Autodesk has bought Arnold and Solid Angle based in Madrid, Spain and in London, UK. The deal was first struck in December of last year, and finalized in February. The plan is for Solid Angle to be a standalone provider, in much the same way Autodesk has done with Shotgun. Solid Angle is now fully owned by Autodesk but sits apart in so far as the brand Solid Angle remains, as does the sales channels and the staff.
The plan is to allow Solid Angle to maintain and grow its high end business, but in concert with the various Autodesk sales channels and re-sellers introducing Arnold to a much wider audience. If you are one of the 500 or so current Solid Angle customers, you can remain dealing with the company as it is. If you are in a location away from Solid Angle’s offices and you’d like to explore Arnold then you can via your local sales guy or reseller.
Fxguide spoke to both Autodesk and Solid Angle’s founder Marcos Fajardo separately over the last week and you can read our direct Q&A with Marcos below. A publicly listed company cannot discuss concrete forward plans but there is much that can be read between the lines, even if Autodesk can’t yet confirm it.
Firstly, this is the first time Autodesk has had a major renderer in-house. Autodesk’s wide distribution of Mental Ray was a licensing deal with NVIDIA (Mental Images) but not ownership. This represents a major deal for Autodesk’s Media And Entertainment division.
Arnold already supports Maya, Houdini, C4D, Katana and other products, but not 3ds Max. It is safe to guess that is the first (or second thing) Solid Angle will address. The only other higher priority will be an even tighter Maya integration. While the company has not committed to 3ds Max publicly, their press release all but confirmed that 3ds Max integration was coming soon.
To get the product to a wider audience one has to think that Autodesk will go the same route with Arnold that it has with its other professional M&E products, namely a free student version coupled with a push to the cloud for rendering. This is the play that makes the most sense. Solid Angle will focus on features + performance and Autodesk will focus on ease of access and ultimately ‘pay as you go’ rendering. Autodesk made a point in their press release about Arnold already supporting cloud rendering, and this coupled with the other Google Cloud – ZYNC Deal, lays out a clear road map ahead.
NAB may be a great time to disclose the sale, but SIGGRAPH and the next full release of Maya will see the first commercial re-alignment of the product to a wider audience.
Shotgun is the model for Solid Angle’s new structure – a fully owned but separate semi-attached company but with major clout. Following that lead, Solid Angle will completely still support products such as Houdini, C4D and Katana. Solid Angle has to do this if they want to continue at the high-end which nearly always is a mixed application environment.
What happens to Mental Ray? While it would be easy to assume Mental Ray will immediately die, there are just too many users deploying it for Autodesk to drop it overnight, but you can bet that the next negotiation with Nvidia will be an interesting meeting to attend. Our guess is that Mental Ray will remain in some form for a minimum of 18 months and probably longer – Autodesk may need to support it for a while to keep their huge user base happy.
Chaos Group has the most to lose from the deal. V-Ray has been making vast gains in popularity, user take-up and in-roads into all areas of production. If a user gets Arnold for free at some point, it will be harder to justify V-Ray – no matter how good it is. Of course, Chaos Group has extremely loyal followers and an innovative agenda so no doubt they will double down with things such as their push into VR and other new technology. The Pixar RenderMan team recently restructuring, presumably due to increased competition. Rendering is certainly one of the hottest areas in 3D right now.
While the financials of the deal have not been released it is understood Solid Angle was not cheap, this was not a company in trouble looking for a life raft, this is a company at the top of its game. The fact that Autodesk is willing to pay for premium products that address the high end is a very healthy sign of the roadmap for M&E inside Autodesk. We asked Autodesk specifically if this acquisition was aimed at any other parts of the business and apparently it is not. This is very much a move to strengthen and grow Media and Entertainment. While Marcos and his father, Juan Fajardo, were the sole owners of Solid Angle, we understand that the staff have also benefited from the sale and since the deal was finalized more R&D engineers have joined the team.
