Autodesk 2012 releases: change is good

For the first time ever, Autodesk announced new versions of their creative applications in a single global launch. There are new 2012 versions of Flame, Smoke, Maya, 3ds Max, Softimage, MotionBuilder, and Mudbox. We’ll highlight some of the key new features of the releases, but as a bit of background there were some organizational changes in Montreal that are already paying dividends in the 2012 release. This is actually a very big change in the way things are done…and perhaps bigger news than the actual releases themselves.

Development Team Reorganization

I’ve been involved in various beta testing teams for Discreet and Autodesk for more than ten years. This includes the first releases of Fire/Smoke as well as the entire (what I would call) troubled development of Toxik. Flame and Smoke were applications that were developed inside Discreet in Montreal before the company was acquired by Autodesk. There was a very strong “Discreet” culture that evolved over the years…a culture that paid dividends in a new approach to compositing and post.

The various 3D applications under the Autodesk banner did not come from this heritage in Montreal. 3ds Max (previously 3D Studio Max) was originally an Autodesk software — actually, their Kinetix devision. Maya, Softimage, Mudbox, and MotionBuilder were all acquired by Autodesk over time.

Due to their separate roots, the development teams for the products were effectively islands — you could even gather this from the outside with their separate release dates. While understandable from a historic standpoint, this prevented a higher level of interoperability between the products. The promise of FBX exchange between even the in-house Autodesk products has never really reached its full potential…and since they’re under one roof, it is safe to assume this would have happened years ago.

A slight exception to this was Toxik (now Maya Composite), which had some tight workflow integration with Maya’s render passes and camera. Toxik, in fact, was designed to work closely with Maya to improve the 3D compositing process. However, this bond seemed to happen to the detriment of the flagship Flame and Smoke products…which didn’t get these new features and tools as Toxik was being developed. As users, we wanted to see developments on various products being shared between them, as opposed to being kept to a single app. The fact that Maya wouldn’t work well with Flame and Smoke was especially a sore point among users.

This background isn’t meant to rehash the past, but to provide a bit of perspective as to why last year’s structural changes at Autodesk are such a big deal in a positive way. For the first time, all of the product dev teams effectively report to one person in Montreal. There  is much greater communication between the various teams. Of course, there are still cultural differences and rivalries between the teams…it’s only natural. In fact, you would want a bit of healthy competition between teams to drive innovation. And some features will remain only in certain applications. However, the key is that features and tech are now clearly cross-pollinating between products.

The folks at Autodesk have put a structure in place to help make workflow easier for artists. It’s obviously a natural thing to do since they develop many of the top 3D applications. You can see in the 2012 releases that there’s been a new focus on interop and sharing tech where it is useful. Some examples:

  • Single step interop: One menu click to share data between 3ds Max/Maya and MotionBuilder Softimage ICE and Mudbox. No need to export/import FBX between the products
  • Flame/Smoke using Softimage geometry technology to improve subdivision on text and gmask geometry
  • Flame/Smoke, Maya, and MotionBuilder all share the same stereo camera rig
  • Unified F-curve editor between 3ds Max, Maya, MotionBuilder, Softimage ICE and Mudbox
  • Far better FBX support in Flame/Smoke
  • Substance Textures being used in both Flame/Smoke and Maya
  • Smoke on Mac supports the 15″ MacBook Pro screen size

One could consider these to be minor starting points, but it is a very welcome sign to see these types of sharing of tech. In discussions with Marc Petit, Senior Vice President Autodesk Media & Entertainment, it’s clear that they are very focused on taking advantage of more interop in the future. I’m paraphrasing here, but he seems genuinely focused on making sure that artists and facilities are given the creative tools they need as well as solid workflows to get projects done faster and cheaper considering the tighter budgets on projects today.

Putting on my Flame/Creation Suite owner hat for a second, this is actually something that they *have* to do to be successful. Several years ago, Autodesk switched to a subscription method for software upgrades. Basically, as an owner one buys an annual subscription and then you get all software upgrades during the year. In order for this to be of value for me so that I’ll spend the money, I need to see significant improvements in both creative features and workflow. In other words, Autodesk needs to deliver. So far, in my opinion they have. Over the three years I’ve owned Flame, I’ve paid the subscription fee to stay current.

