Autodesk rolls out M&E lineup for 2014

Media and Entertainment suites add powerful new features for crowds, characters, and reality capture.

Autodesk M&E is a group stuck in the doldrums of the video effects in­dustry. It has not real­ly recovered from the reces­sion, which cut the legs out from under much of the cre­ative industry. However, we’ve seen other areas recover in­cluding the architecture indus­try, advertising, and other cre­ative fields. Autodesk’s M&E group, however, has not been able to grow as convincingly as some of its competitors in­cluding Adobe and the Maxon division of Nemetschek.

3ds Max gets support for vector graphic surfaces. (Source: Autodesk)
3ds Max gets support for vector graphic surfaces. (Source: Autodesk)

As a result, is Autodesk revamping and searching for broader markets for M&E products. M&E chief Marc Petit has left the company. So far he is being replaced by a committee. Au­todesk VP of Marketing Chris Bradshaw is overseeing the group while a search for Petit’s replacement is conducted. The rollout for Autodesk’s 2014 M&E prod­ucts was conducted by Maurice Patel and Rob Hoffman, well-known figures in the M&E community. Patel has been the Marketing chief for M&E, but when Autodesk shuffled their marketing into a corporate tier under Bradshaw, Patel had broader duties. Hoffman has long been product marketing manager for M&E products.

In their presentation, Patel and Hoff­man confirmed Autodesk’s interest in ex­tending their products to a broader mar­ket. The 2014 rollout included news for Maya, 3ds Max, MotionBuilder, Mud­box, Softimage, and Sketchbook Design­er 2014. One of the welcome changes that have come over the last few years is dramatically improved interoperability between the products, and Autodesk says it has continued with that work.

Autodesk continues to sell its prod­ucts standalone but offers a better deal when purchased in one of the suites.

Autodesk M&E suites come in three configurations: Standard, Premium, and Ultimate.
Autodesk M&E suites come in three configurations: Standard, Premium, and Ultimate.

3ds Max

Autodesk’s 3ds Max adds some features people have been waiting for since they were previewed online and at Autodesk University. Some of the features will be most helpful to people using Max for visualizations, pre-viz, etc. For instance, the new product has a tool for adding people to a scene quickly. It’s called Populate. Users can draw a trail, and the software will add people who generally follow that trail. The scene can be tweaked to adjust the demographics of your wandering peeps. For more complex applications in games and video, for instance, 3ds Max is also getting instancing capabilities so that characters can be multiplied and controlled for crowd scenes.

Autodesk has also added more power and capabilities to the parti­cle software within Max including the ability to cache particles to disk for performance. The new version also has support for vector maps as surfaces, which, says Au­todesk, is helpful because sur­faces used will maintain their fine lines when scaled, but it’s also useful for bringing in CAD data. Max now has support for SVG, AutoCAD pattern files, and Illustrator. Other new tools include bet­ter perspective matching and more flexible tools for work­ing with foregrounds against back planes.

In all, while there are new features for all users, people using 3ds Max for visualizing designs in AEC will probably be most pleased about the new features.


Maya has gotten extensive updates. The modeler has seen an extreme make­over with tools to make selections and modifications an easier and more con­nected process. New features include the ability to select “like” features and perform modifications on all of them. Groups of selections can be made and similar modifications applied. Geom­etry can be built over surfaces to re­topologize geometry. Autodesk notes that features like these will be especial­ly useful for content brought in from 3D scans. For animators and produc­tion managers, the new Grease Pencil feature lets people sketch in ideas in a scene; ghosting allows the sketches to be changed over time with ghosts of previ­ous frames to use as a guide, and the ghosting feature is customizable. Also, new improvements to joint tools enable easier rigging and use of symmetry.

New Paint Effects can interact with geometry, enabling capabilities such as being able to deform 3D paint effects to geometry and control the level of attrac­tion, the “pull,” if you will, of the geom­etry to the paint effect. Maya has been gradually getting better node-editing ca­pabilities that have been made possible by the ICE (Interactive Creative Envi­ronment) technology first appearing in Softimage. This time around, navigation and use of the Node Panel is enhanced with the ability to turn levels on and off. There are short-cut keys and guides to remind artists what they can and can’t do. The Node Panel is a powerful tool that extends various types of program­mability to users in a visual form that shows dependen­cies, etc., and Autodesk is making it more powerful.

Viewport 2.0 takes ad­vantage of DX11 to enable a high-quality visual, real-time working environment. Finally, Autodesk has added the new Scene Assembly to enable better handling of large assemblies. It lets users define groups of assemblies and assign representa­tions to them from simple bounding box to fully ren­dered, editable Maya ob­jects. The feature supports the ability to save to Alem­bic containers as well. A GPU cache can be created for the assemblies. Scene Assembly supports View­port 2.0 so complex scenes can be loaded from the GPU cache in the back­ground and interacted with immedi­ately. (You’d probably better watch the video on this one).

