While at SIGGRAPH, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Autodesk about some of their new offerings, the 20th Anniversary of 3dsMax, and the ‘rivalry’ between Maya and Max. All in all, Autodesk doesn’t look to be shedding the title of ‘Behemoth of the Computer Graphics Industry’ anytime soon, and they’ve got lots on their plate to prove it.
First off, and central to many of their SIGGRAPH events, was the 20th Anniversary of 3dsMax. Autodesk held a special lunch event with Tim Miller (owner of Blur Studios) and some Autodesk higher-ups to discuss the last 20 years of the product, and where they plan to go from here. You can hear Tim Miller talk about 3dsMax in a special video at The Area, and his presentation at the event was similar. However, he showed some of the work he’s done over the last 20 years and his personal experiences with the product. I personally loved hearing him talk about being briefly hired by a “major studio” prior to Blur, and quitting in frustration with how poorly the “Industry” tools on SGI workstations performed in comparison to 3dsMax on a wimpy little PC. He concluded his talk with the amazing Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer that Blur created.
The other thing Autodesk was eager to talk about at SIGGRAPH was their new “Suites” products. Similar to Adobe’s Suites, now you can buy collections of Autodesk products in a Suite which cuts the price (obviously) and adds guaranteed 1-click interoperability between applications via the FBX systems. Their new Entertainment Creation Suites shown here, give you your choice of 3dsMax or Maya, along with SoftImage, Motion Builder, and MudBox. Whether you choose 3dsMax or Maya, the price does not change and they guarantee the same 1-click interoperability between all of the apps. That means you’ll be able to click a model inside 3dsMax or Maya and click 1 button to have it immediately transferred over to MudBox for refinement, and then click a button to send the results back to 3dsMax or Maya when you’re done. It’s a whole new level of interoperability not previously available without extensive plugins and file transfers/import/export mundaneness.
This leads to the last point that you really had to dig to get to at SIGGRAPH: Neither 3dsMax nor Maya are going away anytime soon. Several people (myself included) had expected that Autodesk’s acquisition of Maya would mean the end of the product as Maya’s features merged into 3dsMax. Not the case, as both products have continued on parallel and unique development paths since the acquisition, and Autodesk still has plans for many new features for both products. The fact that you can get the suites with either case at no cost difference seems to really drive home the point that Autodesk simply sees them as two tools to accomplish the same task : Act as the Central Hub for all of their other products. Model in MudBox, animate in Motion Builder, Render in Mental Ray, but link it all together in 3dsMax or Maya. Both products now offer identical capabilities, but expose them in different ways based on their historical audience.
I asked some Autodesk engineers about this, and they echoed the sentiment. If they tried to make 3dsMax more like Maya, users would probably leave for Cinema4d. If they tried to make Maya more like 3dsmax, Users would probably leave for Houdini. Leaving the two products along, but unifying them “under the hood” to reduce development time, lets each product play to it’s strengths and lets users remain comfortable in the environment they’ve spent the last 20 years working in.
So what’s in store for the products? The main thing it seems we’ll be seeing is an extensively redesigned UI. They admit that the current UI’s have gotten a bit cluttered with way too many rollouts. They currently have a project underway to redesign the GUI (some of which has already happened in the last 2 versions of 3dsmax) to be more streamlined, and have such lofty goals as a 20s load-time (Wouldn’t that just be AWESOME?). They are also embracing new computer architectures and working to add more features for multicore/multiprocessor systems, taking advantage of those big quad-core/hex-core chips on the way. But that’s not all, they’ve got a long list of things they’re working on, and I guarantee we will all love every bit of it.
If you were at SIGGRAPH & talked to Autodesk, what all did you see that interested you?