Television

'The game development and design visualisation markets have grown the quickest for us' : Rob Hoffman- Autodesk Global product marketing manager media and entertainment division

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Autodesk which manufactures software technologies for the media and entertainment industry as one of its major activities, is looking to grow the business in India.

Realising that a lot of production facilities in the US are doing their film, TV and gaming work from India, the company is keen to aggressively tap this market segment.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with Autodesk Global product marketing manager media and entertainment division Rob Hoffman to find out more on how the firm's software is helping the media industry.

Excerpts:

For a software solutions company catering to manufacturing, building and construction, how much of revenue does the media and entertainment segment contribute?

The 3D entertainment space is a sizeable business for Autodesk. Our core areas have always been R&D and designing products like Autocast. We cover the areas of film, television, game development and design visualisation.

For us, the game development and design visualisation markets have grown the quickest. You now have next generation gaming consoles like Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo. There is a huge demand for game titles.

Could you shed light on how your solutions accelerate collaborative digital content creation workflow?

We have 3Ds Max 2008 and Maya 2008. We have done a lot of work to accelerate the creative work that our clients do. We do this in two ways. We have worked on the two softwares so that they perform much faster on the new generation of hardware - whether they be multicore or multiprocessor workstations, latest operating systems or graphics cardsware.

We are trying to take advantage of new technologies coming out and take advantage of the speed these technologies give our software. We have also done a lot of work with the user interface and the workflows of both our softwares. The aim is that artists complete their projects much faster. Something that takes six steps to complete in the past we have managed to reduce to three steps.

This is a very important goal for us as it represents time savings for the artist. Modelling and animation type features have helped us achieve this. Our aim is to enable clients achieve their tasks with much more efficient tools.

In what manner have your products been used to enhance films?

Our 3D products are used extensively on films like Pirates Of The Caribbean, Shrek, Spiderman. Maya has been used a lot here. It has been an extensible software from the standpoint that production facilities and artists are able to enhance the software or extend its capabilities through different kinds of scripting. The software also has rich features in animation, modelling and the ability to create different types of visual effects.

You mentioned gaming as growing the quickest. What is the work being done here?

We work closely with the large game facilities globally to find out what challenges they face and then we try to address that within our software. We have added games specific features and functionality in the 2008 releases of our software.

Could you shed more light on how the two products have been enhanced?

With Maya one of the big things that artists and production facilities have been telling us is that they needed the product to run faster not just on existing hardware but also on new hardware.

They also need the artists to work faster on the software in terms of the graphic user interface and the workflow. We have done work on modelling capabilities. We have enhanced the functionality of features that artists are used to.

We have also done a lot of work on performance. So we have done a lot of work to take advantage of either a single core or a multicore workstation. We have rewritten a lot of the software algorithms to make it inherently faster.

The Maya Mesh Smooth workflow, for instance, has been dramatically streamlined. You can now preview a smoothed mesh while editing the mesh cage - with a strong performance, particularly on multiprocessor workstations. Other much-requested workflow enhancements include the ability to position objects along a curve, replace objects within a scene, and convert instances to objects.

To make it more effective on game consoles we have a new hardware shader API. With Maya clients can effectively create and display sophisticated looks for content destined for the next-generation game consoles. In particular, native support for DirectX HLSL shaders in addition to the existing CgFX support lets clients work with assets in the viewport and see them as they will be seen on the target console. Artists get better representation of the content they are creating using Maya. They don't have to continuously go back and forth between Maya and the game engine.

We have also done work on character animation. We have new rigging and skinning capabilities. We have got new non-destructive skin editing capabilities. The animator can now add more bones to an arm without disturbing the surface object. Maya also supports a large number of operating systems from Windows to Linux. We now also support Windows Vista 32 and 64

bit.

What about 3Ds Max?

For 3Ds Max we have worked on the viewing of a large, complex scene. It has been known to work with large amounts of data. Artists can have a character with several million polygons. The performance is really good. The issue was that if the artist had tens of thousands of objects with millions of polygons the performance would be slow.

We have worked on 3DS Max so that the artists will get the same performance with several objects that they would get working with one object.

