PRODUCT: Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate
PRICE: Buy: $6,825; Upgrade: $4,780; Monthly: $340
- Bifröst fluids simulator
- Revised modeling tools
- Geodesic voxel binding
The release of Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate 2015 marks the swan song for Softimage. It remains a superlative combination of efficiency, smart design, tight integration and tools ahead of their time. It was the first to natively incorporate the Mental Ray renderer, region-based interactive rendering, nonlinear animation editing, dissimilar attribute transfers, integrated compositing, and the multi-threaded visual programming interface ICE. Yet its downfall was perhaps inevitable. User attrition during the extended development of Softimage XSI from its earlier incarnation proved insurmountable. Maya, with its bevy of features, powerful scripting and under-the-hood accessibility, had entrenched itself in film and education.
Softimage concludes by adding Alembic caching, improved ICE performance and usability, progressive rendering along with additional Mental Ray functions, and CrowdFX transfer between Maya and 3D character animation software MotionBuilder. It's a solid update, though not what it deserved. Upon the release of Softimage 7, the intent was to reprogram all of Softimage into the ICE platform. That would've assured its continued significance and been a far more fitting send off.
Bifröst, a successor to ICE and the highly-vaunted Naiad fluid simulator, headlines Maya 2015. It’s still in its infancy; only liquids are simulated, sans foam and spray. What’s present however is excellent, highly realistic and easy to use. Fluid dynamics processing can be handled in the background, permitting work to continue in Maya. On a dual six-core workstation, I was able to tweak and build materials in hypershade with the occasional test render while encountering no appreciable effects from simulating liquids.
Bifröst, at its core, is software agnostic and while well integrated into Maya’s interface, currently lacks a proper node tree system. In its current state, it’s more a preview of things to come: a solid foundation with exciting possibilities. Not just pyrokinetic effects, but the ability to seamlessly combine complex and simpler simulations with ease via voxelization instead of meshing.
Voxelization is at the heart of another new standout tool: geodesic voxel binding for fast accurate skinning of characters. Other big additions to Maya 2015 include the XGen arbitrary primitive generator — a system developed at Disney to populate items and groom fur, hair, or feathers — and Pixar’s OpenSubDiv libraries for faster subdivision surfaces.
Several modeling tools have also been revised. Booleans can now be dynamically manipulated in realtime through the hierarchy hypergraph. The quad poly retopologizing tool introduced in Maya 2014 now works similarly to Modo with the addition of auto-weld, extend and relax tools. My favorite is the new multi-cut tool: a terrific combination tool that fuses Cut Faces, Split Polygon and Interactive Split tools, along with edge loop insertion. I had expected the tool to do multi-edge loop slices as in Modo, but that’s still handled through the insert edge loop tool, which has an archaic slider restriction of 10. While easily circumvented, such issues persist as Maya’s interface continues to assert that extra step. It stuns me that programs for designers consistently lack sufficient design forethought, though Maya has made headway.
3DS MAX 2015
3DS Max 2015 is a very different update to Maya. It opts to focus on core usability; the result of a new product manager and select committee of renowned 3DS Max users.
The most noticeable change is a new scene explorer similar to Maya’s Outliner that fuses Max’s layer manager and situates it alongside the viewport. The most-requested feature among users, it’s a thorough and excellent implementation, though a free substitute many users have relied on until now — the plug-in Outliner — still offers advantages. Outliner has the ability to split the scene explorer pane horizontally and its contents are also more immediately discernible due to a superior minimalist UI layout. Overall though, usability shows marked improvement. My other favorites include accelerated viewport performance and a new quad polygon chamfer with edge tension control to manipulate rounding.
Max has long catered to multiple markets with the aid of a strong plug-in architecture and import/export capabilities that made it excel as a 3D hub application. In recent years, this position has waned; made evident in the slower native adoption of Alembic support and the lack of an official plug-in for the Arnold renderer. The addition of Python scripting in Max and a new point cloud object helps reverse this trend. It’s just a shame that the point cloud object only supports Autodesk’s Recap format and not Agisoft Photoscan.
MUDBOX & MOTIONBUILDER
Reality capture-based features spearhead this latest iteration of MotionBuilder. Highlights include direct support for motion capture via Microsoft’s Kinect, and flexible marker assignment for mapping motion capture onto characters that differ from their real-world counterparts. The addition of a hundred stock animation moves and advanced camera options further develops MotionBuilder as a previs tool.
Meanwhile Mudbox continues to build on the retopology tools added in last year’s version, with new symmetry options, and gains workflow enhancements with a new caliper tool and layer groups to organize complex sculpt and paint work.
This is one last time to have new versions of 3DS Max, Maya and Softimage together and fully leverage their interoperability. Combine that with a $1,570 price reduction for the suite, and this Ultimate package is certainly a worthwhile purchase for studios.