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David Heller
David Heller
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The Autodesk 2015 Media & Entertainment Release In Depth

March 18th, 2014 by David Heller


Dateline March 18, 2014

Autodesk issued a press release today announcing their new 2015 Media & Entertainment products and Suites.   This article takes you beyond the press release to give you all the information you’ll need to wrap your hands around the powerful new features and functionality added to each product.   Please use the above links to jump to each product’s write-up.

3ds Max 2015      Maya 2015      Softimage 2015      Mudbox 2015      Motion Builder 2015      Maya LT 2015

Entertainment Creation Suite 2015

For 2015 Autodesk is offering two Suites – Standard and Ultimate.  The Suites make things easier for production facilities by giving them additional pipeline flexibility and interoperability between creative tools to increase their productivity.

The Standard edition includes either Autodesk®3ds Max®2015 or Autodesk®Maya®2015 3D modeling, and rendering software, with Autodesk®Mudbox®2015 digital sculpting and painting software, and Autodesk®MotionBuilder®2015 real-time virtual production and character animation software.

With the Ultimate edition, artists have access to every product in the Standard edition together with both Maya and 3ds Max, and Autodesk®Softimage®2015 visual effects and animation software.

Pricing for the Ultimate edition mimics what the 2014 Premium edition sold for. ($6,825)

3ds Max 2015

This release of 3ds max is all about streaming the work flow and getting much greater performance and productivity from the software while dealing with some of the real world areas, whether it’s trying to visualize your creation in a real world environment or in the real world of the production pipeline.

With support for point cloud datasets, enhanced viewport performance, and new scene management workflows, 3ds Max 2015 helps artists and designers handle greater complexity quickly and without slowing down. In addition, a more responsive ActiveShade is included that now supports the NVIDIA® mental ray® renderer and a new artist-friendly node-based visual shader editor helps increase efficiency for lighting, shading, and rendering tasks. 3ds Max 2015 is more easily extended and customized with support for Python scripting.

New placement tools have also been added that allow artists to  position and orient content relative to other content within their scenes.  So, now objects can be moved along the surface of another mesh as if they’re somehow magnetically attracted to it.

As an example of this new functionality, the above video shows how you can move and place pieces of armor anywhere on the character by simply sliding it.  And you can move and orient the armor piece all in the same operation.

Key features include:

Point cloud support for a greater reality capture workflow with certain other Autodesk solutions: Autodesk ReCap, AutoCAD, Autodesk Revit, and Autodesk Inventor software. Now designers and artists can create more precise models from real-world references, with the new ability to import and visualize massive data sets captured from reality as point clouds.

Artists need to be able to deal with the real world, whether we’re talking about doing work with photo realistic looking assets or the real world of the production pipeline. With the 2015 release of 3ds Max artists can create lots more precise models from real world references using point clouds. They are now able to import and visualize these massive point clouds and use them as a reference and they can interactively adjust the extent of the clouds that are displayed, and can use them as a reference point to create new geometry by snapping to some of the point cloud vertices. The point clouds can also be rendered with shadows in mental ray so artists can create their 3D objects and put them into a real world type of environment that might have come from a point cloud generated from a Lidar scan or other reality capture device.

Python scripting to extend and easily customize and extend your 3ds Max 2015 software, and more easily integrate it into a Python-based pipeline.

ActiveShade rendering enhancements provide support for mental ray and also for  the NVIDIA®iray®renderer previously supported. With ActiveShade, artists and designers can see the effects of changing lighting or materials interactively, helping them more easily refine their work faster.

Accelerated viewport performance provides artists working in the 3ds Max viewport a substantially faster experience; a number of improvements accelerate navigation, selection, and viewport texture baking, resulting in greater interactivity, especially with dense meshes and scenes with multiple )texture maps. In addition, anti-aliasing can now be enabled with minimal impact on performance.

ShaderFX  with attention to game developers 3ds Max now provides game artists and programmers the ability to easily create advanced HLSL viewport shaders with the ShaderFX real-time visual shader editor.   The exact same technology and implementation used in Maya is now included in 3ds Max 2015.

Quad Chamfer Capability allows artists to create beveled edges between two surfaces that consist of quads rather than triangles. This capability eliminates pinching and produces a much better result in conjunction with the Turbosmooth Modifier.

Enhancements to the scene management tools makes dealing with complex scenes easier, with new nested layer functionality within Scene Explorers that helps artists and designers better organize data. In addition, a number of other enhancements have been made to the usability of Scene Explorers, contributing to an overall productivity improvement for scene management.

