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Autodesk 2013 DCC Software: Greater Interoperability

Bill Desowitz reports increased cloud computing and further optimization from last week's Autodesk summit.

Carl Bass (left), President and CEO of Autodesk, and Mark Petit (right), senior vice president of Media & Entertainment, as they addressed Summit audiences. All images © 2012 Autodesk, Inc. All rights reserved.

What was the take away from last week's Autodesk summit in San Francisco, where the software giant introduced its 2013 digital content suites? Further interoperability and cloud computing.

Indeed, chief executive Carl Bass stressed over and over again the importance of Autodesk 360 (formerly known as Autodesk Cloud), which now provides even more cloud benefits to subscription customers, including additional storage and the ability to access cloud services for rendering, simulation, design optimization and energy analysis. Subscription customers now have up to 25 GB of storage and between 100 and 500 cloud units per user, based on the suite edition they purchased, providing a competitive edge to respond to changing business requirements.

Bass suggested that with such an "infinitely scalable resource," this game-changer is akin to dry cleaning: "How much do I want to pay?" He maintained that cloud computing is the future of how simulation will be done, among other highly complex tasks, and part of a new eco-system in which "you're the center of computing, community and collaboration." He termed it "mobile cloud and social all in one place," and predicted that the iPad will replace the PC.

Not surprisingly, the concept of cloud rendering is being aggressively adopted in the entertainment industry by, among others, Atomic Fiction, the spinoff VFX boutique from Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital. In fact, Atomic Fiction is currently using a workable and efficient cloud rendering system on a project by project basis, and is in the midst of doing the VFX for Zemeckis' return to live action, Flight. Co-founders Kevin Baillie and Ryan Tudhope were present at the summit.

Click on images for larger view. With the addition of high-quality depth sorting, together with support for image planes and animation ghosting, Viewport 2.0 now offers a more functionally complete high-performance, high-quality viewport. With Viewport 2.0, artists can evaluate their work in a higher fidelity interactive environment in order to make better creative decisions. In addition, the same hardware rendering technology can be used to batch render larger-than-screen-size frames, producing high-quality animatics and previsualizations in less time.

As for the latest version of the popular DCC suite (Maya, 3ds Max, Softimage, MotionBuilder and Mudbox), which is shipping this spring and bundled together in an "Ultimate" package), Autodesk announced a direct link between Maya and MotionBuilder and crowd simulation in Softimage as a way of competing with Massive. In addition, enhanced interoperability is being stressed among all of their software programs and various bundles.

Animators can now convert 3ds Max CAT (Character Animation Toolkit) bipedal characters into characters that are compatible with the Autodesk HumanIK solver used in Maya 2013 software and MotionBuilder 2013 software in a single step. These portable characters enable animators to transfer existing character structure, definition, and animation between the software packages in order to take advantage of particular feature sets. Animation changes created in Maya or MotionBuilder can be updated back onto the original CAT character in 3ds Max, facilitating a round-trip workflow.

Marc Petit, Autodesk's SVP of Media & Entertainment, reiterated the goal of finding new ways of standardizing and optimizing VFX workflows to "take full advantage of globally distributed production resources." To that end, Autodesk is working with the major studios "to develop and package workflows that address these challenges." Virtual production and 3-D are particularly earmarked to expand the storytelling and visual potential in a post-Avatar paradigm shift.

Among the highlights of this expanded interoperability:

  • Live character streaming between MotionBuilder and Maya provides an efficient way to previsualize a retargeting result in the final Maya scene before transferring the data between applications.
  • More consistent hotkeys make it easier for Maya artists to navigate viewports in the 3D suite applications, and help artists familiar with 3ds Max to get up to speed with Softimage faster.
  • The enhanced, consistent F-Curve Editor within 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage and MotionBuilder now offers consistent functionality, helping animators transition between these applications more smoothly.

Autodesk HumanIK Interoperability with CAT (Character Animation Toolkit) provides a single-step, round-trip workflow to transfer 3ds Max CAT bipedal characters between 3ds Max, Maya and MotionBuilder. Enhanced interoperability between Maya and 3ds Max also enables artists to move 3D data between the applications in a single step.

