SIGGRAPH: Technology partnerships & leveraging existing productions

Posted By Michael Stein on August 11, 2011 10:55 am | Permalink

In recent years, there has been an increase in technology partnerships in the graphics industry, and both trends have continued this year at SIGGRAPH. As the industry has matured and the technology portfolios have increased, the major studios are looking to find partners to reduce risk, increase their development efforts without a matching increase in cost, or reduce their expenses by trading tech for software. Additionally, studios that used to write their own software for almost everything are realizing that by combining off-the-shelf software with custom pipelines they can achieve their production goals with reduced development time and risk.

On the technology partnership side, there were two major announcements at the show. Side Effects Software announced that Dreamworks Animation has purchased a global site license of Houdini in a deal that will see them collaborating on R&D efforts as well as sharing IP. The site license itself is not unique, but if DWA can provide custom solutions to problems that are then well integrated into Houdini, they can increase efficiency and visual quality more than they would otherwise. 

The other big announcement came from Autodesk, who has entered into an exclusive, 5-year licensing agreement with Disney for their XGen aribitrary primitive generator technology. Autodesk gains a powerful new tool to improve its Maya product, and while the terms of the deal were not announced, Disney is likely to see a meaningful payoff for their years of development effort. These announcements, along with the continued licensing efforts of companies such as The Foundry, will surely cause studios to look at their own tech and tools for opportunities of their own.

I attended two sessions, which illuminated how studios can combine existing commercial products with their own pipelines to achieve efficient results at a high quality. At a course on urban modeling, Pixar presented a talk on how Esri/Procedural's CityEngine was integrated into their pipeline for creating the streets of London. At the Directing Destruction talk, MPC described their Kali toolset for FEM destruction, built on the DMM engine from Pixelux. In both cases it was clear that by focusing on pipeline and integration rather than core technologies, the studios were able to quickly put systems into production without long R&D cycles. For small studios this approach seems obvious, but it's interesting to see the shift for the major studios as well.