Expansion pack brings new features to Autodesk 2014

Expansion pack brings new features to Autodesk 2014

It’s a good day to be an Autodesk user. Not only have the 3D giants revealed new features for their M&E range, they’ve also dropped the price of Entertainment Creation Suites and announced that you can upgrade to the Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate for 20% less. 

Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Mudbox get new extensions for subscription customers

Not content with rolling out service packs left, right and centre, Autodesk are introducing new features to their core VFX and 3D applications. Highlights include the addition of Python scripting to 3ds Max, and 3ds Max users with an Autodesk Subscription can also log in to the Autodesk App Exchange to download a separate update that adds stereo camera viewing functionality.

Maya users should brace themselves for the arrival of Xgen, the program Disney and Pixar developed to make their award-winning range of animated hair, fur and feathers. Autodesk have had Xgen on an exclusive licence for a while now, but this is the first time we’ve seen it take centre stage in one of their biggest applications, and we could not be more excited.

Mudbox has received a refresh of its retopology toolkit, so you should find it easier to force topologically symmetrical results or to mix topological symmetry with spatial asymmetry. There’s also a new caliper tool that enables you to measure the distance between two points on a model or along a curve.

To be able to access these new features you’ll need an Autodesk Subscription. If you’re not a subscriber already, you can get in touch with our team over at Autodesk@Jigsaw24.com for advice on how to go about adding Subscriptions to your existing licences.

Want to know more about your Autodesk options? Give the team a call on 03332 409 306 or email Autodesk@Jigsaw24.com to find out more. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook

 

Are you using the right hardware for your Autodesk software?

Are you using the right hardware for your Autodesk software?

Whether you’re sculpting in Mudbox, animating characters in Maya, whipping up pre-visualisations in 3ds Max or drafting like billy-o in AutoCAD LT, some of the basics of what makes a good Autodesk workstation stay the same (stock up on RAM and pack in as many cores as possible), but with so many different software suites and qualified components out there, it can be difficult to work out which workstation is best for you. To help make things easier, here are our top tips for choosing Mac and PC workstations for your Autodesk software of choice… 

For AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT for Mac users

We have good news: virtually any Mac will run AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT, from the beefiest of Mac Pros (ideal for handling big models quickly) to the smallest Mac mini (great for setting up freelancers with temporary desks, or if you want to take your setup with you to meet a client, as it’ll plug into any keyboard and display).

We know that a lot of users are sticking to their ageing Mac Pros in order to keep using NVIDIA Quadro 4000 or Quadro K5000 cards due to their higher fidelity, but the latest models have a huge amount to offer. With powerful 12-core CPUs on offer, the latest Mac Pro can help you create and navigate simulations far faster. The fact that the usual lumbering hard drive has been replaced by a fast, agile SSD means you’ll also be able to work with huge models far more efficiently.

If you’re really itching to customise your workstation, we’ll say it again: you can never have enough RAM. Get in touch with our team to find out how easy it is to pack your Mac with some extra memory.

For 3ds Max users

Autodesk 3ds Max 2014

If you’re working in a field like games development, odds are you’re using 3ds Max or a 3ds Max-based Entertainment Creation Suite (if you’re not, you might want to drop us a line…). You’ll want plenty of processing power, so we’d recommend opting for a 16-core HP Z820 for maximum responsiveness, although a high-spec Z620 will do the trick if you’re budget-conscious. While the new Mac Pros look promising, we’re still waiting for Autodesk to qualify a configuration, so if you need an interim Mac workstation go for a 27” Quad-core i7 3.4Ghz iMac with at least 8GB of RAM – preferably more.

If you invested in iMac before the latest Mac Pro was announced and are wincing at the cost of replacing them, remember that you can use the iMac screen as a second display and harness the internals as part of your rendering setup, meaning that artists can continue working on their Mac Pro while their iMac takes care of rendering work, rather than sitting and watching the progress bar.

When it comes to graphics, you need to bear in mind that Autodesk recently rewrote 3ds Max’s viewport engine, moving it over to DirectX from OpenGL. This means you’ll get faster performance for your money using gaming cards than you will using traditionally professional cards – which is great news for your wallet, and means you can design your work on the same card your end user will be playing it on.