Scene Assembly lets complex assembles be grouped and defined for easy access, and they can be referenced with lightweight place markers to enable so they can be easily called up and worked with in Maya’s upgraded Viewport 2.0. (Source: Autodesk)
Scene Assembly lets complex assembles be grouped and defined for easy access, and they can be referenced with lightweight place markers to enable so they can be easily called up and worked with in Maya’s upgraded Viewport 2.0. (Source: Autodesk)


Softimage’s strength in the Autodesk universe is its ability to work with char­acters including groups of characters. Autodesk has spent a lot of time up­grading Softimage’s Crowd FX capabili­ties with improvements to the ICE (In­teractive Creative Environment) of Softimage. The ability to randomize and change actions of characters has been enhanced and also the ability to add transforma­tions to character geometry to increase the individualization within crowds. The camera sequencer toolset enables users to cut between multiple cameras to edit clips. Behaviors established in ICE can be interactively overridden to fine-tune a scene. The Viewport in Softimage has been improved with sliders for improve control over objects in the Viewport. Autodesk has extended FBX in Softimage with support for anima­tion exchange through FBX 2014 for increased interoperability with other Autodesk products.


MotionBuilder is getting more con­trols over manipulating and refining motion capture. Flexible MoCap is de­scribed as an optical data marker solv­er, and just like it sounds, it enables markers to be associated with joints. Improvements to Motion Builder’s in­terface provide cues with markers, and animators can accept the program’s recommendations for rigging choices. A new Custom Renderer API lets com­panies work with the renderers of their choice within the viewport. Autodesk has added file referencing via an API, which enables better performance with­in Motion Builder. Multiple instances of a file can be referenced within a model. Reference files can be managed via scripts, and in 2014, Autodesk has in­tegrated the PySide utility, which gives users access to Python from within the program. Cameras and lights can be more easily positioned with the ability to “look through” the object.


As it has in Maya, Autodesk has im­proved the ability to add and edit topol­ogy in 3D models. And as in Maya, this capability will come in handy using im­ages brought in from scans and photo capture techniques. Meshes can be healed to fix holes, and unwanted faces can be deleted or adjusted. Mudbox has also gotten new tools for optimizing meshes so that they can be more man­ageable and not as large as a heavily sculpted model might be at first. New Topologies can be computed automati­cally or manually adjusted. And, users can redefine the topology and specify how Mudbox deals with areas by defin­ing “hard” and “soft” constraints.

One feature that’s going to make people happy is multi-touch support. Mudbox will have increased support for multi-touch through the Wacom in­terface for its professional tablets and also Windows. The capability appeared in 2012, but Autodesk is increasing the functionality with support for ges­tures and more power for multi-touch. The end goal of creating a more sculptural, tactile feel with a two-hand­ed process that lets users avoid trips to the keyboard as much as possible.

SketchBook Designer 2014

New features in Sketch­Book Designer improve com­positing capabilities, color manipulation, and mixed media. SketchBook Designer features a dynamic user in­terface that is optimized for pen and mouse interaction.

So, what do we have?

For some time now 3ds Max has been increas­ingly optimized for use in AEC, visualization, and pre-viz applications, and we’re seeing that trend continue. Autodesk’s enthusiasm for Digital Reality tools is evident as the company builds better bridges between the data brought in via scan and photo­grammetry methods, and digital editing tools. Autodesk has been investing heav­ily in this area, and it’s clear they’re put­ting the technology to work. Also, Au­todesk is paying close attention to the ways in which users are working with paint tools and modeling and the ways in which they can work more interac­tively with large data sets. The atten­tion to multi-touch is likely to pay off in new ways to interact with content using next-generation devices such as Surface tablets and PCs.

The company has unveiled their web­site for the new products called Unfold, and you can probably get a much better idea of what’s going on there, especially if you have specific areas you’re inter­ested in. One final observation: it’s clear Autodesk does not work in a vacuum— the company pays a lot of attention to what’s going on in the industry around them, and we’re seeing Autodesk ad­dress competitors like Pixologic, which has a powerful sculpting tool in Zbrush, and The Foundry, which competes with 3D modeling and rendering (Luxology) and Paint (Mari).

Our take

If there’s one thing Autodesk can do, it’s restructure. The company has seemed to find new life in many of its larger shuffles, and this is a big one for the M&E group. This is a shift that’s just getting started.