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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
"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.
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.