One good choice for working with Autodesk software is NVIDIA’s 6GB GeForce GTX Titan, as it has the kind of stamina you usually only see in pro cards and so is least likely to melt under constant use. However, it’s not qualified yet and is also pretty expensive, so you might want to opt for Autodesk’s qualified card, the lower-spec 4GB GeForce GTX 680, which delivers a surprising amount of power for such an affordable card.

For Maya and Mudbox

For areas like graphics or post-production work, we’d typically recommend Autodesk Maya or a Maya-centric Entertainment Creation Suite (Autodesk’s Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate gets you Maya, 3ds Max, Motionbuilder, Mudbox, Softimage and Sketchbook Designer, so it’s a good option if you want to make sure you’re covered for every eventuality). The main difference between Maya and an application like 3ds Max is that you really need a NVIDIA Quadro card to get the best possible graphics performance. The Quadro drivers are optimised for Maya, and going for something like the ultra-powerful Quadro K5000 or the K2000 if you’re kitting out an assist station will give you the smoothest, most accurate viewport performance.

While we’re still waiting to hear how Autodesk plan to handle the dual GPU potential of the 2013 Mac Pro, if you need a Mac in an interim then your only real option is the top spec 3.4GHz i7 iMac, with 8 or 16GB of RAM depending on the size of project you think you’ll need to handle (this can always be repurposed as a combined second display and a render node if you decide to upgrade to a Mac Pro further down the line). For PC workstations, we’d recommend going no lower than an HP Z620 (ideally a Z820) with as many cores and as much RAM as you can pack in, as both will help you complete projects in the fastest possible time.

Want to know more? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email Autodesk@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow us on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

How to stay on top of your Autodesk licences

How to stay on top of your Autodesk licences

We’ve banged on about how we think every Autodesk user needs a subscription, we’ve told you about all their latest offers, and now it’s time to reveal what comes next. Keeping your Autodesk licences in order and making sure all your subs are in sync can look like a tricky business, but we’ve got our team on hand to help.

Consolidating your licences

If you’re a busy facility with ten copies of Maya, five of MotionBuilder and a few copies of 3ds Max just in case, the last thing you want to do is waste time performing admin tasks for eighteen different products, each with a different serial number, each of which were forgotten by everyone about ten minutes after the software entered the building. One of the (totally free!) services we can provide is the consolidation of all your licences for each Autodesk product, so you’ll have one serial number that covers all your Maya licences, another for all your MotionBuilder ones and a third for 3ds Max. Far easier to manage, no?

Aligning your renewal dates

Alas, subscription plans are not indefinite. At some point, your time will be up, and you’ll need to pay for the next year, three years or what have you, and if you’ve got a lot of subscriptions to manage, that can become a major budgeting headache. If you’d like to align your licences and subscriptions so that all of them expire at once, or clusters expire at the same, convenient time, we can help with that too. Give our team a call (or ask the fella on the end of the phone when you call up to buy) and we can arrange to have your licences and subscriptions expire when it’s convenient for you, making it easier to budget for renewals.

We can either help you produce a plan of what you need to renew and when in order to get out of whatever rats’ nest of licences you’re trapped in and into a smooth software management workflow or, if you’re already organised, we can arrange it so that any additional licences you take on expire at the same time as your existing ones.

If you’re phone-phobic, there’s always the Autodesk Subscription Centre

The Autodesk Subscription Centre is where you can track your own subscriptions and licences, and keep an eye on which are coming up for renewal. As well as being the place where you access all your Autodesk 360 cloud benefits, the Subscription Centre is where you go to request access to an older version of your software should you need it, download new releases and request any serial numbers that you’ve lost, so it’s well worth a bookmark.

Visit the Autodesk Subscription Centre

Want to know more? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook

Tips for teachers: Demystifying 3D software

Tips for teachers: Demystifying 3D software

When it comes to CAD and 3D modelling there seem to be a never-ending supply of different applications out there, each trying to make teachers’ and students’ lives that much easier. While they all have their benefits, Elliott Smith (friendly 3D consultant) decided to put together a simple guide to help you choose between them.

