By Marc Loftus
Issue: May 1, 2002

Animation software for the masses?

There was quite a buzz surrounding the slashing of 3D animation software prices at NAB. NewTek recently dropped the price of its LightWave 3D by $900 to $1,595, making it available "to a whole new generation of artists, designers, technicians, storytellers, video producers and creative visionaries," says president/CEO Jim Plant. And just prior to the show, Alias|Wavefront dropped the price of Maya Complete from $7,500 to $1,999 and its Maya Unlimited from $16,000 to $6,999. The plan is for A|W to become more of a volume market software vendor.

Understandably, animators are pleased. But how is the competition reacting? Discreet actually issued a formal statement on its Web site regarding its 3DS Max. It states: "We have no plans to change either the price of a single seat or our very cost effective multi-seat licensing options." Discreet goes on to say that its own tools have long been compared to more expensive releases, and that the price reductions represent the competition's attempt at leveling the playing field.

Product manager Michael David Smith says Softimage has no plans to drop the price of its XSI anytime soon. Softimage feels that it offers "the" high-end application for animation, and that its users not only benefit from the powerful tool, but from the collaborative environment that is available to them when working with the family of networked Softimage, Avid and Digidesign products.

Lyle Milton, who is a partner in pmG Worldwide LLC, is optimistic. The group will soon release Messiah:Studio, a $1,395 package of plug-ins designed to address other software packages' character animation shortcomings. Messiah:Studio has already been developed for LightWave, 3DS Max and Maya, and can be seen in the feature Jimmy Neutron. "It helps us all in a way," says Milton of the price reductions. "Our packages plug in with whatever's out there. [Hopefully Alias] can build excitement and grow the market."

Tony Cristiano, GM for Side Effects, says its Houdini is positioned from a value standpoint rather than by price. Code parity allows Houdini to runs on Windows, Linux, IRIX and Solaris systems with no difference. A trimmed-down version of its $17,000 flagship product - dubbed Houdini Select 5 - provides a sub-set of tools for only $1,999.

"There will be price leaders, but I don't think that's what the industry wants," says Cristiano. "I think it wants collaboration, innovation, productivity and support - a vendor who stands behind the product."