to simply as "Alias", the precursor to what is now Maya and StudioTools, was a highly integrated industrial 3D modeling, animation, and visual effects suite. It had a relatively long track record, starting with Technological Threat in 1988 and ending in Pokémon: The Movie 2000 in 1999. PowerAnimator ran natively on MIPS-based SGI IRIX and IBM AIX systems.

The Advanced Visualizer (TAV), a 3D graphics software package, was the flagship product of Wavefront Technologies from the 1980s until the 1990s.

Engineering Animation, Inc., or EAI, was a services and software company based in Ames, Iowa, United States. It remained headquartered there from its incorporation in 1990 until it was acquired in 2000 by Unigraphics Solutions, Inc., now a subsidiary of the German technology multinational Siemens AG. During its existence, EAI produced animations to support litigants in court, wrote and sold animation and visualization software, and developed a number of multimedia medical and computer game titles. Part of EAI's business now exists in a spin-off company, Demonstratives.

Dynamation was a 3D computer graphics particle generator program sold by Wavefront to run on SGI's IRIX operating system as part of The Advanced Visualizer. The core software was originally developed by Jim Hourihan while at Santa Barbara Studios, a visual effects company owned by effects pioneer John Grower. The software was licensed to Wavefront Technologies in 1992, and passed through to the merged company Alias/Wavefront. It was introduced as a product at SIGGRAPH in 1993. In 1996, Jim Hourihan received a Scientific and Engineering Award for the primary design and development of Dynamation.

Softimage 3D 3D graphics programme that preceded Softimage|XSI

Softimage|3D is a discontinued high-end 3D graphics application developed by Softimage, Co., which was used predominantly in the film, broadcasting, gaming, and advertising industries for the production of 3D animation. It was superseded by Softimage XSI in 2000.

Alias Eclipse

Eclipse was a professional 2D image editing program available on Silicon Graphics and Windows workstations. Designed to manipulate high-resolution images like digitized movie frames and photographs for print, it offered color correction tools, image processing effects, rudimentary paint features, and spline-based drawing and masking.

The history of computer animation began as early as the 1940s and 1950s, when people began to experiment with computer graphics - most notably by John Whitney. It was only by the early 1960s when digital computers had become widely established, that new avenues for innovative computer graphics blossomed. Initially, uses were mainly for scientific, engineering and other research purposes, but artistic experimentation began to make its appearance by the mid-1960s. By the mid-1970s, many such efforts were beginning to enter into public media. Much computer graphics at this time involved 2-dimensional imagery, though increasingly, as computer power improved, efforts to achieve 3-dimensional realism became the emphasis. By the late 1980s, photo-realistic 3D was beginning to appear in film movies, and by mid-1990s had developed to the point where 3D animation could be used for entire feature film production.

Cranston/Csuri Productions (CCP) was an American computer animation company founded by computer scientist Chuck Csuri and based in Columbus, Ohio. In 1981, Csuri obtained funding from local investor Robert Cranston Kanuth to commercially exploit computer animation technology created by Ohio State University's Computer Graphics Research Group (CGRG). CCP and CGRG shared a single facility on campus.

N-World software

N-World is a 3D graphics package developed by Nichimen Graphics in the 1990s, for Silicon Graphics and Windows NT workstations. Intended primarily for video game content creation, it offers polygon modeling tools, 2D and 3D paint, scripting, color reduction, and exporters for several popular game consoles. Once ported to Windows, N-World was released as Mirai and Nendo. Its current incarnations can be found as an open source clone called Wings3D.


  1. Ellen Wolff (1 Jun 2006). "Remembering CG Pioneer Bill Kovacs". Millimeter: 8.
  2. TDI page on Wiki (in French) (retrieved 27 August 2012).
  3. Vito Pilieci (27 Feb 2003). "Software wins an oscar: Why Hollywood is honouring the 3D graphics expertise of Toronto's Alias Wavefront". The Ottawa Citizen. p. E2.