Autodesk has just announced the 2015 update to its Entertainment Creation Suite including Maya, 3ds Max, Mudbox, MotionBuilder and the soon to be discontinued Softimage, with new features aimed at its wide range of customers working in the film, television and games industries. There's also a new version of the recently released Maya LT software for indie games developers.
What's new in Maya 2015? Autodesk's 2015 update for Maya aims to simplify complext tasks to allow artists to be more efficient.
Among the new features that Autodesk has introduced for this purpose are new simulation systems including XGen and Bifrost.
XGen (below) is a technology that has been widely used by leading animation companies such as Disney and Pixar on feature films including Frozen, Tangled and Toy Story. It's used to generate curves, spheres or custom geometry on the surface of a polygon mesh, resulting in realistic hair, fur or feathers, for example, or to populate large landscapes with greenery, rocks and debris.
The geometry is created procedurally by XGen at the time of render so artists can handle large amounts of instance data that would normally slow down a system if it were loaded into memory instead, Autodesk's Senior Product Marketing Manager Rob Hoffman told us.
Meanwhile, the Bifrost Procedural Effects Platform, which was developed based on Maya technology, has been refined for ease of use. It's been built into Maya and allows artists to create realistic renderings of liquids.
Modelling in Maya has also been improved and enhanced in the 2015 version. There is now Geodesic Voxel Binding (shown at the top of this article), which is a skinning method for binding geometry to joint skeletons. It's designed to enable artists to produce high-quality results quickly, and can handle really complex geometry containing overlapping components and more.
Autodesk has also added support for OpenSubdiv (left), which are open sourced libraries from Pixar that will allow artists within Maya 2015 to represent their subdivision surfaces using the OpenSubdiv technology. It means much faster draw performance thanks to the use of parallel CPU and GPU architectures, too.
As with 3ds Max, Maya 2015 now has ShaderFX for real-time shade editing using a click and drag system.
Additionally, Maya 2015 has new relax and tweak features for retopologising high-resolution meshes to simplify them and make them easier to work with, as well as a new interactive edge extend tool, a new library, and enhancements and extensions for bevel tools.
What's new in 3ds Max 2015? 3ds Max has also received an update, which Autodesk says aims to provide greater performance to enable artists to create better realism within their work. Several new features have been introduced to help achieve this.
These new features include point cloud support for more precise models using real-world images; python scripting to allow the customisation and extension of the 3ds Max software; ActiveShade rendering enhancements for a quicker, easier way to refine lighting; a ShaderFX real-time visual shader editor; enhanced scene management tools and workflow and performance improvements.
In addition to the new features listed above, Autodesk has introduced new placement tools to let artists position oriented content in relation to other content within their scene, which means objects can be moved along the surface of another mesh as though they're magnetically attracted. We were shown a demo of this feature during a sneak preview of the update and were impressed by the accuracy and intelligence it provides.
What's new in MotionBuilder 2015 & Mudbox 2015? MotionBuilder and Mudbox have both received 2015 updates too.
MotionBuilder has a new plugin that lets artists capture body movements using the Microsoft Kinect, but this feature is only available for Windows users. However, customers can add support for other motion capture devices such as LeapMotion, too.
New camera options in MotionBuilder, including animatable Depth of Field and Follow Focus, have been introduced to allow artists to recreate real-world cinematography.
There are also 100 animations in FPS format available to MotionBuilder users through the Moves content library, from running and jumping to tripping or crawling, as well as animations for inanimate objects like interactions with furniture, for example. These animations could be used to help previsualise scenes or could become a starting point for animators.
Mudbox, meanwhile, has been given new symmetry options for retopology and existing meshes and a new Make Symmetrical tools ideal for models scanned from real-world objects.
There are also new Sculpt Layer and Paint Layer groups to make it easier to organise and work with lots of different types of layers in Mudbox, and a new Caliper tool for precise model measurements.
What's new in Maya LT 2015?
Autodesk's new 3D animation modelling tool for indie game makers, Maya LT, is also getting a 2015 update despite being less than a year old. Among the improvements and new features is access to cloud facilities such as Autodesk 360 and Dropbox for sharing assets, and integration with Autodesk's consumer apps such as the 123D apps.
Maya LT users will also be able to use Unfold3D integrations to make it easier to create and edit UV maps (right), with automated UV map generation and easier manual adjustments. There are also new UV visual feedback systems to smooth out issues.
What's new in Softimage 2015? And finally, Autodesk has also unveiled a Softimage update, though it has already announced that this will be the very last version of the software before it is discontinued and no longer supported by the company.
Autodesk has enhanced the ICE platform, has introduced access to NVIDIA mental ray renderer functionality and added single click cross-product CrowdFX workflows with MotionBuilder and Maya.
Autodesk's 2015 suite will be available from 14 April, and, although we don't know exact UK pricing yet, it's likely to be similar to the current pricing model. For the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate 2014, which includes the majority of the software mentioned in this article, Autodesk currently charges £7,500 excluding VAT. We'll update this article with pricing information when we have it.