This deal, if it works long term, will drive the next decade of Autodesk 3D while allowing Solid Angle serious engineering resources to push rendering further.
Last week we spoke one on one directly with Solid Angle’s founder Marcos Fajardo.
FXG: Why sell? Why now – for years you have turned down offers?
MF: For a number of years I have been getting offers from a number of companies, it was very clear that there was something here that people were very interested in, and for a while I was thinking that I did not want to sell – I was having fun – building the company – growing the team… and I wanted to develop the product just the way I liked it. So I rejected what was offered, but when the discussion started with Autodesk, and we got down to the details, they were making a proposal that was aligned with how I wanted the company to advance.
After many years of running my own company, which has been exhilarating – getting a great hand picked team of developers together, but when a company becomes a certain size it becomes more and more difficult to manage everything: the team, HR, legal stuff…it is draining. I am a bit obsessive, so I didn’t get a lot of help running the company, I was very lucky to have my father, Juan Fajardo, as the CFO. He has been worrying about the finances with me, but my father is retired, yet he is still working 10 hour days – which isn’t fair on him. Most importantly, I wanted to focus on the technology and not so much on just running the company. I want to be focused on R&D and the actual developing the product – which is the stuff I really like. When you are the owner of a company – you can’t sleep at night – you have so many issues…that have nothing to do with research, math or the science. This takes one big chunk of things off my shoulders.
FXG: Are you going to retire?
MF: No, once things stabilize a bit, I will be even more focused on the R&D.
FXG: Was it about selling to Autodesk in particular, or after all these years was their timing just right?
MF:A bit of both. Autodesk has done a great job with their acquisition of Shotgun.
When you get down to it and start talking to the people at Autodesk, you get to see that they have really good ideas and a great way of setting things up so that a business can continue with what your customers like about you. That is the model we have adopted: we will run Solid Angle semi-independently, along the similar lines to what has worked so well with Shotgun.
This means we will continue to talk to customers directly, and we remain a company that people can talk to. The relationships that we have built with the studios are as important as the software itself. It’s the team and the real people behind the company that our customers want to continue to talk to directly. This is going to operate a lot like the Shotgun acquisition, for example we will keep our offices, we will have our own website, we will sell to people directly. Shotgun is a great example of how things can work and I really like how they did it, it was an obvious model for us to follow.
FXG: Did they buy just Arnold or all of Solid Angle the company?
MF: My father and I were the two owners of the company, and we sold 100% of the shares of the company, including the British subsidiary. This includes the technology, the team, the complete company.
FXG: How will this affect pricing?
MF: Right now everything remains the same, actually the deal was closed in February, and so since then we have already been operating this way. I think there are some exciting opportunities down the road, but pricing for now remains exactly as it was. You can still buy permanent licenses – again nothing has changed.
FXG: Is the deal done? Is it signed, sealed and delivered?
MF: Yes completely, in fact we have been operating on Autodesk employment contacts for 2 months now, without a hitch.
FXG: Are you prepared for the huge jump in users this will represent?
MF: The plan is to get Arnold in the hands of many thousands of users, Autodesk is good at that, they are training people up and of course this will take a little time. Widening the user base is something we could not do at this scale without Autodesk. I see the market as a big pyramid. At the top you have the big studios like ILM, Dreamworks etc and at the other end you have all the individual users, students and artists working freelance. It is a very wide pyramid at the bottom. Solid Angle started from the top of the pyramid, for example Sony Imageworks – where we first used Arnold. Over time we have been moving down to mid size studios and eventually freelancers etc. That is where I want to be – still dealing with the big and medium sized studios, but Autodesk will take care of the wider market. They already have that structure, they manage thousands and thousands of users already. They are much better at scaling support and to look after those users. They will take care of the wider market and we will continue to service the high end. But we see a future with things like cloud rendering and easier access, so you can just click on a button and render right away – with as many machines as you like.
FXG: Can people still buy directly from Solid Angle?
