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Talking to Hash, Inc.
Lead Macintosh programmer Ken Baer on their plans and Jaguar, by Manel P Rives

13-11-2.002



Macuarium Who's currently behind Martin Hash company? Could you give us a brief history of Martin Hash, the company?

Ken Baer Hash Inc. is a owned and run by Martin Hash. We are totally independent, and have no parent company, and have no external investors. We believe we are the only 3D animation tools company that can make this claim.

Martin Hash started Hash Enterprises in 1986 after he left Hewlett-Packard, where he was one of the main software engineers on the Deskjet printer. Our first product came out in April 1987, which was Animation:Apprentice, the first 3D character animation program for the Amiga. We released 11 products on the Amiga, all of them for animation. In 1990, we released Animation:Journeyman for the Amiga, which used the spline/patch based modeling that we use today. In 1992, we released "Will Vinton's Playmation" for Windows, the first 3D animation product for Windows (according to Microsoft). Then at the beginning of 1993, we released the Mac version. In 1994, the software became Animation:Master (or version 2). We are currently working on A:M Version 10.

Hash has always been a small company, and we plan to stay small. The average employee tenure with the company is more than 10 years. I have been with the company for 15 years.

Macuarium In your opinion, which will be the biggest growth area in 3D in the near future (real time web content, TV&films, games development...)?

Ken Baer Realtime web based content has the most room to grow. There are a few technologies out there like VRML, Viewpoint, and Shockwave, but we think they are all misguided because they are all polygon based, and don't address the issue of bandwidth. We have a competing technology (currently implemented in the "Arctic Pigs" viewer) that is superior because it uses the same technology that's in Animation:Master, and does solve the bandwidth issue. It is the only realtime 3D technology that uses a small datA:Model that can be used for high quality playback. All the others require more data for higher quality, and therefore more bandwidth. With the Arctic Pigs plug-in, you can export models, actions and scenes directly to an HTML web page, and view them with Internet Explorer and the free IE Arctic Pigs plug-in. We think this has a HUGE future. You can get more information at http://www.arcticpigs.com.

Macuarium When will this technology from Martin Hash be available for web developers to be integrated in web pages? o will it be integrated in a 3D product? The “Artic Pigs" viewer is available for Windows based computers, Is there a closed date for MacOS release?

Ken Baer Not yet. At the moment, arcticPigs (that's the correct spelling), only runs on the PC with A:M v8.5. We hope to have it running with A:M 9.5 and 10.0 in the near future. We also hope to have it working on the Mac, but we don't have a date for that. There are some technical issues that we are trying to solve.

Macuarium Macintosh users of HASH Animation:Master seemed not to be completely happy with Animation:Master stability over MacOS. Will this appreciation change with Animation:Master for MacOS X?

Ken Baer We have never been completely happy with the stability of old MacOS. It never had good memory management. Most of the problems that our users have encountered on the Mac have more to with low memory conditions and video drivers. However, we are very aggressive eliminating any problems users encounter. (When we are made aware of any problems, we fix them and get a revision out as soon as possible). We expect A:Much better user experience with OSX. It has excellent memory protection, and generally is more stable. I'm looking forward to it.

Macuarium Animaton Master has an incredibly good feature set (that can perfectly fight in a high-end market), especially considering its price. Is this due to Hash philosophy and way of working or is it a way to get a piece of market cake, looking for a low-end market that can pay $200 for a 3D package?

Ken Baer Hash Inc. has always had a philosophy that drives us. In 1987, we said "One artist, one machine", and the software should run well on a computer anyone could afford. Back in those days, that meant a 7Mhz Amiga 1000. Our slogan is "Animation software even an artist can afford." Most artists aren't rich. Animation:Master is an artist's tool. Many people ask is, "Why is your software so inexpensive?" We always retort with "Why are the other packages so expensive?" We operate under a very different business model that all the other companies, and operate profitably without requiring infusions of money from parent companies and capital investors.

Macuarium Does Hash have any special relationship with any customers that help Hash to implement new technologies thay themselves need to use... for instance a big 3D studio?

Ken Baer We do have some special relationships with some really great studios. Momentum Animation Studios in Australia has done dozens of commercials and music videos using A:M. And Avalanche Software in Utah has done many hit games using A:M, including Rampage 2. We talk with these studios on a weekly basis, and they have had a lot to do with influencing our feature set and workflow. We work with dozens of other studios as well. We just don't market to studios. We market to individual artists and small studios. All the other companies spend tens of millions of dollars marketing to the "big studios", when they actually represent a small percentage of the 3D market.