Everyday workflow improvements have been made across several areas in 3ds Max 2015. Highlights are: an updated UI for the Particle Flow Graph Editor that offers a closely unified experienced with the Slate Material Editor; enhancements to State Sets for accelerated performance and enhanced usability; and more streamlined interoperability workflows between 3ds Max and Adobe®Photoshop®and Adobe®After Effects®software.

Autodesk Maya 2015

Autodesk has added significant new capabilities to the Maya 2015 toolset to bring a new level of simplicity to complex and intricate work. New features like the Bifrost Procedural Effects Platform for simulating and rendering photorealistic liquids; the XGen Arbitrary Primitive Generator for creating hair, fur, feathers, grass, foliage; and support for Pixar’s OpenSubdiv libraries provide artists with the latest and most powerful tools to help create the next generation of high definition assets.

New features for Maya 2015 include:

Fully integrated Bifrost procedural effects platform based on renowned Naiad technology but, refined for ease of use which opens up this technology and these capabilities to a much broader range of artists.  Bifrost allows artists to create photo realistic simulations and renderings of liquids.  All the results can be previewed interactively with Viewport 2.0 or rendered in the mental ray renderer.

XGen Arbitrary Primitive Generator  is a technology that has been used extensively by Walt Disney Studios as well as Pixar for projects like Frozen, or Tangled, Bolt, or even Toy Story 3. It allows artists to be able to create curves, spheres or even custom geometry on the surface of a polygon mesh allowing them to create or groom hair, fur, feathers on a character or quickly populate large landscapes with different types of greenery whether its grass, trees, flowers  or boulders and rocks or even debris trails.

One advantage is that geometry is created procedurally at the time of render, so artists can handle large amounts of instance data that would normally slow down a system if it was loaded into memory and, effects can also be previewed interactively within the Maya Viewport 2.0

Geodesic Voxel Binding – Autodesk has made a lot of improvements to their modeling toolssets, and one of the new capabilities they rolled into this Maya release is Geodesic Voxel Binding, a skinning method for binding geometry to joint skeletons.  It enables artists to produce very high quality production results in a lot less time.  What makes Voxel Binding unique is that it can handle really complex geometry that’s not necessarily water tight and that can contain non manifold or overlapping components.  The resulting weights are compatible with existing skinning methods in Maya so this new technology still interoperates with the existing skinning technologies found in Maya.  And, this technology is very suitable for individuals doing game development work.

ShaderFX  is all about game development and the new SharderFX provides game artists and programmers the ability to easily create advanced HLSL, GLSL, and CgFX viewport shaders within a real-time visual shader editor.  Shader networks are created by connecting different nodes together using an intuitive click-drag workflow and the resulting materials can visualized real time in the Viewport 2.0.  There is also an advanced mode that allows artists to drill down deep into the inner workings of each basic node.

OpenSubdiv  allows artists working on both film and games productions to represent subdivision surfaces in Maya using the OpenSubdiv libraries open-sourced by Pixar. Taking advantage of parallel CPU and GPU architectures, artists will experience dramatically faster draw performance.   Artists can visualize their displacement maps interactively without the need to render and it offers a very accurate  WYSIWG type of experience.  Using OpenSubdiv increases productivity while delivering extremely accurate realizations of the artist’s creative intent.  If the production facility is using Renderman as their renderer solution, they’re also going to  benefit because OpenSubdiv surfaces closely match those rendered in Renderman.

Enhanced polygon modeling helps artists more easily retopologize high-resolution meshes for cleaner deformations and better performance with a streamlined workflow that features a new Relax and Tweak feature with Soft Selection in the Quad Draw tool, and a new interactive Edge Extend tool.   In addition, there’s  a robust and efficient new library for faster and more reliable Boolean operations and an enhanced and extended Bevel tool.   Autodesk has also done a lot of work integrating the ‘NEX’ tool set, that was introduced in the 2014 release, much deeper into the Maya Modeling Toolkit to help improve productivity for everyday polygon modeling tasks.

Autodesk Softimage 2015

Autodesk® Softimage® 2015 software helps studios more efficiently create and manage the highly detailed assets required by today’s demanding entertainment productions. Enhancements to the ICE platform, access to previously unavailable functionality in the NVIDIA® mental ray® renderer, and animatable weight maps in Syflex cloth help bring new creative possibilities to artists and technical directors. In addition, single-step interoperability between Softimage 2015, Autodesk® MotionBuilder® 2015 software, and Autodesk® Maya® 2015 software helps artists harness the power of CrowdFX in an integrated cross-product crowd simulation workflow.

