Edwin Braun on the history of Cebas
Cebas Visual Technology was founded almost three decades ago and has been developing plugins for 3D Studio and 3DS Max for over twenty years. Their software has been used to create VFX for a great number of TV series, game cinematics and films, such as Lost in Space, 2012, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Harry Potter, etc. Cebas’ list of released plugins includes ThinkingParticles, FinalRender and MoskitoRender, as well as other ones such as PyroCluster, Bunch of Volumes, Real Lens Flare, ProOpticSuite, GhostPainter and more.
Edwin Braun, CEO and co-founder of the company, has been a witness to many changes in the CG industry and we had the chance to interview him on the occasion of Cebas’ 27th anniversary to discuss these subjects, his views on the evolution of the CG field and his decades of experience of managing the company.
You founded Cebas back in 1988 in Heidelberg (Germany), together with Achim Smailus. Please tell us how the company came to be.
I started my own company after high school graduation way back in 1986. I wanted to study computer science and electronics. When I checked out the Universities, I wanted to apply to, to my surprise I found that they did not even have current technology and personal computers. All they had were big gray, oversized and power hungry metal boxes that had to be programmed in Cobol or Fortran.
That was not what I envisioned, I wanted to do laser explosions, spaceships and monsters. So, I kept on building my own business and studied, all on my own, newer programming languages as well as direct assembler coding.
This was also the time when I met Achim, my business partner. Achim at that point was looking into new career and business opportunities as well. He was running already a business but he was also attracted to the modern computer age that was just about to be happening.
It was just a perfect match of Achim’s business skills and my fascination and knowledge of software and hardware.‘cebas Computer Heidelberg’ was born and made its debut in Heidelberg, Germany, year 1988.
Our goal was, right from the start, to offer fast and capable hardware and software solutions for a graphics industry that didn’t even exist yet – or was just about to begin.
In those years, the only mass produced and affordable graphics technology belonged to Commodore Amiga, Atari and the very first Apple Computers, like the hippies of technology. I found that mainstream PC’s were hardly attuned to a robust graphical system at all. Although, Commodore Amiga and Atari offered the best possible affordable graphics on the market, the processing power was not really up to par. Say, a Motorola 6502 CPU could only touch 64 Kilobytes of RAM in an Apple System or on a C64 or Atari. Graphics and processing power soon got a bit better with the use of Motorola 68000, 16 Bit Processors and 512 Kilobytes of RAM (but this was still only half a Megabyte!).
The existing mainstream hardware just did not cut it. Even though it was extremely successful and the Commodore Amiga along with the Atari sold several millions of systems. Imagine what you would be able to do today with 512 Kilobyte of RAM and a processor with a maximum clock rate of 8Mhz!
Achim and I did not give up on our idea of offering the fastest, best hardware and software graphics solutions to create animations and impressive immersive virtual reality solutions. Our constant desire for more processing power lead us into concentrating our efforts into a new technology called RISC.
RISC technology sounded like the absolute holy grail ! – RISC was like the answer to our prayers for more processing power. Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC), that’s what it was called, is a microprocessor that leaves out all complex heavyweight instructions in favor of simple short commands that can be lightning fast – a so-called back to the basics concept. Sun Microsystems with their SPARC microprocessors and Silicon Graphics MIPS processors all understood that the old processor technology could not deliver what was needed for advanced computer graphics.
Then, a British company, Acorn Computers, invented the ARM (Advanced Risc Machines) processor. Based on the ARM chip, a personal computer system for the masses was created for an incredibly affordable price tag! Now, everyone could afford the processing power of a million dollar supercomputer! We had to ride the wave and decided to import and support the Acorn Archimedes computer systems in Germany. The system was very successful and we became an official authorized International Acorn Distributor.
With RISC OS, I started to develop software applications that would help us in managing our business and everyday tasks. We soon added people to our development team and we started offering our very first RISC OS based software application, the ‘cebas Modemaker’. Cebas Modemaker was a powerful application that allowed the user to freely program the graphics chip in any Acorn Archimedes model. The graphics resolution and color depth we could achieve on that hardware was unmatched at that time. In addition to our software development we started to develop our own hardware, offering a scanner module and software for the Archimedes computer systems.
For several years, PCs had not the slightest chance to enter the graphics market segment as they were too slow and had no graphics, no colors and no memory. This has all changed now. In the company history of cebas, we have always had the best, upgraded technologies but our hunger for processing speed never ends – this is the spirit of our company. In our company history, we saw companies come and go; we saw them rise and fall; we offered Silicon Graphics workstations and Sun Microsystems workstations along with the very first versions of Softimage and Alias Wavefront as well as early versions of 3D STUDIO R1 and 2 on a PC. The market has changed a lot over time, so now the PC is dominating the hardware and Autodesk has replaced – or bought into – all major players in the 3D Graphics field.
Cebas’ 27th anniversary showreel
What first attracted you to writing graphics software?
Good question. I was always dreaming about making 3D special effects and animation. Back in the good old days, there was just no way to afford the processing power and software for such effects. This is when it all started. We wanted to achieve affordable self-made solutions, so we started offering custom made hardware and software solutions. POV ray compiled on a Sun Microsystems workstations could create impressive and powerful 3D Images. The time was becoming ripe as the PC was able to catch up in speed and then, Autodesk started to open up their programming interfaces so we jumped right in !