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Interview: Autodesk Aims Beyond Asset Creation With Softimage Acquisition

On the heels of Autodesk's $35 million acquisition of Avid's Softimage business unit, Gamasutra talks to Autodesk senior VP Marc Petit about what the next strategic steps for the ne
Last week's announcement that 3ds Max and Maya owner Autodesk is acquiring Avid's Softimage business unit for $35 million united three of the most-used -- and formerly competing -- 3D game art construction tools under the same roof, and Gamasutra decided to talk to Autodesk and find out what this means for the games biz. "Once it is complete, this acquisition will allow Autodesk to offer more complete end-to-end solutions that will enable the next generation of digital entertainment creation," says Autodesk senior VP Marc Petit. The first priority for the merged organization is to improve interoperability between Autodesk and Softimage products; Petit says that the two companies already have a broad overlap in their customer base -- "we're seeing a lot of hybrid pipelines," he says, wherein many companies commonly employ solutions from both companies already. "Enhanced interoperability between Autodesk and Softimage solutions will allow artists to choose the best tool for any job," says Petit. "Softimage products and technologies will also enrich the portfolio of Autodesk 3D tools and open them to a broader range of users, such as modders." But the merger's primary strategy, according to Petit, is to bridge a gap he sees between the requirements of asset creation and of game authoring, as supply chains see increased complexity. The main focus for those efforts hinges on Autodesk's existing FBX technology, which allow data such as motion, cameras, characters and skeletal hierarchies to be transported across a variety of applications. "The art pipeline and the engine pipeline need to speak the same language and we are investing so that FBX becomes that shared language," Petit says. "It means that the DCC application and the game authoring tools can share the same game object representations and FBX can express and transport these shared assets." Autodesk says it hopes to enable DCC applications to evolve into rapid prototyping environments, so that content can be developed in a context as close to the final game as possible. It aims to offer an out-of-the-box runtime solution for playback. "Our initial focus is to create a solution for believable characters which requires tight integration of animation, AI and physics and the ability to author these in context," Petit explains. But with the acquisition, Autodesk rises to perhaps an unprecedented degree of presence across game development tools -- with little competition, how will the company ensure that innovation remains paramount? "The proof is in the pudding," says Petit. "I think we have established a good track record with Maya, MotionBuilder and Mudbox. We have shown that we will continue to invest in development and innovation." He noted the company's work on adding GPU-accelerated painting and sculpting to Mudbox, and adds that there's "a lot going on" with another of the company's recent acquisitons, Kynogon's Kynapse AI middleware. "We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg with games and interactive 3D," says Petit. "Games are becoming mainstream today, tomorrow social networking and ecommerce will use interactive 3D technology as well, virtual worlds will become commonplace." In such an environment, Petit says, there will always be a need for better tools and solutions. "There will be no shortage of challenges and competition, as some of the biggest companies in the world have already entered this market." "It is a fascinating time to be in the games industry as it is about to break into a new dimension, we’ll be working very closely with our customers to address these new opportunities."

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