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Software Review – Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2013 Ultimate: Maya and SketchBook Designer

Autodesk has released the 2013 editions of their Entertainment Creation Suites. This offers artists and production facilities access to a powerful range of creative toolsets. There are three editions that have been released – Standard, Premium, and Ultimate. With the Standard edition you get either Autodesk Maya or Autodesk 3ds Max as well as Autodesk MotionBuilder, Autodesk SketchBook Designer, and Autodesk Mudbox. The Premium edition additionally contains Autodesk Softimage. With the Ultimate edition you get all six of the products. I will cover all six products and will break this down into three reviews. The first will cover 3ds Max, and MotionBuilder, the second will cover Mudbox and Softimage, and the third will cover Maya, and SketchBook Designer.


Maya 2013

Autodesk Maya is a 3D animation and 3D modeling software application that is used for simulation, visual effects, rendering, and compositing. It is used in the TV industry for shows like Sid the Kid – Jim Henson Company and Lost, major motion films like Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, and in the gaming industry for games like Medal of Honor and Resistance 2.

Maya is an integrated node-based software application for 3D digital animation and visual effects. Using Maya, you can create and edit 3D models in a variety of modeling formats and animate your models using a whole host of animation tools. Maya also provides the ability for you to render your animated 3D scenes to achieve photo realistic imagery and animated visual effects. Complete system requirements are located at the Autodesk site.


So what is new with Maya 2013?

• Maya nHair – now gives you the ability to produce more realistic hair as well as other curve-based dynamics. The new Maya nHair module for the Maya Nucleus unified simulation framework is fully integrated with other Nucleus modules. This means that nHair can interact bidirectionally with both Maya nCloth and Maya nParticles, enabling artists to create complex simulations with multiple dynamic entities all working together.

• Viewport 2.0 enhancements – include the addition of high-quality depth sorting, together with support for image planes and animation ghosting. It also offers a more functionally complete high-performance, high-quality viewport that allows artists to evaluate their work in a higher fidelity interactive environment in order to make better creative decisions. In addition, the same hardware rendering technology can be used to batch render larger-than-screen-size frames, producing high-quality animatics and pre-visualizations in less time.

• New Node Editor –contains three different levels of detail to help artists and technical directors to more easily create, edit, and debug node networks. The Drag-and-drop connection editing reduces dependence on the Connection Editor, enabling nodes to be rewired in a more intuitive environment, while color coding for different data types provides helpful information at a glance.

• Bullet Physics – will give you the ability to use the high-performance open source AMD Bullet Physics engine to simulate both soft and rigid bodies in a single system. This features discrete and continuous 3D collision detection, Bullet also enables artists working in both game development and visual effects to create highly realistic simulations of cloth, rope, deformable objects, and ragdoll skeletons. Bullet is available on Microsoft Windows (64-bit only), Linux, and Mac OS X operating systems. The OpenCL acceleration on Windows and Linux offers additional performance benefits on those platforms as well.


• Heat Map Skinning – provides the ability for the initial binding of geometry to skeletons to more accurate, requiring less manual refinement from the artist. This is due to a new Heat Map Skinning method that is better able to assign skin to the intended bone as opposed to an adjacent but unrelated one.

• Trax Clip matching – lets you more easily visualize how motions within two or more Trax clips match in order to adjust how they blend together. Clip Ghosts enable animators to view the start and end frames of clips as skeletal wireframes in the 3D view; clips can be manually matched with the help of these visual cues, or automatically matched using a choice of options for translation and rotation.

• Alembic Caching – is supported in Maya 2013 so now Maya artists can now read and write the Alembic open computer graphics interchange framework format. This was co-developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. Alembic distills complex animated and simulated data into application-independent baked geometry. This gives you the ability to support massive datasets when you pass between disciplines – as an example, animation and lighting—helping reduce the overhead and loss of interactivity associated with transferring fully editable scene data.


• ATOM Animation Transfer – gives you the ability to transfer animation between characters via the new ATOM (Animation Transfer Object Model) offline file format – another element of the new Open Data initiative. ATOM natively supports keyframes, constraints, animation layers, and Set Driven Keys, enables artists to more easily repurpose existing animation data as new characters are created.

