What’s the story with Alias/Wavefront ?

With offices closing, price drops, no NAB booth and all the associated rumours, we sat down with Alias/Wavefront to find out just what is going on with the Maya guys.

There is no doubt Alias/Wavefront is in transition, the company was pulled back R&D from both Santa Barbara ( Wavefront’s original home) and Seattle and moved it all to their headquarters in Canada. At the same time, the price has dropped dramatically and they are even giving their software away… Fxguide sat down with the Maya crew to find out what gives ?

FXGUIDE: The Free Maya personal learning edition (PLE), it seems to be a huge success?

AW: We have had 110,000 downloads of the program, and that placed us as one of the top 10 web sites in the world at one stage last week. Our server was so busy we had to put copies on other sites such as Apple’s iDisk and add more servers.

FXGUIDE: Is the PLE a more to widen your market or stop the use of cracked copies ?

AW: Both, it is true that many people wanted a copy just to learn on and test ideas, plus now power users can easily buy a full version to run along side AE & Photoshop. The base system is $1999, but node locked, the $6999 full version is a professional floating version.

But it also represents part of the companies new move towards a wider market. We looked at many companies and business models over months, and companies such as Adobe have become a bit of a model for AW. You’ll can see with the price drop, the PLE and such things as 6 new training tool titles on DVDs and CD – we are moving to widen the market.

FXGUIDE: How does Apple fit with that new business model?

AW: While the % of Mac sales is currently small, we have a great relationship with Apple, and we see Mac sales becoming very strong. Apple likes the brand and we see the potential for big volume sales.

FXGUIDE: So they are not buying you ?

AW: No, AW is in strong shape, you have to understand this restructure has been planned for 2 years, it is an effort to grow and expand, and we want to get that message out.

FXGUIDE: What other activities or support are you giving to the wider – non FX market.

AW: Well, most people don’t know but the Studio Tools is actually half our business, every major car in the world is now designed with the help of AW software. In the web market we have now Cambridge animation system Flash plug-ins and Toon shaders, as well as a Shockwave exporter, there are now Maya .iff plugins for photoshop ( downloadable from www.highend3d.com) and After Effects 5.5 can now read Maya cameras.

FXGUIDE: What about Discreet? Maya and Flame are a powerful combination – but then Discreet also have 3DS?

AW: I don’t get it, I don’t think it works, (ed. Discreet owning 3DS), it is like Softimage and Avid, I think AVID still don’t get 3D.

FXGUIDE: How is Maya’s market share in the games market?

AW: Games is a growth market for 3D, with the new consoles and new systems we have gained huge new slice of market share, on PS2 at Christmas over half the top 10 games were Maya titles, we are now expanding into the smaller games companies. We initially got picked up by the big players, now with the PLE and price drop we are aiming at the smaller companies. We have over 2500 game developers using Maya.

FXGUIDE: Why is there no booth here at NAB ?

AW: It is just not worth it for us, Siggraph is our show, we have Maya here at NAB on other peoples stands such as SGI, Apple etc.. and you know it is just as effective, I think trade shows will be dead in 15 years – thanks to the net.

FXGUIDE: What’s new in Maya 4.5?

AW: The next version of Maya is in Beta we and we can’t absolutely commit to exactly what is in or out .. but we are showing the following technologies, volumetic rendering and shading, allowing self shadowing clouds with highly realistic effects. Extremely realistic thick smoke explosions, Fuild dynamic tools for oceans, ships and advanced water options, new texturing functions and a range of workflow improvement.

FXGUIDE: What about things such as 3D camera tracking, HDR files, real world radiosity stuff?

AW: A while ago we moved towards providing some compositing tools, and camera tracking etc, but we are pulling back from that now and focusing on core 3D . Some of the stuff you mentioned is available as plug-ins from places like www.highend3d.com, and some is Mel scripting. Actually while Mel scripting is amazingly popular and a huge success, it is hard to find good TDs with great scripting and programming skills, I think the education system no longer produces coders, kids just don’t know how to program these days. The schools are doing a great job with training animators but the games industry in particular can’t find enough scripting people, it is only now that we are starting to see Gaming courses being offered that actually cover programming.

FXGUIDE: When is 4.5 out

AW: No comment, – did I mention Siggraph is our show not NAB ?