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The main star in this part of the package is 3ds Max. The performance updates alone should be welcome to most users and the additional features make this a very worthy update.

New Software Spotlight: Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2015 Ultimate: Part I

Autodesk has released the 2015 editions of their Entertainment Creation Suites offering artists and production facilities access to a powerful range of creative toolsets. Two suites have been released. In the Standard suite, you pick either Autodesk Maya or Autodesk 3ds Max, and you also get Autodesk MotionBuilder and Autodesk Mudbox. In the Ultimate suite you get both Maya and 3ds Max, plus the other products in the standard edition, and Autodesk Softimage as well. I will be covering Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2015 Ultimate and will break it down into two articles. The first will cover 3ds Max, MotionBuilder and Softimage, and the second will cover Maya, Mudbox, and Maya LT.

Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate
Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate

Autodesk 3ds Max 2015

Autodesk 3ds Max is a 3D animation, modeling and rendering software application used for simulation, visual effects, rendering, and compositing. There are actually two versions of 3ds Max. One is for game developers, visual effects artists, and graphic designers working on games, films, and television. The other is for architects, designers, and visual specialists. At their core, the versions are the same – it is the toolsets that are different. This report is based on the former.

The goal of 3ds Max is to produce high quality content for the entertainment industry through efficient tools. This combined with accelerated performance and streamlined workflows will give you the ability to productively create content when working with high-resolution complex assets.

Autodesk Creation Suite 2015
Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate – 3ds Max

So what is new with 3ds Max 2014?

Populate enhancements include better usability, more artistic control, and much more realism when creating people in your design. With more control over the movement of the people you can provide more realistic walking, jogging, passing, and even seated behavior. When seated in close proximity, links are created that control how characters interact with each other. By controlling the number of polygons within a character, you can help control their behavior within a scene.

Point Cloud support lets you create more precise models using real-world references. You now can import very large datasets that are captured from reality as point clouds. You also have support for RCP and RCS file formats, which mean that you can take advantage of a connected capture workflow with a number of Autodesk solutions including ReCap, AutoCAD, Inventor, and Revit, giving you a lot of flexibility when working with the Point Cloud.

ShaderFX now lets you create complex HLSL shaders quickly and easily. By using a node-based editor, you can bypass the language coding step and now generate a visible texture shader, giving you more immediate results, instead of waiting to see the results in, for example, the game engine. Using color-coded inputs and outputs, linking nodes is easy. There is a deep tree of connection types that handles all types of operations needed in the game development pipeline.

Autodesk Creation Suite 2015
Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate – 3ds Max

Select and Placement tools let you set objects much more quickly within a scene. Drag-and-drop functionality allows you to move things into place more easily than ever before and rotate them into position. This means that you can place any kind of object or group of objects within a scene and reposition them at will giving you much more freedom with less work within the 3D environment.

Quad Chamfer is a much-requested feature that is now a reality and can have an immediate impact on how you work. This is both a modifier as well as part of the editable polybase object. You have access to advance chamfering options like chamfer curve control and chamfer smoothing as well as the ability to isolate chamfer surfaces entirely.

ActiveShade and Rendering provide you with more viewport realism through the addition of mental ray rendering support in the ActiveShade viewport rendering mode. There are also additional iray rendering improvements including map support, like blend and improved speckle and tile map rendering. iray now supports separate rendering of elements such as light- and material-based passes.

Viewport enhancements include less lag time and faster navigation, selection, and texture baking render times. This means that you have much more fluidity and interactivity especially when dealing with dense meshes and a large number of texture maps. You can also enable anti-aliasing with minimal impact on performance.

Autodesk Creation Suite 2015
Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate – 3ds Max

Enhanced scene management with a rebuilt scene explorer that enhances how your objects of all types are arranged in a scene. This replaces the layer manager and allows both scene object viewing and scene layer viewing. It is also dock-able on either side of the UI. Parent-child relationships are a snap in hierarchy mode by using the drag-and-drop linking. In layer mode you can assign objects to a layer with a right-click, and you can even have nested layers.

Stereo Camera support allows you to create stereoscopic camera rigs to control interaxial separation, parallax, toe-in adjustment, and left/right camera offset. Using multiple display modes you can use left-eye, right-eye, center, and anaglyph views.

Python scripting allows you to customize and extend 3ds Max and more easily integrate it into a Python-based pipeline.