• File Referencing workflow enhancements – will let you more easily segment their scenes to work in parallel and better manage complexity, thanks to targeted improvements to both the user interface and the underlying architecture for file referencing that contribute to the new Open Data initiative. As a result, file referencing is now a more natural and intuitive part of the Maya workflow.

• Graphic editor enhancements – provide you with increased efficiency resulting from enhancements to the Graph Editor: a new interactive Retime tool, and a stepped preview mode for pose-to-pose animation.

• HumanIK enhancements – will help animators more easily take advantage of its powerful bipedal character rigging and animation tools: the ability to map and retarget HumanIK animation to and from a custom rigged character; a unified character context for increased usability; character views that can be customized to fit specific requirements; continuous rig alignment during manipulation and playback; and greater control over Roll Bone influences.

Maya 2013 is a good solid upgrade. There is not a showstopper of a new feature, but all of the features included will have a considerable effect on you within the context of your everyday work. Everything from the Viewport changes to the Bullet dynamics, the Alembic Caching, to the ATOM Animation Transfer will all bring impact to your work.

Maya has always been a very powerful program and that trend continues with 2013. While it is not a hard program to work with, there are a lot of things inside that give it its power and once you wrap your arms around all of it there is not a lot that it can’t do. It will deliver high quality results and with its flexibility and ease.


SketchBook 2013

SketchBook is all new for 2013 and it comes with all editions of Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites. Sketchbook Designer helps you to explore concepts quickly and easily, iterate in real time, and produce stunning artwork. With a unique hybrid paint and vector workflow, the 2013 release offers creative professionals tools to explore and present new ideas for characters, props, and environments.

It has a unique hybrid paint and vector environment helps bring ease and agility throughout the product concept and iteration process giving you the ability to produce complex and intricate designs more easily with powerful vector workflows while remaining flexible for iteration. It also has advanced tools for concept exploration and quick iteration.


So what are some of the things you get with SketchBook 2013?

• Texture fills include support for Substance Smart Textures and user adjustable textures; additionally, SketchBook Designer now includes more than 60 preset textures (brick, concrete, fabric, and natural materials).

• Color adjustment for layers and layer folders (brightness, contrast, saturation, lightness, and invert color)

• User-defined grids for reference and snapping (square, circular, or 2-point perspective grids).

• User-defined grids for reference and snapping (square, circular, or 2-point perspective grids).

• Preference to define default canvas size.

• Color Editor includes the Copic Color System.

• Autodesk SketchBook Pro is now included with SketchBook Designer.


• Simultaneously manipulate paint and vector layer contents

• Select from a library of brushes that can be used on both paint and vector layers.

• Quickly annotate designs with the text tool.

• Sketch free-form curves on designs and import/export curve data (DWG™ files).

• Experience a seamless workflow with the AutoCAD add-in, available with the enterprise version of SketchBook Designer.

• Save common image formats including JPG, PNG, TIFF, BMP, and layered PSD.

• Full control of multiple layers, including layer blending, folders, and dynamic symmetry.

• Interactive fills and gradients give you full control to explore color schemes and shape definition.

• Dynamic transformation and warping tools.

• Ability to change line thickness, brush styles, shape, and color of vector curves at any time.

• Shape recognition and interactive smoothing while creating or editing any curve.

• User-configurable hotkeys speed the design process.

• Export DXF formatted files.


SketchBook 2013 is like having a virtual sketchbook. When used with a pen based device such as a Wacom tablet, it gives you the ability to make your computer a very flexible digital sketchpad. The user interface is very easy to use and very intuitive. There is easy access to all a wide range of tools, features, and utilities.

It is easy to see how this can be used in any kind of creative workflow whether it is to work with photographs or images and with SketchBook Pro you can open and save images from a variety of formats.

As you have seen over the course of these reviews each of the pieces in Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2013 Ultimate have had, to varying degrees, good to great additions. To me, where the real power of this upgrade stems from, is the ability to take these updates as a whole. When you look at all of the pieces and how they each add solutions to the animation puzzle, it makes for a very strong update overall. Then, with the addition of SketchBook Designer 2013, it now makes the team even stronger, and so that is why I can very highly recommend Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2013 Ultimate.

If you want to try it out, you can download a free trial and see for yourself.

About T. Michael Testi

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

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