New features in Softimage 2015 include:

Alembic caching allows artists to read and write the Alembic open computer graphics interchange framework format. Alembic distills complex animated and simulated data into application-independent baked geometry;

Improved ICE performance and usability helps artists create stunning large-scale procedural effects in less time. Overall improvements to performance aid in speed and ease of use, allowing artists to edit and create complex and detailed effects faster and easier;

Access to previously unexposed mental ray functionality gives technical directors the ability to activate functions in the NVIDIA mental ray renderer. Light Importance Sampling and Native Image Based Lighting are examples of the functionalities that can be accessed in this manner;

Support for mental ray progressive rendering enables artists to more quickly adjust shaders and lighting, without waiting for the full-quality render to be completed. This is done through progressive rendering for mental ray, where the complete image is first rendered at a lower quality, and then refined step by step;

Single click cross-product CrowdFX workflows with MotionBuilder and Maya allow artists to use CrowdFX simulations, facilitating a smoother cross-product workflow. Easier cross product CrowdFX workflows allow for character animations created in Autodesk MotionBuilder 2015 software to be imported into Softimage in a single step, making it much easier to use them with the powerful CrowdFX crowd simulation feature. Moreover, a single click can now take CrowdFX simulations to Autodesk Maya 2015 software for inclusion with other scene elements, helping to facilitate a smoother cross-product workflow.

Autodesk Mudbox 2015

Autodesk® Mudbox® 2015 software offers enhanced support for real-world production workflows, with streamlined mesh refinement, new Sculpt Layer and Paint Layer groups, and better interoperability with certain other content creation solutions to help artists make meshes topologically symmetrical while retopologizing them or as a separate process. Additionally, artists can now exchange Ptex textures and multi-tile UV textures with Maya as part of the single-step interoperability feature.

The latest Mudbox features include:

Symmetry options for retopology and for existing meshes enforce topologically symmetrical results when retopologizing meshes. Symmetry can be based on the source topology or on a local or world axis, for completely symmetrical results.  Existing meshes can also be quickly made symmetrical across one or more axes without retopologizing with a new Make Symmetrical tool and this is really useful, particularly for models scanned from real-world objects that may look symmetrical but in reality are not.

Sculpt Layer and Paint Layer groups aid artists in organizing groups for easier identification of layers in complex scenes. Artists can also use Sculpt Layer groups to receive and store Blend Shape targets from Autodesk Maya 2015 software, and Paint Layer groups enable artists to manually merge layers or to choose to flatten groups on export.  Artists can also toggle visibility to focus on a particular aspect of their work and can duplicate multiple layers at once.

New Caliper tool enables artists to measure the distance between two points on a model or along a curve, helping to ensure that meshes match a desired real-world scale or fit with other objects or environments that may be created separately.

MotionBuilder 2015

Autodesk® MotionBuilder® 2015 software helps extend the world of high-quality animated production to new audiences, with support for affordable, consumer-level motion capture devices and a library of pre- built moves to cover a number of commonly required animations. In addition, new advanced camera options—animatable Depth of Field and Follow Focus—help artists more readily mimic real-world cinematography, to better preserve directors’ creative intent. Meanwhile, the ability to adjust a character’s position within a marker cloud offers greater flexibility in how captured data is mapped to a CG target that may have different proportions from the original actor.

Key new features in MotionBuilder 2015 include:

Support for consumer motion-capture devices With MotionBuilder Autodesk has included a new plug that enables artists to be able to use a Microsoft Kinect consumer grade motion capture device to easily capture body performances and use them to drive MotionBuilder characters. The MotionBuilder interface also allows users to add support for certain other similar devices such as the Leap Motion devic

Advanced camera options to recreate aspects of real-world cinematography allowing directors to stay true to creative intent. Animatable Depth of Field helps artists mimic a change in aperture in the real camera, affecting the range of objects in view that are in focus, while a Follow Focus option enables artists to lock a camera’s focus on an particular object in the scene,  keeping it in focus as its distance to the camera changes.

The Moves content library ships with MotionBuilder 2015 providing an additional 100 useful animations in Autodesk® FBX® asset exchange format, which artists can combine, blend, and layer to block out or pre-visualize their scenes in less time, or use as a starting point for further refinement.  Moves have been selected to offer coverage for frequently encountered scenarios,
like walking, running, jumping, crawling, falling, fighting, and idling categories, as well as those that involve furniture or weapons.

Flexible marker assignment offers greater flexibility in how captured data is mapped to a CG character that may have different proportions from the original actor.

Maya LT 2015

(Source: Wesley Adams)

Maya LT is Autodesk’s new 3D animation modeling tool for professional indie game makers.  When gaming began it was those indie developers who were hacking together on programs on machines that really weren’t intended for gaming and they were dealing with severe CPU and memory limitations to boot.

Then, literally over the course of a couple of decades as gaming popularity sky rocketed,  gaming went mainstream facilitated by game consoles who’ve helped lower the barrier to entry for both players and developers.  Now were seeing that mobile devices are again lowering the barrier of entry even more for indie game makers.

