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Alias’ Doug Walker on Acquiring Kaydara, Securing MotionBuilder

Tulay Tetiker talks with Alias president Doug Walker about acquiring Kaydara and expanding Alias global 3D presence.

Attitude Studio used MotionBuilder for the character animation in the game Dead to Rights II, which will be available in early 2005 for PS2 and Xbox. All Death to Rights II images courtesy of Namco Hometek Inc. Studio  Attitude St

Attitude Studio used MotionBuilder for the character animation in the game Dead to Rights II, which will be available in early 2005 for PS2 and Xbox. All Death to Rights II images courtesy of Namco Hometek Inc. Studio Attitude St

Its been nearly 60 days since Alias shook up SIGGRAPH 2004 with its announcement that it was acquiring Kaydara, the small Montreal-based developer, finalizing its independence from SGI and securing MotionBuilder as the perfect complement to Maya. The name of the Kaydara products will fall under the Alias name, so we can expect the product names will remain the same. That way we can leverage the brand and get more people to see and understand the technology much faster said Doug Walker, president of Alias. There was a natural fit with the two companies product lines [and] with the acquisition of Kaydara we can reach far more users than we could hope.

In the meantime, Kaydara announced the new version 6.0 of MotionBuilder, which will start shipping this month. MotionBuilder, specifically designed to create 3D character animation and based on its previous incarnation Filmbox and the FBX file format developed by Kaydara, are widely used in computer graphics around the globe. VFXWorld spoke to Walker about the significance of the Kaydara acquisition for Alias and for the vfx industry as a whole.

Doug Walker, president of Alias, received an enthusiastic reaction when he announced the acquisition of Kaydera at SIGGRAPH this year.

Doug Walker, president of Alias, received an enthusiastic reaction when he announced the acquisition of Kaydera at SIGGRAPH this year.

Tulay Tetiker: What does the acquisition of Kaydara mean for Maya and for Alias industry presence worldwide, and what are the global market ramifications for the MotionBuilder purchase?

DW: We are doing what we said we would do from the beginning, and that is to be an independent company. Since we grew independent from SGI and weve had investors who believe in our vision of creating more value to our customers. The purchase of Kaydara is a very early indicator of that value creation. We had been out from under SGI for only about six weeks when we announced the Kaydara acquisition. We are very strong in the entertainment business, our customers are accepting the technology well and we wanted to go further to create more value for our customers and this is an example of it.

TT: Will MotionBuilder stay a separate offering and will it continue to offer the same flexibility to work with other packages, or will it be integrated in Maya 7?

DW: The product will remain stand-alone and thats also because its what the customers want. Kaydara customers have Maya pipelines but also our competitors pipelines. The last thing you want to do is to change that by integrating a technology in Maya only. That way the customers will get what they need.

Kaydara will begin shipping Alias MotionBuilder 6.0 this month. The product will remain a stand-alone. ©2004 Systèmes Alias Québec Inc. All rights reserved.

Kaydara will begin shipping Alias MotionBuilder 6.0 this month. The product will remain a stand-alone. ©2004 Systèmes Alias Québec Inc. All rights reserved.

TT: After the acquisition is complete will the R&D team stay in Montreal?

DW:

Yes, and we are actually very excited about our presence in Montreal. With Toronto and in Montreal you have two places where you have a lot of 3D developers and vfx companies. You have Softimage, Side FX and Discreet all large organizations here in Canada. We have had a strong presence in Toronto obviously for many, many years and we are hoping to actually increase our presence in Montreal over time, because the community is very strong there. We are absolutely committed to the R&D in Montreal and hopefully we will be able to leverage more people from their 3D community.

TT: Are you going to send some of your staff members to Montreal to help Kaydaras R&D team to develop tools?

DW:

We sent our people to Kaydara to learn more about the software, processes and exchange intellectual property. Their people have come here and done the same thing to make sure that we can develop the best Alias and the best Kaydara products.

TT: What was the reaction to your announcement at SIGGRAPH 2004 and the feedback of existing MotionBuilder customers in general?