Obviously, there’s a ton of work that needs to be done to further improve the products and we’re a long way from creative and workflow utopia. This includes adding new features, sharing tech, and make interoperability better. But the key takeaway is that it seems that Autodesk now understands this and have taken steps to improve the development process.

The Releases

The releases of the software are expected to happen in April. We’ve detailed key highlights of the releases below and will be covering them in more detail in the coming weeks.

Key Flame 2012 Features

Our recent fxguidetv episode #103 covers new features in Flame Premium with Lead Product Designer Philippe Soeiro. We also have the un-edited, full length feature videos available on our site. It is an incredibly impressive release, especially considering the fact that it has been less than half a year since the extension release. There are solid workflow improvements as well as new creative features.

  • New lights in Action – Area, Ambient, Directional, IBL (Image-Based Lighting)
  • Cast shadows in Action – includes self-shadowing options
  • Lighting Effects in Action – 3D lens flares with occlusion, 3D light rays
  • 3D Gmasks – new Action object
  • 3D tracker improvements, including point clouds
  • Shape tracking in Action
  • Flame FX
  • Improved FBX
  • Gateway Clip format: multi channel OpenEXR files in batch

Lens flares in Smoke on Mac
What features are in Flame and what’s in Smoke? Some of that is still up in the air, but of the main new features, the 3D tracking Analyzer workflows and the new Gmask in Action (with shape tracking) are the most significant features to remain Flame only. The new lighting tools (Lights, Lens Flares, and Rays) and Flame FX are in all of the applications. On Smoke on Mac, there are some hardware limitations due to the OS X gfx drivers and limitations on 4500/5500 boards. Theare are no 3D cast shadows – only 2.5D limited to 512×512 resolution.
In all the Autodesk press releases and web overviews, one thing that might be read between the lines is arguably the future of the systems product line. In all of their marketing materials, there isn’t something called “Smoke Advanced”, “Smoke on Linux”, or Lustre to be seen. It’s become clear that Autodesk is now effectively focusing on three products: Flame Premium, Flare, and Smoke (on Mac). One could argue that they might simply end up with the simplified three product line in the future — especially as we see more and more features shared by the Flame and Smoke Linux products. However, for the time being, Smoke Advanced and Lustre are definitely still available for new customers and old. One product has actually been dropped from the line for new customers and that’s Flint.

Editable motion trails in the Maya viewport
Key Maya 2012 Features

  • Viewport 2.0 Enhancements – Now offers full-screen effects: motion blur, depth-of-field and ambient occlusion, component and manipulator displays, batch rendering capabilities and a high-performance API (application programming interface).
  • Editable Motion Trails – Edit animation directly in the viewport, without the need to switch context to the graph editor.
  • Substance Smart Textures – A library of 80 dynamic, animatable and editable resolution-independent Substance smart textures and filters with a tiny disk space footprint. Textures can also be converted to bitmaps for rendering or baking purposes.
  • New Simulation Options – Incorporates the multithreaded NVIDIA PhysX engine* for static, dynamic and kinematic rigid-body simulations directly in the Maya viewport and the Digital Molecular Matter plug-in for shattering simulations from Pixelux Entertainment.
  • Node-Based Render Passes – Ability to create and edit node-based representations of render passes and render the composited output directly using the mental ray renderer.

Key 3ds Max 2012 Features

3ds Max mRigids

  • Nitrous Accelerated Graphics Core — Leveraging accelerated GPUs and multicore workstations, Nitrous enables artists to iterate faster and handle larger data sets with limited impact on interactivity. Advanced scene management techniques, along with multithreaded viewport scene traversal and material evaluation, result in a smoother, more responsive workflow.
  • mRigids Rigid-Body Dynamics — mRigids is the first module released in the new MassFX unified system of simulation solvers. Artists can use the multithreaded NVIDIA PhysX engine to create more compelling, dynamic rigid-body simulations directly in the 3ds Max viewport.
  • Artists can now save and load brush settings to quickly toggle between favorite presets and choose a source for the Clone brush from anywhere on the screen when painting bitmaps in the Viewport Canvas.

