Autodesk’s Marc Petit on Skyline and mobile gaming
It’s been a busy week for Autodesk. Senior vice president of Media & Entertainment Marc Petit sat down with 3D World to discuss Project Skyline and a move into the mobile games market
Autodesk's Media & Entertainment HQ in Montreal, Quebec
Towards the end of February, 3D World paid a visit to the Autodesk Media & Entertainment headquarters in Montreal.
To start the visit, Autodesk’s Marc Petit gave a presentation that covered some of the events of the past year – which, he said, had been relatively hard on the games industry, but incredibly positive for animation.
Petit spoke of the demand for quality outpacing budgets – something that was built on during a presentation of the 2012 digital entertainment creation range later in the day. The new product line that was being announced had a clear focus on interoperability between software.
But the current demand-over-budget issue is a problem that has hit the games industry hard. EA and THQ are in the red, while Activision has engaged in deep restructuring and cancelled waning franchises such as Guitar Hero.
At the moment, these aren’t huge concerns for Autodesk. It’s worked to create a range of products that work alongside each other to be able to produce the content demanded, for less.
But if the animation and VFX industry continue to outsell games, could the complexity of game development leave the industry behind?
Those at Autodesk don’t think so. At GDC this week, the company has been showcasing a future technology known as ‘Project Skyline’.
Project Skyline technology’s game trace view, showing which animations are being combined as the game is played
“Our vision is of a Maya-centric game authoring environment,” says Petit. “To create a game, you have a runtime component, but each comes with an editor. At the moment, each editor is different. So through Skyline, Maya will be able to speak the language of the game.
“It allows Maya to become an editing tool for many things: UI editing, pre-processing light maps, etc.”
Project Skyline is in direct response to the increasing complexity in game projects, but Autodesk plans to reuse technology by pairing Maya and Project Skyline.
When 3D World was given a run-through of the technology, we were told that Autodesk acknowledges a lot of extra cost comes from gluing parts of the pipeline together. The problem with traditional game workflow, the theory goes, is that there’s no connection between authored data and runtime data. By creating a live timeline in which you can go back and see what went wrong and what led to it, animators will be empowered. They will be able to isolate the issue, double-click to open the rig, assets and everything in Maya so it can be fixed.
“The cost of training should go down if it’s in Maya,” says Petit. “It doesn’t take anything from runtime, and it helps the editing part and bridges game authoring with content creation”.
What about 3ds Max?
More Project Skyline. Here, a source animation is being modified as the game is running. Modifications to the source animation are picked up immediately by the running game engine
Despite some great updates announced for 3ds Max 2012, it was Maya and Softimage that stole the show during presentations from the Autodesk team.
However, Petit considers Max a solid part of the family. “Max is an amazing product: it’s the Swiss Army knife of content creation. It’s a very good business for us, and it’ll keep playing a key role in games. You can also use Project Skyline and Max to deal with content.”
Petit considers 3ds Max the key suite for content creation, and it can be used for the new projects, however, it’s the pairing of Maya and Softimage technology that is causing the most excitement in game authoring.
“We’re expanding the Maya pipeline with Softimage technology,” he says. “It’s the Softimage team that are working on Project Skyline. We chose Maya because it’s the most flexible, but you can have a Max pipeline and use Skyline.”
Autodesk and mobile gaming
However, Project Skyline is only a part of Autodesk’s future in software for games. The day before 3D World arrived at the Autodesk offices, the company had announced its intention to acquire the middleware provider Scaleform.
Petit noted that Autodesk wants to take the tools of Scaleform, largely used for 2D work, and help it move forward into 3D. He also mentioned a greater opportunity: “Scaleform allows Autodesk ready-made tools to break into the mobile market.”
Petit went on to explain more about Scaleform’s current position: “What’s interesting is that some people use it as a way to do 2D UI component display in games, and some others use it to make mini games or Android games. So right now it’s a 2D engine; the authoring tool is Flash. The evolution is to scale it into 3D and hook it up not to Flash, but to something like Maya.”
So how will Autodesk help Scaleform technology fit alongside current tools? “You can make the connection with Maya,” says Petit. “The visual programming paradigm you’ve seen is something we want to expand. It needs sophisticated animation capabilities. What good games need is rigging. Trying to do rigging in Flash won’t have all the capabilities you need. It makes sense for the runtime of Scaleform to hook up with the animation of Maya.”
Autodesk has recently completed the acquisition of Scaleform, so it’s likely that it will be a while before any software integration.
As for Skyline, timing is even more uncertain. It is staying in the project phase for the time being, but its possibilities are huge. Autodesk is currently receiving feedback on the project, which it hopes will help it evolve, ready for release.
on Friday, March 4th, 2011 at 3:25 pm under Analysis, Features.
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Tags: 3ds Max, Autodesk, autodesk 2012, Marc Petit, Maya, mobile games, Project Skyline, Softimage