DW:

Thefeedback was amazing. The Kaydara acquisitionwas obvious because the technologies are complementaryand it just made sense and thats why we announced it at SIGGRAPH. SIGGRAPH is the perfect venue since it is where we get together with all our partners, customers and users Their response was overwhelming. Now that we take over the business and the marketing for MotionBuilder there is a lot more security, I think, and the customers respond very positively on that. Secondly, when you move a business out from under its parent and say you are going to build new marketing and business solutions there is always this question out there if it is really going to work or not. And this acquisition was a stake in the ground that answered absolutely. So, all in all, we cant wait to get this deal closed and see the teams actually working together, which they already started to do very well. We now started to bring together the Alias team with the Kaydara team and just the cultural match between Montreal and Toronto is amazing. When you walk in Kaydaras office in Montreal you think you walk into Alias facilities in Toronto. Its a very open work environment, you have the very artistic and creative field and you feel just like youre at home.

MotionBuilder can be seen this coming spring in Darkwatch, a cinematic first person shooter game for PS2 and Xbox that blends the vampire-horror and western genres. Courtesy of Sammy Studios Inc.

MotionBuilder can be seen this coming spring in Darkwatch, a cinematic first person shooter game for PS2 and Xbox that blends the vampire-horror and western genres. Courtesy of Sammy Studios Inc.

Walker hopes to expand on Kaydaras position in the game marketplace and move into film and design. Above is an example of the softwares character animation from Dead to Rights II.

Walker hopes to expand on Kaydaras position in the game marketplace and move into film and design. Above is an example of the softwares character animation from Dead to Rights II.

TT: Do you have any plans to enhance FBX?

DW:

Yes, we have plans to enhance the complete Kaydara product line. I think that is one of the major benefits of bringing the two companies together. The technology is complementary we grow in terms of the customers pipeline. Alias has a vault of intellectual property that it has developed over the past 20 years and we also think that Kaydara has a pretty interesting intellectual property history developed over the past several years. We are actually sharing this intellectual property between the two products without really merging the products. Making our products able to do more over a short period of time is enticing and something that we think would create even more value for our customers. Having said that, it will of course also include FBX; and FBX is very important. Its an open standard that allows data to be transferred between different platforms. We are absolutely behind it to make sure that it remains its place in the market. And we may even create some things that are really exciting in terms of development, so stay tuned on this.

TT: Are there any specific markets in which Alias wants to gain more market share? For example, in the games industry?

DW:

I think games certainly are where the majority of Kaydaras business is today and we are going to work hard to develop that market and, hopefully, we will be able to build a larger customer base in that area. We also think that the technology will drive the film side of things, especially applications that create visualization. We are trying to get work done at the front end of the process instead of the back end and its less expensive, and I think we have a lot of interest and understanding from our customers how we might be able to do that better. But there are also some pretty cool technologies that Kaydara has that could be used on the design side of our business. Our design customers, for example, include almost all major automotive companies in the world and most of the major consumer products companies like Nike, Procter & Gamble, Trek Bikes they use the powers of digital design for different purposes. One of those purposes, for example, is understanding their designs in context. So, taking motion capture and using it as part of the visualization could be important to building interactive experiences for their clients for marketing purposes. One of the primary purposes of Kaydara was mainly to serve the games marketplace, which is where we are going to expand.

TT: Is Alias planning to release and purchase any new products in the near future?

DW:

You will see tremendous innovation coming from Aliasand that was really the main reason for moving the company out of under SGI. We have an unbelievable group of people at this company and we have some of the best graphics programmers in the world. We have a tremendous set of intellectual property and marquee customers with whom we have a great relationship for many years. We have many people now who are also getting involved in consulting services as well in the company. And what we didnt have up until recently in this company was a set of investors who shared our vision, and really believed that 3D could become more important and more indispensable, so we would have to create more applications than the market had in the past. The whole idea is to now take the investment that is available to us and apply it in ways that will create much more value for our customers. That means fundamentally more software products. What we will continue to do is to invest heavily in software development. We will continue to do that and build new products. New products we introduced lately are Sketch Book, Portfolio Wall or Image Studio. And, of course, we will also look for new products to buy. When our customers are saying they have a specific need in this or that area, we are going to look into opportunities, [and] buy those applications if there is an existing marketplace. So, you see, there should be a lot of great news to report on Alias in the next couple of years.

Tulay Tetiker has an extensive background in hi-tech journalism. Tulay wrote for German publication, Digital Production Magazine and CGChannel. She has also worked as a freelancer Avid/Final Cut Pro editor, and with the marketing teams for Alias|Wavefront (Germany) and Shake/Tremor. She is now working as a freelance journalist specializing in CG/vfx.

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