Key Softimage 2012 Features

  • CE Modeling — Nondestructive geometry creation, based on rules, conditions and parameters that facilitate topology operation creation, particle meshing, custom primitives and geometry fracturing while preserving UV attributes.
  • Syflex on ICE — More flexible node-based workflow of ICE enables artists to use Syflex cloth to create and edit highly realistic cloth effects.
  • Lagoa Multiphysics — This simulation framework helps artists create realistic simulations of the dynamic behavior of liquids, cloth, foam, plastic and soft body collisions, as well as incompressible fluids, inelastic, elastic and plastic deformations.

Key MotionBuilder 2012 Features

Stereoscopic in MotionBuilder
  • Stereo Support ― Author and view stereoscopic content in MotionBuilder, with the new in- viewport stereoscopic display and camera rig. Camera data can be exchanged with Maya, Autodesk Flame 2012 and Autodesk Smoke 2012 software via Autodesk FBX 2012 asset exchange technology.
  • HumanIK Unification ― A unified interface and solver for HumanIK character animation middleware offers more consistent workflows and improved interoperability between the products, and updated Character Controls and Characterization tools. Customers who use the HumanIK 4.5 or 2012 will benefit from enhanced consistency between MotionBuilder and their games engine.

Key Mudbox 2012 Features

  • UV-Less Painting ― Texture artists can now eliminate or reduce the time-consuming and often difficult task of creating UVs; even complex assets comprised of multiple meshes can simply be loaded, and painted right away.
  • Large Texture Datasets ― Now it’s possible to paint and manage large texture datasets, in order to create the very detailed, high-quality assets required by today’s demanding productions. Thanks to a new texture and tile management system, artists can display and paint hero assets with hundreds of texture maps consisting of billions of texels.
  • Multiple Joints ―Create, manage, and weight multiple joints to quickly and easily deform and pose full-figure models. Artists can now create symmetrical pairs of joints, while joint hierarchies can be created automatically based on influenced vertices.

Ptex in Mudbox 2012
When ptex uvs are created, Mudbox looks at the shape and size of faces *at the highest level*. The reason for this is that, as you know, subdividing a mesh has an averaging affect on the positions of vertices that causes face sizes to even out and face shapes to square up. For example, in a situation where a large face is adjacent to a skinny face (as is common in hard surface objects), subdividing these faces will cause the skinny face to double or triple in width and the large face to shrink in width. So it’s important that the UV space allotted for these faces represent the shape and size of these faces at rendertime (ie. subdivided). So if a mesh is intended to be rendered as subd, the user should subdivide the mesh a few times before setting it up for ptex.

One way in which Mudbox-3ds Max/Maya interop is superior to GoZ is that the scene is updated with changes from Mudbox, not replaced with Mudbox data. So if your 3ds Max/Maya scene has hierarchies, layer assignments, custom attributes, any special scene setups, these are all retained through the roundtrip with Mudbox. Whereas roundtrip through GoZ, on the other hand, just blows all of that away – your scene is reduced to just mesh data coming from Zbrush.

Paint layers can have multiple layer masks and these masks can be blended together using blend modes.

The “Adjust Color” function is quite powerful and can reproduce many/most of the color adjustment operations in Photoshop and Mari. Operations like Color Balance, Invert, Posterize, etc. can all be done using the Curves and HLS controls in the Adjust Color window. (We wanted to add some presets to the window, but ran out of time)

The hotbox and other marking menus are supposed to be customizable by the user, by modifying xml files on disk. Users are also supposed to be able to create their own marking menus (by adding new xml files to the same directory) and assign hotkeys to them in the hotkey editor.

Painting blur with a large brush on a high resolution texture is several times faster in Mudbox than doing the same in Photoshop – there’s no comparison.

The edge bleed has been dramatically improved for Mudbox 2012. it’s superior to the pixel-stretching techniques used by Mari and other paint programs. The edge bleed is actually painting the detail beyond the boundaries of the UV shell – and doing this in realtime in 3d (not as a post-process).

2 thoughts on “Autodesk 2012 releases: change is good”

  1. : : : . : . : : . Great!!!
    Is very simple / I like this pipeline / is very important to reduce work Time.

  2. “Lagoa Multiphysics” Key feature on Softimage 2012? Wasn t that already included in 2011.5?

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