It is about being faster and working with larger amounts of data. Our aim is to allow the artist to focus on the art itself as opposed to focussing on the tools and spending time trying to find out how to use them. Our product also allows artists to get a better representation within the interactive environment. Clients also do not have to go through a trial and error process.

We have done a lot of work on the pipeline. A lot of artists have used scripting as a way to automate or enhance 3Ds Max. We have made the software become more intuitive for artists who are not as technically savvy. This way the scripting capabilities are opened up for artists who traditionally would not have used it in the past.

What advantages does Autodesk provide vis-?-vis the competition?

Our products are industry standard software. So there are more people trained on our software. This is because our software is used widely. Artists can get a job more easily if they know how to use our software. We also spend heavily on education. We invest in building an education curriculum for schools.

We also print our own learning tools. We have DVDs. We do community work as well. We have a community website where artists can come and share ideas. Since Autodesk is a big and stable company it allows to invest in supporting software development or customer service or technical assistance.

'Due to education programmes we are seeing the number of artists grow rapidly in India. We see India as a market that has come in and will help out the rest of the world create content'

What potential do you see in India for growing the business?

The potential is great. Right now you are seeing more work being done in India not just to create local content but also for the global market. A large number of talented artists can be found in India. So a lot of production facilities in the US are doing their film, TV and games work from India.

Due to education programmes we are seeing the number of artists grow rapidly in India. We see India as a market that has come in and will help out the rest of the world create content.

How many Indian clients do you have and what is the strategy being followed to grow the business here?

We have a huge number of artists using our software. It is growing daily. We are doing different types of awareness activities. We will be conducting roadshows across the country. We will have super user events where we will bring customers from large production facilities like Industrial Light and Magic. People will talk about projects like Pirates Of the Caribbean.

A lot of development work for our software has been done in India. As far as partnering with Indian software firms to enhance our offerings, this is something we will always look into. It is a question of whether or not it makes sense at a certain time to do so.

Globally who are some of your major clients and what have been the key learnings working with them?

We have clients throughout the world. Some of them are Planet Digital in New Zealand, Industrial Light and Magic, Disney, Dreamworks in the US, The Moving Picture Company in Europe. These firms really push the capabilities of the software. So we constantly learn about their requirements and challenges.

They do things never done before. It is about learning where the industry is going and what are the issues that will come up.

What are some of these issues?

There are two challenges right now. The first one is that there is a need for talented artists. If an artist has talent, any job they want can be done with any production facility in the world. This is why we work on education initiatives. We do a lot of work on learning tools and work with schools and universities.

The other challenge is that the entertainment industry's work is getting more complex. Films like Lord Of The Rings mean that viewers expect to see bigger and more beautiful effects. So production facilities have to constantly outdo themselves. In television we are moving from standard definition to high definition.

The themes and characters are more complex. On the games front, the amount of data the consoles can handle is larger than the amount of content that the companies had to deal with in the past. Can software work with these large amounts of data in an efficient manner? That is what clients look for.

With the transition from standard to high definition in television, there is a need for new software capabilities. For those working in traditional broadcasting they have to now adopt a more film like production process. The data complexity that they work with is starting to come close to film.

The other issue that they run into is that although they are working with more complex data, their budgets are much smaller compared to film. The timelines to finish the production are much shorter. Our aim has been to see that artists get high quality of work in a less amount of time. Our software has been used in commercials, interviews as well as episodic TV shows.

Could you talk about Autodesk's R&D facilities?

For 3Ds Max we have development facilities in Montreal, and Toronto. We have development groups working on the software. We also have a pure science group that works on new technologies. They work on different ways to approach problems.

The other thing to remember is that when we develop software, we work closely with the production facilities using them. We use their knowledge to help our developers create better software. Production facilities give us their perspective and ideas on how we can better serve them.

What role does the Autodesk reseller network play in expanding your presence globally?

They play an important role globally for us. They are the ones who work and talk with our customers on a day to day basis. We have a close relationship with our resellers throughout the world.

Resellers give us feedback on customer's opinions. We also ensure that our resellers are knowledgeable and skilled. They have to be familiar with the industry they are addressing.

What is Autodesk University?

This is a networking event held annually. As of now, we only hold it in the US. This year it will be in Las Vegas. The event allows us to better understand the requirements of clients.

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