Autodesk buys Tangent in a push for cloud-based workflows

Tangent forms one more piece of the M&E puzzle unveiled by Autodesk at AU 21.

Autodesk’s Media and Entertainment division is rebuilding itself within the Autodesk enterprise. The company has always wanted its DCC division with its enormous wealth of creative tools to be able to serve the entire company as well as be a major force in professional entertainment content creation. We’re seeing those first steps.

Things change quickly these days. At Autodesk’s Virtual University (AU) this year, the company revealed their strategy to build a common infrastructure for the corporation based on the Forge development platform. Led by Autodesk’s new CTO Raji Arasu, the infrastructure will run throughout all its products. Everything from AutoCAD through BIM and manufacturing to M&E, which has sometimes seemed like a lonely outpost in the Autodesk kingdom.

At AU, Diana Colella, SVP of the M&E group, said the strategy will enable the company to come together on a single platform. And that platform is going to enable M&E’s evolution to cloud-based workflows but equally important Autodesk will have a single engine to drive R&D, third party development and interconnectivity between products. “For production artists and supervisors, it’s a journey we’ve already started on,” she added.

The big news for M&E at AU is the rebranding of Shotgun to Shotgrid. Autodesk’s production management tool, Shotgun is a powerful tool that’s widely used throughout production. Shotgrid connects the people working on a production with the data they’re developing. The company is building AI into Shotgrid so it’s a more effective tool for customers. For example, they’re enabling predictive analyses to better predict where the team will hit their production milestones. Shotgrid becomes even more powerful as it moves to the cloud. Colella says the time to start this work is right now. The industry is digitizing, and that process is accelerating.  However, one very key point to this transition is that it’s part of a long march for Autodesk. Maurice Patel, senior director for M&E industry strategy, told us the work going on within Autodesk’s M&E group is part of a long march for the entire company. They’re looking at a four-to-five-year timeframe.

Autodesk acquires Tangent

Autodesk didn’t have to look far for the firepower they wanted for their pipeline and asset management makeover, Shotgrid. Tangent Labs, led by Jeff Bell, is located just about next door to Autodesk’s Toronto headquarters, and the company and its leader was a well-known entity to Autodesk. Patel told us. “They’ve been friends of ours.” Thus, Autodesk was probably among the first to know that the Tangent Labs teams suddenly became available when the parent company Tangent Animation closed its doors last August. Jeff Bell was COO, producer, and co-founder of Tangent Animation and is well known in the industry. The whole Tangent organization worked on the animated movie NextGen for Netflix, an animation film with good reviews and is credited for raising the awareness of Blender as a production-ready content creation tool. Bell has been a principal at Hawaii Animation Studios. In the ‘90s, he worked for Alias and Autodesk where he was on the Maya team. It’s all a very good fit.

As we’ve been saying, Autodesk’s Diana Colella has already been hot on the track of improving Shotgrid. In a prepared quote, she said, “We believe that a cloud-based production ecosystem for Media & Entertainment (M&E) is the right way to tackle the future needs of the industry. This is a journey we are taking in collaboration with our customers, our partners, industry organizations, and even other software vendors.”

Autodesk will not be continuing the LoUPE pipeline tool developed by Tangent Labs but they are admirers of the technology and will be incorporating it into the work they are doing on ShotGrid.

Patel told us that the Autodesk M&E team is especially interested in Tangent’s asset management tools that were developed in conjunction with their production management tool, LoUPE. He said their work meshes well with that of the ShotGrid team, which is stronger in review and approval. Tangent’s technology also has powerful realtime reporting and analytics. “It’s pretty synergistic,” said Patel. “As a team founded to develop a cloud-based pipeline tool, Tangent had grappled with the challenges of developing a tool that first and foremost is available to its users no matter where they are: home, office, in transit, or on the set. The trick is, added Patel, “to have tools that are not completely in the cloud so they’re accessible, and to be modular, and have a very low footprint.” That is, in fact, Autodesk’s goal for all its products.

What do we think?

Autodesk recognized the power of owning a tool like Shotgun, early on. The product forms the backbone of production projects—it’s the core of the pipeline running through all projects thus Autodesk is an important partner in production. It gains an insight into what their partners need and can help them develop it.

Autodesk has talked a good game on openness and every time they have backed away from it. The company has been reluctant to give away their lock on important chunks of the production pipeline—for any project: AEC, manufacturing, GIS, etc. But there’s new management at Autodesk now and so that thinking is changing and nowhere is it more obvious than in M&E. M&E is where collaboration and interoperability is sometimes the linchpin to a production’s success. This trend is moving through the content creation community like a wave but it’s truly part of a worldwide transition that’s transforming all industries. It’s digitalization.