Backstage at Autodesk

Following up on our recent interview with Michel Kripalani, Gamasutra reports from Autodesk’s Backstage Pass event, with details on the future of Maya, 3ds Max, and Autodesk's relationship with game developers.

Held in mid-December at Montreal’s chic Sofitel Hotel, located at the foot of Montreal’s most famous landmark, Parc Mont Royal, Autodesk’s Backstage Pass event promised a behind the scenes look at Autodesk’s media and entertainment business and the future developments of their product line, which includes 3D animation tools used across the games industry such as 3ds Max, Maya and Motionbuilder, as well as editing and effects tools such as Toxik and Lustre, used in the film industry.

An Introduction to Autodesk’s Media and Entertainment Business

Opening with an address from Marc Petit, the Vice President of Autodesk’s Media and Entertainment division, Petit outlined “The Autodesk Vision.”

Under a heading titled “Ideas visualised, Stories realised,” Petit said “When they want to create a story based on ideas, people turn to our technologies. Autodesk makes stories real.”

Going into detail on Autodesk’s history in the media and entertainment business, Petit revealed that 9 months after acquisition, Maya had had its strongest quarter ever, part of Autodesk’s overall growth, with revenue at year end increasing from $160 million to $172.3 million from 2006 to 2007, even when only the media and entertainment business was considered. A 15% combined growth was projected across the next couple of years.

Marc Petit

The session was handed over to Maurice Patel, the Head of Marketing in the Media and Entertainment division, who continued to drive the point that Autodesk consider themselves as facilitating the creation of “stories” within the film, television, games, and even the design visualisation industries, touting the research and development of their tools and their industry partnerships with the likes of Dell, Intel and Nvidia as part of their success, though in particular stressing Autodesk’s customer service.

Discussing customer successes, Patel quoted Mark Rein as saying “We use the Autodesk software to help us build and animate our models, and to help us achieve the high level of fidelity for next generation consoles.” Which brought Patel neatly to outlining the current state of the games industry and Autodesk’s place in it.

Autodesk and the Games Industry

Using numbers from PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2006-2010, Patel estimated the growth rate of the market at over 11% a year, specifically noting key market drivers as the recent launch of the next-generation consoles, widespread uptake of broadband, more and more older gamers and the increase of the mobile gaming market.

Describing Autodesk’s importance to the HD capable next-generation consoles, Patel stressed the need for efficient tools to control costs, with game development costs spiralling, but it was the discussion of Autodesk’s tools for mobile games that was the most interesting, with Autodesk’s Location Based Services being integrated into games such as TikGames Jewel Chaser Mobile. Patel also stated that Autodesk’s 3D development software was already optimized for mobile games production, in anticipation for the increased adoption of mobile handsets with 3D-enabled hardware.

Autodesk’s 3D Roadmap

Michel Besner

After coverage of the design visualisation and film industries, the agenda moved on to Autodesk’s 3D Roadmap, led by Michel Besner, the Senior Director of Product Management of the Media and Entertainment division. Besner went into detail on the concepts behind the development of Autodesk’s signature 3D tools (3DS Max, Maya and MotionBuilder) and in particular the file standard, FBX, that connects them.

“Before when there was competition between Max and Maya, the only thing people could think about was competing at the feature level,” Besner commented, “but now we are able to look at our customers and ask, ‘what do we have to do for their needs?’ And because of that we have concentrated on interoperability with FBX, to make each of our products a better, more useful product for our customers.”

Besner used the PS3 as an example of the need to pass data between Autodesk products easily. “When we think about ramping up to using the PS3 to its full potential, well, in two or three years when developers are, the amount of data that will be pushed will be absolutely insane.” Along these lines, Besner went on to describe the increase in complexity in data sets using the Unreal Tournament character models as a metaphor, and argued that in future, data sets will be shared between the film and games industries due to the increase in power of consoles.

Autodesk’s 2D Roadmap

Following brief coverage of Autodesk’ Systems Business from Maurice Patel, Chris Vienneau, a Product Manager in the Media and Entertainment division took the stage to discuss Autodesk’s 2D roadmap.

Though most of Autodesk’s 2D effects tools are orientated to the film industry, Vienneau addressed the requirements of the increasing uptake of HD by consumers upon Autodesk’s development, arguing that “HD consoles such as the Xbox360 have driven this move towards higher quality digital output,” and amused the audience with the tale of his excited mother informing him that she had “the HD”.

“When my mom knows what HD is, then I know it’s in the public consciousness.” He continued.

Vienneau also broached the topic of the continual improvements of graphics cards and what that meant for Autodesk.

“ATI/AMD and Nvidia are in the same war that for years Intel and AMD were for years, and the amount of money that they’re putting into GPUs… We’re just going to keep watching them put it in, because they’re not going to stop, and we’re getting more and more texture memory, faster and faster processors, SLI, all of these things that they’re doing, which have so many concrete improvements for an artist using our products.”

Chris Vienneau

Maya’s New Nucleus Technology

The most anticipated segment of Autodesk’s Backstage Pass event however was the final session, which required the signing of a time-limited NDA as it featured several revelations about the latest extensions to Autodesk’s key product lines.

Besner then announced a new update to Maya codenamed “Forge,” the most remarkable new feature being Maya nCloth, a unified dynamic solver using newly developed Maya Nucleus technology, though the new update was to include such requested features such as Python support, a universal binary, interface simplification and the first fully localised version of Maya for the Japanese market, due to be released some time in early 2007.

A quick demonstration of the new Maya nCloth system was then given, lightly describing the new Nucleus technology announced as an important part of the new Maya. “Nucleus is a unified dynamic solver based on particles,” The demonstrator explained, “It can replicate anything made of matter. Rigid bodies, cloth, and even liquids.”

“The nice thing about Nucleus,” He continued, “Is that it is built as a stand alone library, but we are currently focusing on it as part of Maya. It’s open, potentially, to be shared across the entire Autodesk product line.”

The demonstration went on to show how dynamic bodies could be created and manipulated in real time within the Maya interface, with objects given the properties of real world objects such as balloons and inflated and deflated, showing how possible it is to control the volume of an object in real time. “It’s a particle based system, so it essentially gives you a full physical system to work with,” The demonstrator described, before quickly turning two 3D primitives (a cylinder and a thin rectangle) into an attached curtain and a rod that reacted to being moved (with the curtain flapping realistically) and even across or against other objects (with the curtain deforming realistically against them) with variables such as the amount of stretch in the “fabric” of the object modifiable, all within Maya using the nCloth menu set.

The potential of the Nucleus system was further shown by a short liquid demo, showing water working as a huge number of particles acting as a liquid, reacting against rigid and soft bodies of different masses, rolling across or around them.


Announcements continued with a discussion of new improvements to Toxik, which included the revelation that one of the main focuses of Autodesk is for greatly increased interoperability between Maya and Toxik.

Autodesk's 'Toxik'

“The unofficial marketing term is ‘brothers from another mother’” joked the demonstrator, “We see these products coming much closer together to be able to do things like rendering scenes directly from Maya into Toxik, and further exploring FBX to allow improvements in the compositing environment.”


Though Autodesk only very quickly went through their developments for 3DS Max and Maya, each demonstration was intense with promise as Autodesk clearly showed that the merger with Alias truly did allow them to concentrate on improving feature sets and interoperability in a way that would clearly fit customers’ needs. Most exciting of all had to be the new Nucleus technology for Maya, and time will only tell what impact this will have for artists working in the games industry.


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