We’re seeing a return to form of the indie game makers and we’re seeing that console manufactures like Sony and Microsoft are really paying a lot more attention to what indie game makers are doing. These major players are actively lowering the barrier of entry to get content on their platforms.  On top of that we see what Valve is doing with their Steam platform and with their upcoming Steam Machines.

When we’re looking at indie game makers we see a broad spectrum from hobbyists playing with apps on their phones or just dabbling a little bit in game development to really large game making studios who have really complex pipelines needed to support  hundreds or even thousands of developers at a time.

Maya LT targets the professional indie game maker who can be a one man or woman studio, or a few people starting a gaming company on the side, or a small studio running full time as a profit generating business.   We’ve been targeting the development of May LT to a very specific to insure that we’re providing a great amount of value for every dollar they spend because this segment of the market, we know,  is hyper sensitive to that, and we know that we can provide great tools at a very competitive price point.

Autodesk Maya LT was developed from the ground up for professional indie game makers. The 3D animation and modeling software includes features specifically designed to make each step of the 3D creative process faster for experienced 3D artists and easier to learn for new users. Industry proven 3D creative tools empower artists to realize the full creative potential of their game design.

New tools for 3D modeling, texture creation and cloud integration in Maya LT 2015 makes creating 3D content for indie games more efficient and accessible.

Notable New features in Maya LT 2015 include:

Cloud integration enables artists to capture real-world items in Autodesk 123D Catch or create in Autodesk 123D Creature easily. Maya LT lets users open files created and saved in the Autodesk 123D® cloud storage service so that real-world items captured in 123D® Catch or characters made in 123D Creature can be used as a starting point to make final game assets in Maya LT. Artists can browse, open and modify files in certain cloud services, such as Dropbox or Autodesk 360, directly through the Maya LT interface, then save the files back in the cloud.

So if you’re a Maya LT artist and you’re working with a team of people you can now, directly from the Maya LT UI, access things like your Autodesk 360 account and also your Dropbox account to share your assets with a geographically dispersed team, or even if you’re worried about loss when saving your work locally this is a really good solution.  Working with the cloud is easy and provides a perfect collaborative solution. You just navigate your menu, make a modification and re-export it back to your cloud interface.

Cloud integration also allows in Maya LT to pull down 123D creatures, or 123D Catch creations.   – Let’s say you’re on the go and you get a moment of inspiration  You flip on your iPad and start sculpting a creature you think might be a good starting point,   You can then can save that back up to the 123D cloud service, and then from Maya LT you can pull your creation down and use it as your go point to create your game asset that you’l finally pump into your game engine.  We’re just at the front of what’s going to be a ground breaking new way for indie developers to create their assets no matter where they are. Being able to create on the go and where you are lowers the barriers to creativity, and that’s our goal.

Integration for Substance Designer materials  is another great integration for teams that are using algorithmic Substance Designer, Let’s say you’re a small team and you’ve got a highly technical developer using Substance Designer to create model materials, and you’ve also got  other designers who are not as technical.   In this case your very technical artist can get things almost all the way 100% there and then hand it over to the artist who’s going to refine and basically make look it exactly as they want it to look.

Integrated powerful tools simplify modeling. Unfold3D lets artists unfold their 3D objects by defining their own UV seams using intuitive selection tools within the viewport, enabling artists to see the results and make adjustments quickly and efficiently.

Easier to create and edit UV maps – We’ve added a new set of UV tools to make the creative process easier because we know we’ve got a lot of new 3D users in this segment.

We introduced a new algorithm that automatically unfolds your geometry and  creates a UV map.  It does a great job and it’s really fast so you don’t have to waste time sitting around waiting for it to populate. But, you can also use manual tools to put your own seams on the asset and these tools are also easy to use.  Once you’ve done the unfolding it presents a color shaded result that you can use to find out what areas of the map might be problematic.  So, if you have unfolded a shoulder and it looks to be too compressed or too stretched out it’s going to let experienced artists just blaze through the process and it’s also a lot easier for new artists to do UV mapping as well.

New skin binding technology called Geodesic Voxel Binding is a new way to bind model geometry to a character skeleton. The new algorithm can manage less-than-perfect model geometry and still give good results, so artists have less adjusting to do afterwards.

Walk Tool is a new way for artists to move the camera around the Maya LT viewport. It uses WASD keyboard navigation and mouse keys just like a first-person-perspective game, making it very familiar to gamers who are new to 3D.

This is a smaller thing, but it shows that we’re trying to tackle every possible area of the software where we can get wins for indie game makers.  If you’re new to 3D but have played first person perspective games on a PC then you’re going to feel right at home.

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