Develop talks to the middleware giant about what it's learnt from its customers

Autodesk: Adapting to a changing landscape

In the closing months of 2012, Autodesk has sent staff around the world, talking to customers and numerous representatives of the industries it serves.

The initiative has been about readying the next wave of its tech for a changing creative space, and has taught the outfit much about the demands of game developers, filmmakers and numerous other sectors. Develop caught up with Autodesk’s senior production manger of suites Cory Mogk and Softimage product manager Daniel 

Tutino-Galletti, who have been touring the world, stopping off at numerous tech hubs, to find out what they have learned about the industry’s changing landscape, and what it means for Autodesk customers.

Many point to an increased crossover of the technology and methods in place in the games, film and related industries. What is the reality of that trend from the Autodesk perspective?
Mogk: We’ve been noticing that and talking about it at Autodesk. There’s three ways that’s happening. There’s, of course, always been the way that when someone makes a movie they want a game made out of it, or vica versa. Sometimes, in that case, there’s asset sharing, which brings the tech together.

Then, a little more of a meaty thing is that when we look at what people in the film industry are doing around virtual production and pre-visualisation, they’re really getting into games tools as a means to do that, because they get the high levels of interactivity, and the visual quality is now often on a very close level across the two.

That’s becoming very interesting to the film industry. And there’s this cross-pollination of people moving between these industries.

Beyond that, on the games side what’s interesting is where we see what some of the cinematics people are doing – whether it’s collaboration where they ship it out, or if it’s in house – we’re seeing film pipelines being set up inside of game studios, so that instead of running Windows, they’ve got a bunch of Linux seats, and run that way.

A lot of other stuff that was traditionally more in the games space, such as sculpting high-res, making a low-res with displacement maps and so on is getting picked up outside of games.

And what is interesting to me here is how our DirectX 11 support will effect the crossover. DirectX 11 is a lot further ahead, or was until recently. OpenGL 4.3 has now got most of that stuff. It’s something people in TV and film have been telling us they want.

And how are climbing production costs, and the demands of new technologies, like ‘super HD’, influencing Autodesk’s work?
Mogk: The big thing there for us is performance, so that people can work with these large data sets, especially with games’ next generation on the horizon.

The expectation of quality is going up. In terms of these super HD high resolution TVs, that’s maybe more easy for the game industry to react to than on the film side, because with film there’s a lot of dependencies on projectors and theatres and such, whereas for games people, the game engine is that renderer and they can scale it up or down to match a device.

Tutino-Galletti: I guess you’re also seeing those climbing production costs today with the retina display devices, with Apple being one of the first to get high resolution retina display quality on screens.

It’s inevitable that that is going to become the standard for most laptops and even computer screens. I think in the PC gaming world you’ll see that come out sooner than elsewhere.

Mogk: I think one of the things we’ve been getting good feedback on is around the updates to FBX. Epic and Unity are two of the people we’ve been actively engaging with to really smooth out workflow for these new production challenges.

We’re looking at what we need to do for FBX to be an accurate representation that just goes straight out of Maya, Max or Softimage, right into the engine, so it’s ready to roll.

Conversely, there’s also the trend of more smaller games studios. What can Autodesk do to serve those studios?
: Well, that is a little bit tricky. One of the easier parts is where we do see a lot of the professionals changing focus a little bit and getting into the mobile space and online games.

That helps to drive or lead things and set a bit of a precedent. Our products have always had a bit of an aspirational value from our Maya history over time. 

We are conscious that people are starting to need easy to use tools, and more help with learning things. That’s why we’ve introduced things like YouTube channels, and easily digestible snippets of Maya tutorials, Softimage tutorials and that kind of thing.

And going back to your mention of the new support for DirectX 11, why is that especially significant?
Mogk: There’s a couple of significant parts. One is that Maya hasn’t really had that support before, so it’s a very new thing for us. Probably more important for the customer is that we’re able to help more deliver on-target assets.

As long as I can remember, there’s sometimes been that moment when artists that realise something looks one way in their tool, and different in their game. Anything we can do to narrow that gap is very useful, and that quality we get with DirectX 11, and especially the stuff we’re seeing with tessellation control and displacement mapping, is a huge benefit there.

Moving away from those details, as well as the established console manufacturers opening the doors to a new generation, platforms like Ouya, Oculus Rift, Shield and Piston are coming. How does Autodesk plan to move to address that opportunity?
Mogk: We’re always watching what’s going on there, in terms of differences in new platforms and their environments.

We are watching that, and from my own geeky perspective, the Piston – the ‘Steam Box’ – is amazing. When you see that turned around and there’s all those ports on the back, I wonder how they fit anything else in there.

What else is interesting that indicates a change is that lots of that stuff is running Linux. That’s a really interesting difference. Though I’m not going to make a prediction about where that will go, we’re in a good position to help people that way if we can.

And it’s said there’s a renewed emphasis within Autodesk to share technology, research and effort across your tools. Is that fair to say?
Mogk: I’d say that’s fair. It’s always existed, but you’re right. It lets us develop things faster, and as the content requirements from people and the complexity is scaling up, so are the amount of requests we get for new features and new tools, so where we can double up and have shared components it certainly helps us address that stuff faster.

And Autodesk’s work with new models of pipeline? How is Project Skyline evolving?
Mogk: We’ve certainly had a tonne of interest and feedback. It is still a project rather than a product, and in that respect a lot of that stuff is still as much learning experiences we’ve been doing as it is a technology.

There’s two really interesting things going on there, as we get that feedback. One is that a bunch of the tech is tying our tools closer to the games engine, which back ups the thing with DirectX 11 and FBX. There’s lots of interest from people about that.

And then the other thing is the cool animation tools in terms of the state machines, and the triggers and events stuff that’s happening there. We’re thinking about how we can bring all that to market.

And will GDC be an interesting time for Autodesk customers in terms of what the company has planned?
I think so. I asked the team for an update before the holidays, and I’ve been on this trip around the world since, so I still need to synch up with people. We’ll see exactly what happens, but it should be great. I can’t really say any more. n

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