First thing’s first, if you’re going to give students one piece of advice this September, I recommend telling them to visit Autodesk’s student portal. That’s because Autodesk (arguably the market leader in 3D right now) have decided to offer their software to students for free.

The process is simple: students just need to enter their student email address (one ending in .ac.uk) or have a faculty member sign them up, and can then download their choice of software. As well as a way to access the applications, it’s also a great place to post work, learn new tricks and make contact with peers. Of course, there are other helpful resources that you can direct students to, such as 3D forums, which all provide industry professionals with advice on aspects of a 3D workflow.

Once they have the free software, students will need to know how to get started. A good place to learn the basic interface is the Services and Support section of the Autodesk website. This lets you select an application and then navigate through video tutorials, relevant documents, receive updates and much more.

Ultimately, the type of software students will need is going to be prescribed by the course they are studying, with many of those applications falling into one of five categories (Engineering, Product Design, Built Environment, Multimedia (inc. Animation) and Games Design). But to give students a better idea of what software is out there and what each one can be used for, here’s a brief summary of the major contenders.

 

Application Summary Platform
Autodesk MayaMultimedia

Games Design

Maya is one of the easier pieces of software to understand and learn, and provides comprehensive tools for animation, modelling, visual effects, simulation and rendering. It is a great all-rounder that can be used for just about anything. A lot of film visual effects are done in Maya. WindowsLinux

Mac OS X

Autodesk 3ds MaxEngineering

Product Design

Multimedia

Games Design

3ds Max is perhaps the most difficult application to master. It has been around in different guises for years and has many features that make it incredibly versatile and powerful but also very complicated. Because of this versatility, it is used in a diverse range of industries, from games design to architectural visualisation. Windows
Autodesk 3ds Max DesignBuilt Environment There are two versions of 3ds Max: Max and Max Design. Max Design is used primarily for architectural modelling and designing, and has additional features that do not come with the other version. These include daylight analysis and BIM (Building Information Modelling), which allow architects to model a building and then analyse how it will function under certain circumstances. Windows
Maxon CINEMA 4DMultimedia

Games Design

Product Design

Built Environment

Engineering

CINEMA 4D has engineering, architecture and broadcast editions that are tailored to each specific need. Where it really excels is in animation. Using the built-in MoGraph toolset (made for creating motion graphics) is easy and delivers amazing results very quickly. The BodyPaint module also sets it apart from other applications as it gives you the ability to paint a texture directly onto a model. Without the need to arrange textures over specific co-ordinates, texturing your models becomes fast and more intuitive. CINEMA 4D is used heavily in both film and TV for these reasons and is a great option for most 3D needs. WindowsMac OS X
Mental RayRendering Plug-in Mental Ray is a rendering plug-in that comes free with most Autodesk 3D applications. The plug-in is used to design and apply materials to your models, add lights to a scene and much more. Mental Ray is not used to make models, only to give them the material that you want, such as a wood texture for the floor and paint finish to a wall. It’s a fairly complicated plug-in to learn but does yield fantastic results when you get a bit of experience. Windows
V-RayRendering Plug-in V-Ray is a separate render plug-in for 3ds Max, Maya, CINEMA 4D and a few other leading 3d applications. Like Mental Ray, it is used to apply materials and lights to a scene. In many industries, V-Ray is the standard choice of renderer as it is considered the best at generating photorealistic renders. V-Ray is packed with features that make it more than just a renderer and is highly respected within the industry. Depends on application it is being used on.
Autodesk MudboxGames Design

Multimedia

 

Mudbox is a digital sculpting and texture painting application that is used primarily in the game, film, television and design industries. Think of a lump of clay that you gradually sculpt into the final model: Mudbox works in a similar way but, instead of using a scalpel, you use a graphics tablet or mouse. It is very intuitive and is great for creating odd shapes or characters. Windows users have the option of a 32-bit or 64-bit version where as OS X users need to be working in 64-bit. WindowsMac OS X
Pixologic ZbrushGames Design

