Autodesk’s new LiveLink to Unreal
Autodesk, in collaboration with Epic Games, has released a new Unreal Live Link for Autodesk Maya plugin. This builds on the previous version and enables seamless real-time animation data streaming from Maya to Epic’s Unreal Engine. Ideal for virtual production, game development, and previsualization workflows, the Live Link plugin allows artists to easily create and edit character assets in Maya, while simultaneously seeing live previews in Unreal. Data transfer between Maya and Unreal speeds production workflows by enabling artists to produce more iterations and view changes in real-time to make more informed decisions, ultimately resulting in expedited project delivery.
The previous version of LiveLink was made by Unreal and this time the work has shifted to Autodesk allowing for a much more complete offering of tools such as Blendshapes (Morph Targets). Autodesk partnered with Epic Games to advance the Maya plugin which benefits from work on the Maya side that only the Autodesk Engineers could perform. The result is a more robust tool and significant increases in functionality.
The updated Live Link plugin features a simplified installation experience to link Maya and Unreal assets, allowing artists to get up and running in a matter of minutes. Once set up, artists can animate, keyframe, and modify keyframes for character assets in Maya, while simultaneously viewing character updates in-context and in real-time in Unreal.
Maya and Unreal Moving Forward
“If you look at Autodesk in general, a few years ago we did make the exploration of whether we should be in the Game Engine business ourselves,” comments Maurice Patel, Senior Director of M&E Business Strategy at Autodesk referring to StingRay (formerly BitSquid). “And we decided that that is a very steep hill to climb – to be competitive with the game engines with the resources of companies like Unity and Epic and that it’s not our core focus.” Instead, Autodesk determined that they should explore partnerships and so since then, behind the scenes the team has been figuring out which, where, and how to partner. “What’s clear to us is that, for our needs and our markets, that Epic is probably the stronger partner from a tech perspective, as well as from a general ‘ease of working’,” he adds. “And so we’ve been doubling down recently on Epic as a partner.” This has particularly been true in the Virtual production space, as well as visualization, VR, and AR.
“We are in the midst of a really exciting era for entertainment production where film, animation and games workflows are blending to empower users of all levels,” said Jordan Thistlewood, Product Management Director, Virtual Production for Epic Games. “Artists have never had so much feedback at their fingertips, enabling them to put so much of their time into their creativity. It is exciting to imagine the range of great stories and experiences we will see made with the new Maya and Unreal Engine Live Link plugins.”
Maya’s relationship to Omniverse
When we asked about Maya’s relation to round-tripping models to Unreal and the growing use of NVIDIA’s Omniverse, Maurice commented that “Omniverse is trying to say, ‘we wanna be that open’, but the question is how open are these systems?” he comments. “Are they really that open? We are a little hesitant around them in the sense that we feel that they want to own all the data” Maurise is not sure how open that platform is going to be, “and if it’s not open, and it’s not easily expandable, then it becomes problematic in production because our customers always expand. So the question is how easy and open will Omniverse be as a platform that they can build on and expand because and if not, they won’t use it.” Autodesk is strongly of the opinion that USD will be at the heart of whatever long-term solution there is for interoperability. “We see USD as the light at the end of the tunnel,” Maurice adds, noting that both NVIDIA’s Omniverse and Epic are committed to a USD approach. But he is still seeking clarity on how open their USD implementations will be and if those additions will be contributed back into USD’s open-source libraries. “But I think getting it into ASWF (software foundation), with a little bit more formality around it, is going to help,” he concludes. “Omniverse is a bit of a challenge for us, their use-cases are a bit all over the place and not very clear. They have a lot of bright ideas, but not a lot of working workflows yet.”
Maya, Unreal, and Rigs
One thing USD does not yet embrace or solve is rig interoperability. “Rigging is actually high on our list of the things that we have to tackle from the point of view of: how do we handle it, what do we share? How can we expand USD to include it?” says Maurice. “One of the areas where are also looking into is using bi-frost for exporting and where we go with rigging in the future.” Autodesk’s strategy has evolved in the last year, obviously influenced by COVID and new forms of collaboration. They are investigating how do they move from today’s paradigm of monolithic desktop applications to a much more modular, easily deployable platform of solutions in the future. This is a companywide strategy of revitalizing and modernizing their code base and the topology, “which we believe is a network topology of high-performance devices and data centers,” Maurice outlines. “We don’t believe everything will be running on a browser in a cloud. We do believe that or latency reasons, things will be running on devices. But those devices could be tablets, mobile or computers, as well as the data centers.” The challenge for the senior Autodesk architects is to figure out how to design software that Autodesk can deploy across a wide ecosystem.
“Rigging is a big thing,” says Maurice. “Do we think that there should be some standard of rigging? The answer is yes. Do we have it? The answer is no. Do we think we will get there? The answer is yes. When? I can’t give you an answer, but I can tell you that it’s a key part of our strategy to get there.”
Summary of Key Features:
The new Unreal Live Link for Maya plugin makes it easier than ever to stream animation data from Maya to Unreal in real-time. Morph targets in Unreal linked means that Maya’s blend shapes are supported, enabling artists to see real-time facial expressions and lip-syncs viewed in context, in Unreal.
Unreal Linked Lights.
Lighting adjustments including color, intensity, cone angle, and penumbra angle work are supported.
Linked Camera Moves
Camera attributes including transforms, angle of view, focal length, film gate, camera aperture, film aspect ratio, depth of field, focus distance, and f-stop are all supported, (these were only partially supported before).
Scene timecode is streamed to Unreal, allowing play head synchronization between Maya and Unreal. This is a simple but insanely useful ‘fix’ that alone is worth the upgrade. Users can now actually link the timeline between the two applications. Before it was a one-way passing of information, but this meant that Unreal wasn’t necessarily in sync. “So what you were seeing in Unreal wasn’t necessarily what you were seeing at exactly the same time in Maya” explains Steve Roselle, Maya Product Manager. “It was a bit unpredictable, so we added a mechanism so that you can essentially lock the two timelines together and know exactly what you’re getting when you’re passing animation from Maya to Unreal.” Naturally, a lot of customers like working in Maya. “They like animating in Maya, but there are certain things that they need to do in Unreal, and just having that connectivity between the two, so they can quickly and easily validate their work, is really important to them,” he adds.
Back version support enables the Live Link plugin to be used with Maya 2018 through 2022, for users working with older versions of Maya.