Chris Vienneau on Autodesk Products for Media & Entertainment

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Autodesk’s Director of Product Management for Media and Entertainment Chris Vienneau joins Steve Waskul during a live broadcast from SIGGRAPH 2014 in Vancouver, B.C.

The interview begins with an overview of three products Chris’ team is responsible for and that he lives and breathes every day:

Maya for creating 3D animation with production-proven tools for modeling, animation, visual effects and rendering:

Motion Builder for virtual production with real-time 3D character animation software that lets you capture, edit and play back complex character animations in an interactive environment:

Mudbox for easily creating highly detailed organic models using intuitive sculpting, texturing and painting tools

One of the great things that Chris and Steve discuss is the resources available for learning the products today and how Mr. Vienneu’s team has really moved towards online learning. With partners like DigitalTutors.com and Lynda.com who offer professional courses to numerous blogs and online videos Chris explains that there is a wealth of information available online. There are literally hundreds of thousands of online postings from a growing community from beginners to advanced users. He explains that you’ll even find industry professionals who are basically giving away what many would consider to be “trade-secrets” as to how they used Maya on a particular project. So, this makes the learning process a lot easier which is a huge benefit.

In his work, Chris works a lot of the large companies utilizing Maya like ILM, Disney, Electronic Arts. What’s great about working with them he tells us is that they are super open about their work and they collaborate over open platform projects like the VFX Reference platform which is part of the work taken on by the Visual Effects Society. This project in particular deals with providing a set of tool and library versions that can be used as a common target platform for building and utilizing software for the VFX industry. Mr. Vienneau explains that this helps minimize the incompatibilities between different software packages making it easier for companies to support their production pipelines (Linux-based). The 2014 Reference Platform was the first of its kind and represents “the closest collaboration yet between major software solutions providers to converge on a common platform” according to the VFX Society.

Moving forward the interview turns to a look at hardware and how the currently available hardware offerings from companies like HP with their Z Workstations and new 4K DreamColor Displays. Chris says that Autodesk is investing a lot on the GPU and CPU side to optimize their applications for the amazingly powerful workstations available today. For creative professionals this means that they can see a higher level of fidelity and do more and more before they have to commit their work to an “official” render. It also is exactly what’s needed today when you have projects that can be captured with the latest digital cameras that need to be played back in real time with products like Autodesk’s Flame Premium… especially when you’re looking at frame rates of 60 fps (potentially in stereo) and workflows that can include 4K and Ultra HD.

During this segment Steve Waskul talks about how Waskul.TV uses HP Z820 workstations and the configurations used and asks Chris about how Autodesk applications like Maya, Motion Builder and Mudbox benefit from a balanced workstation where all the components are matched. Chris responds that since Autodesk’s Viewport 2.0 was released (Maya’s high-performance hardware accelerated display which is now the default viewport in Maya) it is much more critical to have the horsepower provided by quality workstations and that configuration definitely plays a role in the user experience. This really comes into play Chris tells us when just for a single character you might have 20 8K UV textures and that’s just for the diffuse channel plus another 5 or 6 on top of that. So, the bottom line is that with a system like the HP Z820 optimally configured with a balance between processor speed, RAM, storage and GPU, the user will see a lot higher level of fidelity in the viewport. In Chris’ words “Now the hardware investment is really worth it… Now we are much more bullish about the higher-end workstations that are available”.

As the interview moves forward the men discuss the needs of different types of creative professionals and how each type of person has different needs. For example for generalists, Chris explains that they would want to get as close to a final rendered viewport as possible so they can see what their finished work will look like and move to the editing process as quickly as possible. But, for someone who is a specialist working in games, looking closely at lighting or how a character moves, they want a view that lets them just focus on the areas they are interested in. So, an animator would want a mode where they can playback and hide everything else so they can focus in on the movement of their character. Or, a modeler might want a smaller environment where they can just focus on the model itself. Of course Maya provides all these types of views.

Next, Chris talks about an interesting project from AutoDesk – Hyperspace Madness (a game internally developed at Autodesk) and now Hyperspace Madness – The Short. This project got the Autodesk team involved in collaborative effort to create a game using original Autodesk IP. The goal was to help test and evaluate the integration of Autodesk content creation tools in a real world pipeline environment. It was a real learning process for their team and in “The Short” they will be showcasing the process. Unlike many “making of” efforts, “The Short” will show all their processes just as were, including all the mistakes, solutions etc. Segments will be released and available on a regular process. In the end they plan on releasing all the assets from the project to the community for people want to learn and use them in blog posts etc. This is a project Autodesk is working on with HP and NVIDIA.

Finally Steve and Chris talk about how visualization innovations like the new 4K HP DreamColor Display and the important role proper color calibration facility wide plays in the development of a project.