Macuarium Will 3D be the only segment where Martin Hash will work? Could Martin Hash have an intention to grow, to expand??

Ken Baer We believe that one of the reason we have been so successful has been our focus on animation, particularly character animation. When we started in 1987, our first product was designed for 3D character animation. But beyond that, it was designed for storytelling. And that is exactly what we do today. We also benefit from focusing on one product. At one point on the Amiga, we had 11 products. Over the years, we have taken all of those products and incorporated them into Animation:Master.

The future directions of A:M will involve the evolution of A:M Community which integrates the Internet, and the large community of users into the software interface. Also, with arcticPigs, we see a point where most users will export their animation in realtime straight to their website, and will use our renderer mostly for stills. I think that will open the door to a lot of people that want don't want to wait for animations to render.

Macuarium If you had to draw a picture of Animation:Master customers How would it be? small studios, freelances, 3D departments in postproduction houses, ...? How is the ratio between USA/Europe?

Ken Baer The majority are independent artists and aspiring animators, either wanting to make their own films, or break into the business. Many people who use our software start out in the aspiring artist category, and break into the business with the animations they make with our software. Most of the studios and 3D departments that we have gotten our software into was brought in by the artists, rather than selling our software directly to them.

Macuarium These days there seems to be a real price war among the 3D software developers. From the customers' standpoint the advantages are obvious but, wont this kind of movement cause a decrease in R&D or the quality of the product? Is the 3D development market ready for this kind of situation?

Ken Baer It's been very interesting for us to watch. We saw it coming a long time ago. This goes back to what I was saying about our business model. Most 3D products started off with a very high price, especially products that started out on the SGI platform. They had a very high profit margin, and their companies grew with a dependence on that profit margin. They sell fewer copies, but make more money per sale. But, the problem with cutting the price is that they aren't increasing sales enough to compensate for the cut to their profit margin. In the long term, they will make less money, and therefore have to spend less somewhere. So, everything will be affected including R&D. The old high profit margin to a limited 3D market model is dead, and companies that can't adapt to a higher volume lower profit model won't survive.

We have always succeeded by designing the software to be easy to use by an artist (not a technical director), and be affordable. The problem with many of the other products is that they are designed for technical directors rather than just artists. They are not just limiting their users by who can afford it, they are limiting them to who can actually use it. We have seen statements from some that claim that future versions will be easier to use to appeal to a larger market, but we know from experience that it takes years to implement those kinds of changes. We feel we are at least 5 years ahead of the competition.

Macuarium Is the market changing so fast that UNIX based workstations makers could disappear (SGI for instance)?

Ken Baer Definitely, I see no advantage to expensive workstations. I think the only reason people would still buy them is for the prestige factor. Apple should market OSX based towers as the new prestige UNIX workstation. Maybe they should make them purple. :-)

As I understand it, SGI's real income comes from large government contracts for servers. The days of high priced UNIX graphics workstations are over.

Macuarium HASH Animation:Master is well known among PC users. Knowing its smaller market size, how is the Mac community and Mac customer base considered by HASH? How is the current PC/Mac users rario for HASH AM?

Ken Baer We all know the percentage of Mac users in the computer marketplace is something like 3% compared to the PC. But, Mac users represent about 30% of the Animation:Master user base. They are VERY important to us. Also, many of the best images and animations done in our software have been done on the Mac. We still believe that the Mac version of A:M outsells all other 3D animation products for the Mac.

Macuarium Martin HASH has announced Animation:Master for MacOS X some months ago. How was the feedback of this news by current MacOS users of HASH AM?

Ken Baer We actually haven't officially announced it, but we are working on it. We have a history of only announcing software that is shipping. The feedback has been very good. Everyone is excited about A:M on OSX, but they are also willing to wait a while for us to do it right. I think our efforts will pay off for years to come.

Macuarium HASH Inc. hasn't been one of the first firms to introduce its flagship product to MacOS X. From this situation, what's your opinion about the Apple's new Operating System (and above all about Jaguar)?

