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Autodesk University: Day 1 - More than 5,500 Attendees Take Over Mandalay Bay

Autodesk University took over the Mandalay Bay hotel with more than 5,000 attendees, 500 scheduled classes and more than 20,000 people world-wide joining in virtually. Here's a look at some Day 1 highlights.

By George Maestri

Entering the show floor

Autodesk is taking over Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for the week to stage Autodesk University.  The event is mostly dedicated to training Autodesk’s customers in their wide array of products, particularly people interested in AutoCAD, Revit, and Inventor.  In addition, there’s a trade show as well as keynote addresses and other special events that makes this more like a yearly Autodesk conference than just a week of training. 

Over 5500 people found their way to Las Vegas this week for over 500 classes.  An additional 20,000 will attend virtually.  People started arriving on Monday for various related events, such as the developers conference, but the main conference started on Tuesday with the main keynote.  Being Las Vegas, the keynote started with none other than Elvis Presley (or a reasonable facsimile) singing the disclaimers to the tune of “Glory Glory Hallelujah.”  After that, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass took the stage and talked a bit about Autodesk’s future direction.  A lot of this centered on the idea of the computing cloud, centralized high powered banks of servers controlled by remote workstations.  Users would interface to this computing power by Autodesk software running not only on high-end workstations, but also net-enabled devices such as netbooks and iPhones. 

CEO Carl Bass

Bass showed several Autodesk applications, including Sketchbook for the iPhone, which has become an incredibly popular download at the Apple Store.  He also talked about real world customer solutions and showed how advanced technologies such as laser scanning are becoming commonplace for visualizing existing buildings.  He also talked about

Amory Lovins delivered the Day 1 keynote

The featured guest was Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute who talked about green technology and design.  He had some very salient points about how good design naturally leads to efficiency and energy savings.  He used his own house in the mountains of Colorado as an example.  The house does not need traditional heating an cooling systems, even in the winter. While the house cost a little more to build, the fact that it doesn’t need an air conditioner or heater saves much more money.  He also used a high-end data center as an example.  Rather than making the heating and cooling systems more efficient, his organization made the computers more efficient first, allowing them to run cooler and saving the cost of an expensive air conditioning system.

On the entertainment side, John Landau of Lightworks spoke for a bit about James Cameron’s upcoming feature “Avatar” and how Autodesk played a significant role in making that film happen.  The movie uses a huge amount of motion capture, which was managed using Autodesk’s Motionbuilder software.  Motion capture usually places actors on a sterile stage, which removes them from their virtual environments.  For “Avatar”, Lightworks came up with the concept of a virtual camera, which is basically an LCD screen tracked by motion sensors.  The director can use this virtual camera to “see” the actors in the actual 3D environments used in the film.  This allowed for much tighter integration between the actors and the virtual world. 

Lightworks' John Landau

Finally, Chief Technology Officer Jeff Kowalski talked about a number of topics, including the computing cloud and collaboration.  He also touched on some future directions, such as an iPhone application that used augmented reality to show contractors the pipes and sewer systems under a city street.

Outside of the keynote, the convention center was buzzing with students from all over the world learning AutoCAD, Revit, Inventor, and many other products.  These were taught by many of the leading trainers in the Autodesk community.  The classes were both lecture as well as hands-on labs and many students came to get certified in one piece of software or another.  There’s also a late night trade show that opens after class is let out. 

The conference continues through the week, and there will be many more events.  I’ll post again tomorrow.

George Maestri is an animation director and producer. He is currently the president of Rubber Bug, a Los Angeles based animation studio. He also teaches animation at Otis College of Art and

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.