Multimedia

Zbrush is much like Mudbox and is used to create digital sculptures of unique characters for the games or broadcast industries. Zbrush has many powerful features and has a very elegant and intuitive interface that allows greater freedom and control. WindowsMac OS X
E-on VueMultimedia

Games Design

Built Environment

E-on Vue is one of the lesser known applications on the list but is actually great at generating organic scenes such as mountains, terrains, skies, trees, grass and anything else you might find in nature. It is very simple to learn and was used extensively in Avatar to populate their scenes with organic matter. WindowsMac OS X
Google SketchUpBuilt Environment

Product Design

SketchUp is great because it is free. There is a pro version thats adds more features for professional use but, for students, the standard version is a great place to start. SketchUp is probably the easiest of the 3D programs to learn. Architects love it because they can sketch out ideas for buildings very quickly and accurately. WindowsMac OS X
Nemetschek VectorworksBuilt Environment Vectorworks is a CAD (Computer Aided Design) application that is used by architects to design and analyse their buildings, but is considered to be one of the programs that is easiest to learn. One advantage over other CAD/BIM applications that Vectorworks has is that it is very customisable. If you are trying to re-design or renovate an old building, you can adapt Vectorworks to suit the specific requirement of the building and your workflow. WindowsMac OS X
Autodesk AutoCADEngineering

Built Environment

AutoCAD is probably the oldest application on the list and has been the benchmark for accuracy and precision. It is primarily used by engineers and architects for this very reason. Historically, it has been 2D but is increasingly integrating 3D elements into its features. Windows
Autodesk RevitBuilt Environment Revit is another application made for CAD and BIM. Revit helps architects and designers to capture and analyse early concepts and can then be used to design all aspects of the design process, right through to construction and handover. It is suited more to new builds rather than renovations and retrofitting. Windows-only. Windows
Informatix PiranesiRendering plug-in Piranesi is a rendering plug-in that architects use to produce initial concepts. It doesn’t try to be a photo-realistic renderer but instead excels at producing traditional sketch-like renders that both the building and architect trades still love. Windows and OS X. WindowsMac OS X

It is worth mentioning that most, if not all the non-Autodesk applications, have free trials available from their respective websites and generally provide plenty of support to get started.

If you want to find out more, give the team a call on 03332 409 306 or email sales@Jigsaw24.com. To receive the latest 3D news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or Like’ our Facebook page.

Maya lighting tutorials

Maya lighting tutorials

The other day I stumbled across these lighting tutorials which I thought I would share with you. They were published a few years ago and provide a brief introduction to the theories of lighting as well as how to practically implement them into Maya.

The tutorials are broken down into six separate sections that cover different types of lighting such as moonlight, candlelight and underwater light. I really recommend reading them even if your choice of weapon isn’t Maya or Mental Ray.

Below are some examples.

maya lighting tutorials Underwater

maya lighting tutorials Twilight

Enjoy!

For more information on improving your 3D workflow, call our team on 03332 409 306 or email sales@Jigsaw24.com. To receive the latest 3D news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or Like’ our Facebook page.

 

 

Virtual moviemaking

Virtual moviemaking

Pre-Vis workflow Between Maya and NLE Applications

Maya 2011 introduces a large number of new features. Among those are tools for camera sequencing. These tools are designed to help you to sync an EDL (Edit Decision List) from NLEs such as Final Cut Pro or Avid Media Composer directly with your Maya scene. This workflow can help you to follow a storyboard created in one of these NLEs all without switching out of Maya.

Final Cut Pro is the de facto standard for digital storyboarding, the process of roughing out a story layout and camera shots using conceptual art and draft assets. In the past artists would either have had to have this project open in their NLE or re-create the storyboard on their Maya timeline for reference when creating the CG elements of the story.

Import storyboards

Maya can now import storyboard data in XML or Avid AAF formats directly to the Maya timeline. XML is supported by Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro CS5 so along with AAF means storyboards created in Apple, Adobe and Avid software can be imported.