Supporting the new Open Data initiative, Maya artists can now read and write the Alembic open computer graphics interchange framework format. Codeveloped by Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd., Alembic distills complex animated and simulated data into application-independent baked geometry. As a result, massive datasets can be more easily passed between disciplines—as an example, animation and lighting—helping reduce the overhead and loss of interactivity associated with transferring fully editable scene data.simulated

All editions of the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites now include Autodesk SketchBook Designer2013 concept art software. This product enables artists to explore and present new ideas for characters, props and environments using an intuitive hybrid paint and vector toolset.

Autodesk Maya 2013 delivers powerful new toolsets for dynamic simulation, animation and rendering that offer new levels of creativity, while every day productivity enhancements help artists work faster. In addition, the Open Data initiative introduced in Maya 2013 offers tools to help facilitate parallel workflows and better complexity handling. You can now create more realistic hair and other curve-based dynamics with the new Maya nHair module for the Maya Nucleus unified simulation framework. nHair interacts bidirectionally with both Maya nCloth and MayanParticles, so you can create complex simulations with multiple dynamic entities all working together. Viewport 2.0 offers a higher fidelity interactive environment, so you can evaluate your work more easily in order to make better creative decisions. A new Node Editor helps you more easily create, edit and debug node networks. You can additionally take advantage of the open source AMD Bullet Physics engine to simulate both soft and rigid bodies in a single high-performance system. Featuring discrete and continuous 3D collision detection, Bullet enables you to create highly realistic simulations of cloth, rope, deformable objects and ragdoll skeletons.

Artists and directors can now each view the scene information that is important to them in an appropriate context, thanks to a new Floating Viewer. This enables one camera view to be displayed on a separate monitor from the main viewports; as an example, the artist might be viewing their working cameras on a computer monitor, while the director is viewing the final output on an additional display.

Autodesk 3ds Max 2013 delivers ActiveShade support in the NVIDIA iray renderer; a new render pass system; and enhanced interoperability with Adobe After Effects and Adobe Photoshop software. The 2013 version also offers new tools for motion graphics, 3D animation and simulation.

Autodesk Softimage 2013 delivers a new high-fidelity interactive environment and powerful new creative toolsets that include a new CrowdFX simulation feature set, along with enhanced modeling, animation, physics and selection tools.

Autodesk MotionBuilder 2013 helps production teams more reliably acquire, aggregate and refine data, and offers a new nonlinear editing paradigm for virtual production. Highlights are the option to record live motion capture data directly to disk, a flexible new HUD (heads-up display), a floating viewer and support for broadcast WAVE files.

Autodesk Mudbox 2013 helps artists create complex production-ready scenes with greater ease, with the Gigatexel engine and the ability to work efficiently with significantly more objects. In addition, Mudbox 2013 offers new multipurpose curves, support for edge sharpness data and enhanced interoperability with Adobe Photoshop software.

Combine painted bump map detail with extracted normal map detail to produce a single normal map—even in tangent space. Artists can now create relief detail both by sculpting and painting, and combine the results into a single map suitable for use in games engines.

Autodesk also announced the 2013 version of its Autodesk Flame Premium software, which combines high-end visual effects and finishing tools with real-time color grading in a single solution. The 2013 version features:

  • More creative and technical tools for advanced compositing and 3D relighting
  • Interactivity enhancements in Action for an even more fluid creative experience
  • Improved 3D tracking workflow for greater flexibility and control when positioning compositing elements in a scene
  • Enhanced grading capabilities including new color grading presets to get started on look development, new media export workflow and Tangent Element modular control panel support

"The tools in the suites now work more seamlessly with each other and with the cloud, offering tremendous value by opening new ways for our customers to solve their most complex design and engineering challenges," summarized Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk SVP of Industry Strategy and Marketing.

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Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. His blog is Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), he's a regular contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and he's the author of the upcoming James Bond Unmasked (Spies), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of the iconic superspy from Connery to Craig.

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