Review: Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate 2014
First Looks and Impressions
I feel like Autodesk has redeemed themselves a bit with the Autodesk 2014 Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate release, since last year in my review I couldn't give it the “best and most stable” award. This year the software came out of beta strong and the gold versions I have been testing and running for a few months now have been very solid. Sure there are bugs and some things I am sure I missed but compared to last year (I felt like I was submitting bugs everyday) this year I have only had to use the feature a handful of times. This 2014 release has more good and great things talk about and to look forward to upgrading. I actually have been having fun exploring it all. (Service packs have been released now, get them).
Speaking of unification of tools for a second, I am still seeing some studios aren't yet comfortable with using the full suite and are missing out on the advantages that each software brings. Some of it is lack of training or maybe game engine requirements but often time it is fear of a split pipeline and so studios seem to still stick hard to one main software. Modeling though is the one area that has done the best at leveraging mixed software first, at a studio that is slow to embrace a mixed software environment.
There are some general improvements that I really like; the simple but most visible one is that new features in the software are highlighted green. This might seem strange to start with but when artists are in production, many times new features or improvements are simply missed because of existing work habits or use of certain tools and this gives everyone a chance to quickly notice and find new tools to try out.
Let’s start the review with Softimage, then Mudbox, then Maya, then MotionBuilder and finally Max.
Softimage continues to be a powerful choice in software but I personally haven't had a demand or need for it with my clients or students. ICE pushed some new improvements and the teams that invested the time and talent to use it produce great work with it. I wish there was more reason for me to use it at the moment because I was a Softimage user way, way back before Maya existed.
I did want to address one area where I think Autodesk missed an opportunity in this release and could stand to improve in a large way for the next release - to make all the software work better together. Our example will be the “Camera Sequence Editor” tool that is new for Softimage.
This is a great tool, a great idea in all the software but here is the problem - no cross application compatibility.
XSI now has the camera sequence tool bringing it level with Maya that got it from MotionBuilder's story shots tool. The lack of cross app support I found very surprising, since I would expect with the suites and using the Send to-feature that I could setup shots in one software and send it to one of the other “camera sequence/shot” tools in Maya or MotionBuilder. Currently it doesn't look possible without a bit of heavy scripting in each software. MotionBuilder supports the shots directly in FBX but Maya and XSI and Max can't read those camera shot clips in FBX. So Maya created a XML format to save the shot clips out and in XSI it doesn't even have the option that I could find during this review so it would have to be scripted from scratch. They have created a set of very nice tools that are hamstrung by the lack of support for their own standard file formats.
Here is hoping that this is improved and fixed in the next suite release so that more complex camera shots can be setup and shared between the software.
For Maya users, they already know how easy it is to navigate and use Mudbox and with the one click send to feature from Maya it is even more seamless. Mudbox got some large improvements this year in the mesh retopology tools for quickly cleaning up scans or more roughly sculpted models, this was a feature that was sorely missing in the past and now allows Mudbox to become a finishing tool and not just an intermediate step.
View a video of the Mudbox 2014 New Features: Advanced Retopology tools in action.
The more modeling operations that Mudbox can do now will save several trips to other software to fix simple issues and that is a big win for the software. I was amazed at how fast the curve tools and guided retopology worked even on really rough/crude models I tested.
TIP: Using Mudbox for blendshape creation.
One of the areas that is difficult out of the box with Maya is managing large character blendshape trees and mirroring. Without custom scripts and a larger pipeline it can frustrating to try and get good shapes for a face rig done in Maya. With Mudbox using sculpt layers you can create a series of new “blendshape targets” as new layers. This gives you the advantages of being nondestructive and you can use the built in features to duplicate and “flip layer” to create left and right separated shapes for rigging.
To get this to work well you need to enable the Mudbox preferences for FBX -export layers as blendshapes. Here is a video covering this workflow from Autodesk.