Ken Baer I love Jaguar. We really couldn't have ported A:M any sooner than now because the API's that we needed have not been available from Apple until Jaguar. We currently develop A:M using a cross compiler from the PC. When updating A:M, we release PC and Mac versions simultaneously. Since the cross compiler doesn't support OSX, we have to write the massive code libraries that it provided ourselves and use them under Code Warrior. That's a huge undertaking, but we are making very good progress. When that is complete, Animation:Master will be using Apple's newer and more efficient APIs while our competitors will still be using the older legacy APIs. Have I said that Jaguar is awesome? It is!

Macuarium Talking about APIs. how do you see OpenGL as it seems to have some problems with Microsoft recently? Do you see any other API so strong for 3D design in near future?

Ken Baer Well, we also use DirectX on the PC. That was mainly because the more affordable graphics cards were using it. The landscape is changing though, and OpenGL drivers are more available, and the cards are a lot cheaper now. On the Mac, we originally used QuickDraw3D, which was, in my opinion, terrible. We switched to Conix's OpenGL, which really saved us. We were using it 2 years before Apple bought Conix, and incorporated OpenGL into MacOS. Which is one of the best moves Apple has made in the last several years.

Microsoft is resisting OpenGL because they want to promote their own technology, namely DirectX. I think OpenGL has a strong future, and I hope Microsoft is not allowed to hurt it.

Macuarium How's the current relationship with Apple Computer? Do you currently receive any support from them?

Ken Baer Not much. We get the best support from some good friends who use our software and work at Apple. But, on a corporate level, Apple doesn't pay much attention to us.

Macuarium Do you think Apple's MacOS X is a true advantage for Macintosh users? How do you see in MacOS X Jaguar the essential elements for efficient 3D work (OpenGL support, fast display redraw, memory usage, stability,...)?

Ken Baer Yes. I feel like it's the first time Apple has considered 3D and graphics acceleration an essential part of the Macintosh experience. The combination of modern hardware, a good GPU, and a really solid OS with a good collection of standard tools has combined to make a great graphics platform. I don't see why anyone would want to use an SGI station anymore. Those days are over.

Macuarium In your opinion, has Apple got any chance to keep Apple Macintoshes in professional 3D environments such as postproduction houses, broadcast, game development? What do you think Apple must change to increase its presence and market share (in software and hardware terms)? Do you think this new OS will change the current situation?

Ken Baer I think it will help. There's a lot of politics to overcome in studios. Most of the big studios have been replacing their SGI workstations with Linux machines (ILM, Dreamworks, and Pixar etc.). I think the attraction for Linux for them has been price and the ease of porting their Unix in-house tools from SGI to Linux. They can do something similar to OSX since it is also Unix based. Probably the biggest problem for Apple is processor speed. Even with multiple processor machines, it hard to compete with 2.8Ghz PCs.

Macuarium Apple's G4 seems to be at the end of its life cycle. If you had the chance in your hands to lead Apple, what would be your preferences about Apple's future processor? Also, If you could ask for something that's not currently in the Mac world, what would you ask for (better graphic cards, more help and documentation from Apple,...)?

Ken Baer They really need to catch up to the PC in CPU speed. That's the biggest problem. More developer documentation would also be welcome. And, I miss the days when the developer program was free, and we got a 30% hardware discount for free (of course the machine prices where about twice what they are now).

Macuarium In the processor war, what importance you'd give to the issue of supporting 64bit chips in 3D market as it seems to be one of alternatives for Apple in next months?

Ken Baer It is important that Apple has a processor that can be comparable to what Intel and AMD have out there the PCs. I don't think it has to be faster, but it does have to be in the neighborhood. It would be nice if Apple wasn't at the mercy of Motorola and IBM, and could use anybody's processor. But the news of the new chips from IBM sound promising.

Macuarium And in the OSes war, what 's your point of view about Microsoft Windows and Linux? is the difference between these OSes and MacOS shorter than previously? Could Linux be the next big OS in big 3D houses?

Ken Baer I don't think so. I think Linux provided an inexpensive way for UNIX based studios to transition to cheap PC hardware without a total rewrite and redesign of their in-house software. But, there's only so many of those studios. I think the OS is much less important than what tools are available for it (of course, I'm a software guy :-). And if you want tools, then Windows and MacOS are the way to go. Apple has been aggressive in buying several high end compositing and studio tools lately, and it seems that they are well positioned to get MacOSX into the studios.



 

 

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