When importing these files Maya will interpret the storyboard information and depending on exactly what information is there can create a Maya camera linked to each shot, add each shot to Maya’s timeline and even set up an image plane on each camera containing the conceptual artwork.

Lay out scenes easily

Having all of this information inside Maya will help CG artists to quickly and easily lay out their CG scenes to match the director’s creative vision. Finally Maya can re-export and EDL using updated shot information and draft CG images for review.

These features really streamline the workflow for anyone doing digital storyboarding and help artists and directors to achieve their creative vision more efficiently.

For more technical information on implementing this or other workflows, feel free to get in contact with our technical team on 03332 409 306, email sales@Jigsaw24.com or take a look at our full broadcast range. To receive the latest 3D news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or Like’ our Facebook page.

 

Experimenting with stereoscopy with Maya

Experimenting with stereoscopy with Maya

As a long time CINEMA 4D user, I was a little daunted at the prospect of learning to use Maya. But, as Autodesk’s application has built-in support for stereoscopic rendering and live stereoscopic previews (something only available in CINEMA 4D through plug-ins), my interest has piqued.

Creating stereoscopic content

All 3D software is technically capable of creating stereoscopic content; you just need to use two virtual cameras (one to represent each eye) and then finish the resulting content in the same way you would live action stereoscopic content, but this approach creates a few problems. For one thing, animating two cameras as one to maintain the 3D effect often requires complex scripting to keep the cameras aligned and to achieve comfortable, working 3D. This problem is compounded by the fact that most software has no provision for previewing your work in stereoscopic 3D. A company called SVI do make a plug-in that will allow you to edit stereoscopic work within CINEMA 4D but, as Maya has this functionality built-in, I wanted to test it out.

Working in Maya

I decided very early on that learning to model within the application would take far too long to learn so, after obtaining some demo content from my good friends at Autodesk, I set about learning the stereoscopic aspects of Maya.

maya camera attributes

The good news is that everything is very well integrated in the Maya program. Autodesk have used the built-in scripting language to create a range of stereoscopic camera rigs for you to use, and made it very simple to control all of the important stereoscopic parameters (see left). The rigs range from a simple three-camera rig (two of these cameras represent the viewers eyes and there is one in the centre for framing your shots) to more complex nine-camera stereo rigs. These more complicated rigs are useful for scenes with a lot of depth, such as outdoor scenes, as often you will set the stereo parameters for objects in the foreground and it will break the stereo effect in the background or vice versa. These rigs, combined with Mayas render layers, can allow you to use different stereo parameters on different objects in your scene, making it a very flexible solution.

When using these cameras, Maya can show a 3D preview directly in the viewport and supports anaglyph display (using inexpensive tinted glasses) for those without special displays or options for more exotic displays, including horizontal interlaced, active shuttered displays and checkerboard format. This allows Maya to display an image on almost any 3D display out there. It’s worth bearing in mind that some of these displays require additional hardware, and you will certainly need a powerful graphics card to display a (usable) stereoscopic preview. We recommend NVIDIA’s Quadro range of graphics cards and can advise you on a 3D display for a range of budgets.

The camera rigs have several options for controlling the 3D effect. You can control the inter-ocular distance (separation between the cameras), zero parallax plane, and also have options to mimic physical 3D rigs (such as parallel or off axis).

stereo volume in maya

This image illustrates the safe stereo volume (in blue) and the zero parallax plane (in red).

Maya will also show a visual representation of the zero parallax plane along with a comfortable viewing volume (think of this as a three dimensional title guide).  These features take a lot of the guess work out of composing 3D images, and give you all the help you need to create comfortable 3D scenes.
Export options are also plentiful; Maya is able to directly export an anaglyph image (for posting to the web or printing out) or separate left and right streams (for post processing or use with stereoscopic players).

In summary, although these options are available in other software through plug-ins or scripting, the fact that they are an integral part of Maya helps to make them a great solution for producing stereoscopic CG content. Being able to preview your work in realtime will also save you a huge amount of time.

To find out more about creating stereoscopic content in Maya (or CINEMA 4D), get in touch with us on 03332 409 309 or email sales@jigsaw24.com.