Autodesk MotionBuilder 2015

Autodesk MotionBuilder 2015 provides 3D character animation for virtual production building on emerging techniques from the entertainment industry’s studios. You can acquire, aggregate, and refine data with greater reliability and precision. You can create, edit, and play back complex character animation in a responsive, interactive environment and work with a display optimized for the needs of both animators and directors.

So what is new with MotionBuilder 2015?

Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate
Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate – MotionBuilder

Support for consumer motion-capture devices through the use of a plug-in lets you use devices such as Microsoft Kinect to capture body performances. That way, you can use these movements to drive your MotionBuilder characters. In this version of MotionBuilder, you can add support for certain other devices as well.

Recreate aspects of real-world cinematography through the use of advanced camera options. You can change the aperture as you would in a real camera using Animatable Depth of Field. Follow Focus options allow you to lock a camera’s focus on a specific object in the scene to maintain focus on the object as the distance changes with regard to the camera.

Moves content library now ships with an additional 100 animations in the Autodesk FBX asset exchange format. This means that artists can combine and previsualize their scenes in less time as well as use these as a starting point for refinement. These are frequently encountered scenarios such as walking, crawling, jumping, and fighting.

More flexible marker assignments give you better control over how captured data is mapped to a computer graphic character that may have different proportions from the original actor.

Autodesk Softimage 2015

Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate
Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate – Softimage

First, let me say that this is the final release of Autodesk Softimage. From now on the company will be focusing more on its 3D tools. So from this vantage point, I am only making note of the updated features for this release.

Softimage extends the capabilities of existing content creation pipelines for television, games, and film projects. Softimage is a high-performance 3D character animation and visual effects application that helps artists and technical directors working with visual effects, post production, and 3D game development get more out of their development.

So what is new with Softimage 2015?

Alembic caching lets you read and write the Alembic computer graphics format so you can extract complex animated and simulated data into application-independent baked geometry.

ICE performance and usability have been improved and will help you to create large-scale procedural effects more efficiently and in less time, with improvements in speed, ease of use, and in general the ability to create complex and more detailed effects.

Access to new mental ray functionality that has gone unexposed until this version will let you activate functions in the NVIDIA mental ray renderer. You will also have access to Light Importance Sampling and Native Image Based Lighting.

Progressive rendering in mental ray is also now supported. This allows you to adjust shaders and lighting more quickly without waiting for the full-quality render to be complete. This is accomplished through step-by-step rendering where each successive render refines the last.

Single click cross-product CrowdFX workflows with MotionBuilder and Maya let you use CrowdFX simulations for a faster cross-product workflow. What this means is that character animations created in MotionBuilder can be imported into Softimage in a single step, making it easier to use them with the CrowdFX simulation feature. Then with a single step you can take the CrowdFX simulation into Maya 2015 for use with other scene elements.

MotionBuilder 2015 is what would really be considered an interim release. Many of the items here could have been added as fixes throughout the 2014 lifecycle, but this is not a bad thing. It does provide some fixes and improvements but there is nothing here that constitutes a must-have.

Autodesk Creation Suite 2015
Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate – 3ds Max

The changes in 3ds Max 2015 are primarily in foundational performance and functional improvements. While this release includes some nice additions, it is the UI that is much more responsive and really shines. 3ds Max as a whole seems much more stable and everything just feels more performance-oriented, which makes this a worthy upgrade.

While there is not a singular knock-your-socks-off feature, there are some very welcome additions. The new Select and Place tool is really nice in that it gives you the ability to quickly and easily position objects in your scene. It is great for beginners, but even seasoned pros will find it useful.

The Point Cloud looks like a nice addition, but Point Clouds can be pretty dense, which can limit interactivity within a scene, so at this point it is hard to tell the full usefulness. The Quad Chamfer is a welcome addition that will allow you to ensure that all chamfer edges result in better edits and smoother deformations.

The ShaderFX editor is really nice because prior to this version, you had to use an external application to generate and import shaders. Not only does this provide more efficiency, but it lets you review the results without having to export to a game engine. The Layer explorer is now much more efficient and useful. Now you have the ability to divide your scenes into layers and link your objects to create a hierarchy.

Autodesk Creation Suite 2015
Autodesk Creation Suite 2015 Ultimate – 3ds Max

The main star in this part of the package is 3ds Max. The performance updates alone should be welcome to most users and the additional features make this a very worthy update. The updates to MotionBuilder also add weight to the update. For this reason, I think that this provides for a very solid update overall.

Next time I will look at Maya and Mudbox and see what they bring to the table. Until then, you can download a free trial and see for yourself.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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