Creating Clouds


Frank Kane job is very particular… he creates clouds! He can do it through his C++ library for real-time sky and 3D cloud rendering, used worldwide by scores of games and visual simulation applications on the Windows platform.

Its name is SilverLining.

Creating Clouds

Manuel Marino: Your sky and clouds library is impressive 🙂

Frank Kane: Thanks! SilverLining is a software library that allows real-time computer graphics developers to physically simulate the rendering of the sky, clouds, precipitation, and astronomical objects. You can specify any time at any location for pretty much any weather conditions, and SilverLining will draw what the sky would look like quickly enough for games and flight simulators.

Can we say that creating clouds is a form of Art?

It’s funny, because I didn’t go into this project thinking of it as a form of art at all – in fact it was quite the opposite and based on pure science; we went through almost a century worth of academic research into how light scatters through the atmosphere and clouds, the nature of precipitation, computing the location of the sun, moon, stars… stuff like that – and SilverLining was just meant to be a real-time implementation of the raw physics behind what makes the sky look the way it does.

However, a few months ago, I found myself standing inside New York’s Museum of Modern Art looking at an interactive art exhibit that featured SilverLining as part of it, running on a flat-panel display (this was Jonathan Harris’s and Sep Kemvar’s “I Want You To Want Me” piece. So there’s my sky rendering software, on display in the same building that houses works by Picasso and countless other other Art greats. It was surreal. So yes, Art and technology very much can live together.

Did you receive many requests of your library from game developers?

Yes, many game developers use SilverLining, and it’s even been ported to the XBox. But, we have just as many, if not more customers, in the visual simulation industry or “serious games” – people who create simulators for the military, for example – and also from broadcast video customers. A few people are working on using SilverLining for TV weather reports.

What do you think about the indie scene?

Well, I got my start as an independent game developer myself, so it’s a great way to people to learn and demonstrate that they have the skills and the drive to create something great and something big, if they do want to move on to larger projects. The growth of casual games and things like XBox Live have made it possible for indie game developers to carve out their own niche again, which is great. The world needs more people who are as passionate about their work as indie developers are.

What do you think about how internet became in 2008? What do you think about its future?

It’ll be interesting to see what direction social apps go in the long run. Will the world continue to support a few big social “portals” like Facebook and MySpace, or will a more open, simpler solution take over? Will people stay glued to their iPhones watching people Twitter about what they are doing? I think at some point we’re going to see a big divide between people who are very attached to their technology 24/7 with mobile devices, and people who rebel against the whole thing and become something akin to Luddites. It’ll be interesting to watch.

What do you think about the future of technology in general?

It all hinges on our educational system and the value society places on technology. In the US, we’ve had a real problem with a lack of interest in technology and science in general, and an educational system that does not do a good job at all in math and science.

Fortunately, there are other countries where this is not the case, and unless we see some big reforms here in the US, fewer technological advances will come from here. Already, most good technical workers here come from other countries – and our country’s restrictions on immigration and work visas make it increasingly hard to hire them. Who knows, perhaps the growth of the indie scene will counteract that effect by creating more interest in software engineering within our own country. Right now, it’s just really hard to find good developers, and that limits what the industry is able to create.

What will you develop in the future, new libraries? New projects?

I still have a few plans for making SilverLining even better, so I think that will keep me busy for awhile. Beyond that, I have lots of ideas – some involving computer graphics and some not – so if SilverLining gets to a point where it’s about as good as it can get, well, we’ll see.

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