film reporter

Gaming and globalization come into focus at Autodesk

A recent meeting with Autodesk president and CEO Carl Bass offered insight into product strategy, the impact of globalization on the visual effects industry and the possibility that the design software developer might be the next major player to pull out of the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show.

Bass notes continued growth in the use of visual simulation tools for design in many industries and synergies among these markets. In its media and entertainment space, Autodesk — an industry leader in postproduction and 3-D computer animation with annual revenue of about $2 billion — reports that gaming is quickly replacing feature film as an innovation driver.

Meanwhile, Bass says that with more leading visual effects companies entering countries like India, globalization is one of largest trends impacting business.

"If you replace seats in Santa Monica with seats in Chennai, we would lose money because … the price model (of Autodesk systems) is somewhat related to the (local) wages," he says. "But what we are seeing is (that) there is such an explosion in the use of these tools. Some of the operations are moving to India, but the number of feature films made in India exceeds the number made in Hollywood. What we are seeing, particularly, is (that) these emerging economies like China and Russia want local films. There is a huge amount of content development (occurring) locally."

Bass believes that proprietary tools and workflows at large VFX houses — so common today — will not be as typical in the near future.

"I think the (proprietary) pipelines people have put together are way too expensive," he says. "Early on in a market, there's enough money to write your own software, but over time it makes less and less sense. … In every market we've ever been in, there was a time when customers were writing huge amounts of software themselves. The only market where that is still true is (media and entertainment). They say they are big companies, so they can afford it. Well, Boeing is a big company, too, but it stopped writing (computer-assisted design) software a long time ago.

"So I think you will see less software development inside feature film studios," he says. "You need to distinguish yourself, but there is a bottom line, and you need to do this in a cost-effective way."

Bass says that such emerging areas as motion capture and stereoscopic production are driving research and development in upcoming versions of Autodesk's tools. New releases often come on an annual basis — for example, a new version of 3ds Max was released last week.

Autodesk also is developing desktop software — integrating tools, including color grading — for use on-set to help filmmakers bridge to the post process. (Some might remember early research and development in this area demonstrated a few years ago, with Autodesk quietly showing some of its Lustre color-grading tools running on a laptop.)

Looking ahead to the annual NAB Show — traditionally a key event for companies like Autodesk — Bass is examining whether to participate now that such other major exhibitors as Apple and Avid Technology have pulled out.

While Autodesk will be at the 2008 show in April, Bass says: "It is realistic that we won't do NAB in the future. It's not NAB, it's trade shows in general. In our other markets, trade shows are no longer how we reach our clients, this was the only one. NAB has a certain importance to us. The expense and the value is not working."