MF: Yes just as before. We have two offices, one in Madrid, one in London – everyone stays, no one loses their job. But now we can do more, I have a bigger budget for R&D, we can expand, I don’t have to worry about finances so much, but I still run the company. For example, we just got an engineer in Tokyo and Autodesk helped make that happen really quickly, it would have taken me ages to set that up, but with a bigger company there are people to help.
FXG: Will the Solid Angle name continue?
MF: We will keep the Solid Angle name – for me it represents more than just a brand – it represents people – the team of people. We are great at support, we are great at sales we are great at R&D because of our people.
FXG: What resources does this add to the Solid Angle team?
MF: There is a lot of work being done with Maya and the core rendering research also continues – that is a never ending task. We will never be done. The door is open to collaborate with other teams inside Autodesk, but for now – because of the work we have to do right now – we are focused on the tasks at hand and so we are not yet spending much time with the other teams inside Autodesk, but there should be more – Autodesk has great engineering teams working on great technology.
And I trust we’ll have a bigger budget for parties!
FXG: Are you staying in place as the principal driving force of the software? Is there any cross technical work with other Autodesk technical area?
MF: Yes, there is no interference with the development of the renderer itself. I know where I want to take Arnold and Autodesk agrees with that vision – so there is no need to change the roadmap. I am still setting most of the development agenda.
FXG: How does this factor into the spread of facilities making their own renderers – Weta, Animal Logic, Disney etc?
MF: Actually that is a really small % of users. That is something that has been happening at some studios but it was not a factor in this deal. I have my own opinions on why this is, but it did not factor into the sale or motivation for it.
FXG: You will still support C4D, Houdini and Katana?
MF: Completely. Nothing will change. In fact since the acquisition we have released 5 versions of C4DtoA, 4 versions of HtoA and 2 versions of KtoA. I see no hostility from Autodesk for any of those other products. Arnold needs to continue to talk to all these packages, so that assets can be easily moved back and forth in the multi-vendor pipelines that are key to so many of our customers. Just like Shotgun we will support non- Autodesk products.
We have always loved supporting multiple platforms, as this exposes Arnold to new workflows and makes the renderer and its API more resilient and robust to a wider set of challenges. In fact we proud ourselves in often having the best integration of any renderer in those platforms. Having Arnold available in more platforms means that we continue to expand the Arnold user base and sell more render licenses, and that’s a good thing!
Not only will we continue to support those other products but the research-driven culture of Solid Angle is key – we have to continue to give to the academic and research communities, publish at conferences – that is where we all learn from. We are not going to stop doing that.
(For example, Solid Angle has two key papers in consideration for SIGGRAPH this year)
FXG: How many customers have you informed?
MF: I have really enjoyed talking to customers for the last month around the world on NDA. It is great as you get to talk to customers when perhaps normally you don’t have a reason to visit each of them, and they love talking to us but it is really tiring – still, I thought it was important to tell our key clients personally so they can understand what is going on.
(Note: fxguide understands roughly two dozen key customers worldwide managed to come under the NDA)
FXG: Well, congrats…
MF: Mike, it has been so tiring doing all this but now I will be able to focus on the technology and do the things I really want to do. It will be a lot of work with all the integration but I am really happy about it.
I just want to continue to be at the front of development..
I just have to work on Arnold, I don’t know how not to!
FMX April 26th Germany.
Marcos and the Arnold team will not be in Vegas this week for NAB, but they will be at FMX in Germany in force the following week after NAB. European customers can talk to the team directly at FMX, and Autodesk plans a big event at Siggraph. If you are at NAB, the Maya demo staff are all briefed and one’s best bet is to head to the Maya section of the Autodesk booth.
Above: Making of Director Ole Peters’ IWC Schaffhausen Spot, by Sehsucht in Germany. VFX all rendered in Arnold.
Fxguide plans to do a follow up from FMX with Marcos about the technical side of Arnold and the roadmap for the product, check back for that story in the week of April 25th.