The Advanced Visualizer

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


It was made into an animators package after the hype from movies The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park. When Microsoft purchased Softimage in an attempt to take over the 3D computer graphics market, Silicon Graphics purchased Alias Systems Corporation, a competitor of Wavefront, and their competitor from France, TDI (Thomson Digital Images) Explore, and created a super company called Alias|Wavefront. Wavefront's programmers continued to reside in California but the management of the company was carried out in Toronto, Canada. In 1996 Alias|Wavefront announced the release of Maya.

The company was renamed to Alias Technologies. When TAV was pulled from the market, Alias' representatives continued to peddle "Alias Power Animator" as a revolutionary animation package, though some artists were not impressed and had severe trouble producing animation exceeding the quality of TAV's Kinemation[citation needed].

Presently some of the technology under Autodesk's ownership is used as part of the Maya product.


In contrast to many modern day (2011) computer graphics animation software, TAV was a set of independent programs that each focused on one aspect of image synthesis as opposed to a monolithic product. The collection of these smaller programs formed the entire suite based on simple interchange of mostly ASCII file formats, the most successful of which is OBJ which enjoys widespread industry use to this day due to its simple format. The modular nature allowed for lightweight programs that had quick start up times and small memory footprints - it was not uncommon to run several instances of the Model package each working on different aspects of the same project. The component software that made up the TAV suite were, Model, Paint, Dynamation, Kinemation and Preview, fcheck, and optionally Composer for compositing.

As TAV only ran on the Silicon Graphics platform it enjoyed significant performance advantages over software-only based solutions due to its use of SGI's specialized graphics hardware supporting IrisGL, a precursor to OpenGL.

Component programs[edit]

fcheck - or 'Frame Check' is an image sequence viewer. fcheck loaded image files from disk into RAM and played them back at synced frame rates for real time playback. It features the ability to view the RGBA (and Z in the case of RLA) channels independently, variable frame rate and the ability to draw into the buffer. This program still ships with Maya.

Model - a polygon and patch 3d modeler. It read and wrote OBJ files. It also had the ability to manipulate UVs and assign material associations saved in the MTL file format. Included a command language for automation in the form of scripts, or aliases. Since there was no 'undo' feature, a common automated sequence would copy data to a spare place before modifying it - in essence, the users made their own 'undo'.

Paint was an image editing program for manipulation of bitmap graphics - its texture map support focused on the RLA, SGI, Cineon (now DPX) and TIFF file formats. Support for 16 bit integer textures, sequencing capabilities for rotoscoping, paint cloning from adjacent frames.

Dynamation was a particle animation and rendering program capable of importing an OBJ to interact with. It accomplished native rendering using a hardware render buffer featuring a z-buffer.It drove the animations using a combination of predefined field objects & programmatic 'expressions' as well as mesh collision support. This technology is still being used in the Maya product today.

Preview was animation package that referenced in OBJ files, managed hierarchies and assigned channel data to attributes such as translation and rotation. It allowed association of primitive non-linear deformations such as bends and waves to geometry. It lacked an undo feature. Like Model, included a command language that allowed for alias, or script development to automate tasks. Other features included placement and preview of lights, manipulation of MTL files, and facilitation of scanline or wire frame rendering via an external render module. Render featured, raytraced-shadows, raytraced reflections, transparency, texture maps, bump mapping, and Lambert and Phong reflections. Also a unique feature to draw every Nth polygon of a model, was essential for visualizing animation of 'heavy' scenes during manipulation.

Kinemation - an 'advanced' animation system that allowed for the manipulation of geometry using Inverse Kinematics (IK), geometric skinning to 'bones' featuring lattice based deformations. The deformed meshes were exported a series of OBJ's read into preview for assembly with other scene components.

Composer, though not an initial member of the family, is a time-line based (similar to after effects) compositing and editing system with color corrections, keying, convolution filters, and animation capabilities. It supported 8 and 16 bit file formats as well as Cineon and early 'movie' file formats such as SGI Indeo, MPEG video and QuickTime.