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Autodesk + Unity—Dave Rhodes of Unity Talks About New Partnership

Architosh goes in deep on the Autodesk and Unity partnership. Learn about our chat at AU 2018 with Unity executive, David Rhodes, as he reveals the deeper picture behind the news.

AUTODESK ANNOUNCED A KEY NEW partnership with Unity at this year’s AU 2018. This was one of the larger announcements and was a signature moment during the Day 3 AEC industry keynote talk. Unity—for those who are not aware—is an industry-leading game engine and development environment that in today’s world extends far beyond the world of games.

The benefits of the CAD industry embracing the gaming world’s “game engines” are many but perhaps the most important is that the game engines like Unity enable developers to take 3D assets and experiences into a massive array of end-user devices and social media channels. This is about getting industrial application workflows and their client or consumer-facing outputs into as many AR/VR/MX real-time devices as possible.

“You can review, edit, approve, from any device anywhere.” That was the message coming from Unity’s CEO John Riccitiello on stage at Autodesk’s annual conference AU 2018 in Las Vegas last week. You can see him speaking about Unity’s new partnership with Autodesk in a video embedded in our coverage of the new partnership here.



There are 7-8 million potential consumers of Unity technologies in the construction industry alone. So AEC is massive compared to just about any of these other industries.



While the partnership announcement was bold in its vision and clear in its scope, we wanted to get into deeper territory on why Autodesk and Unity are uniting around common customer workflows and the deeper trends around real-time AEC and the future of AR and VR around device platforms. To do that we spoke with Dave Rhodes, Chief Revenue Office, Unity, at AU 2018. What follows is our conversation.

The Interview

(Architosh) So is one of the primary drivers of why Autodesk has chosen Unity to partner with over VR/AR/MR due to the complexity and difficulty of going out to all these different devices…isn’t that one of the primary drivers? 

(Dave Rhodes) Well, let me frame it out in different terms. So first of all, we have chosen each other. Autodesk is by far the world’s leading authoring, editing, and modeling creation portfolio across multiple industries. Their former CEO used to say, “if God didn’t make one of our customers did.” So that’s how deep their tech goes, so we have chosen each other.

01 – Autodesk CTO Scott Borduin discusses Unity and Autodesk’s new partnership during the keynote.

Now we are a 15-year-old company that is forged in games. We are deep in the game industry and we brought to market many years ago what is known as a ‘game engine’ but what it really is is a real-time, 3D engine and platform and what that means is it has the ability to create virtual environments whether it is for a game or an architecture experience or a car configurator or on set filming a live action movie. So creating an experience that enables you to bring multiple pieces of 3D data at once, and experience it, and change it, and render it—all in real time.

And do that on over 25 different hardware, software, chipset, devices, and social media platforms.

So this partnership is on behalf of our developer community…just making our tools work really great together.

Why is it that the fruits of this will not come out for basically another year. Is it because you haven’t done anything together yet, essentially? 

Well, we have actually been working on this for over a year. So we have wonderful, in-production, deep integration with their Autodesk Maya product. And that is in production today for our games and film customers.

When we say things like ready in fall 2019 we mean released, productized, and supported as a released feature. The good news is that in the gaming industry we routinely release functionality early in preview form and we’ll start making this stuff available in Q1 of next year.



I was in Korea last week and had a tour of their 5G lab and of course, it was all set up to impress—and it does—but it begins to give you an idea of what is possible when the bandwidth is 40x faster than the speed that exists today.



So our developers can continue to work with it, make it industrial strength and we are doing this for multiple industries, not just AEC, so we want to be pretty conservative in setting expectations.

Are film customers the biggest most important customer segment at the moment?

There are about 750,000 creators in the film and TV production industry. There are 7-8 million potential consumers of Unity technologies in the construction industry alone. So AEC is massive compared to just about any of these other industries.

What kinds of things will Unity do to its core technology to respond to the needs of Autodesk customers across AEC and other non-game industries?

We are building very specific versions of our product that are targeted towards these different industries, because to your point, they all have a different set of requirements. At the deepest level the ability to ingest information in different formats and then optimize the polygons the way they are represented in the core engine, it is different in games than it is in AEC pro apps.

02 – A gorgeous rendered image of Unity’s London office utilizing Revit and the Unity partnership technologies under development.

There are a lot of things that we will do that our users won’t see. But we will do things in the way we support the data itself. We will make it a more optimized environment so that your render quality is higher with a smaller footprint file, as an example, than you see in the AEC space. Then there will be things that our customers will see. They will see a different user experience. They will see support for different materials and libraries of building manufacturing products—things like that.

How will the UX change given where you are today?

Well, Unity has a reputation as being very developer-centric. We are starting to make it more artist-centric and friendly. So the architects in the industry will feel much more at home, able to do sketching and rendering.

So do you aim to produce different versions that are paired down for different segments of the AEC and Manufacturing industries?

I wouldn’t necessarily call them paired down as much as just optimized for the kind of work that those [AEC] knowledge workers do. We actually have a partnership with a company called Pixyz and what they do is provide an industrial strength version of what Epic calls their Studio product. What they do is they provide translation and ingestion of all kinds of different data formats, whether it is Revit or Inventor or Dassault Catia, Solidworks, et cetera.

So we have that core capability above and beyond what we are doing with Autodesk. What we are doing with Autodesk is creating native integration so that translation or that Studio step will no longer have to happen. Your model, with the click of a button and a couple of boxes checked with come over in the exact fidelity you want it, with the right metadata, the right materials, the right lighting setups, the right animations…and it just comes in!

We already have this kind of integration with Autodesk Maya. So what we have to do next is build this type of workflow such that an architect says, “this feels like something I can handle.”

So clearly one of the big points of all of this is getting the content to all these types of VR/AR/MR types of devices. And it seems that some devices are more popular in industrialized CAD settings than others. What does Unity see when it comes to these devices?

So it’s interesting. Almost every industrial customer we go to what we see it’s HTC Vive and Microsoft Hololens. We happen to power close to 90 percent of all Hololens applications around the world. We power 60 percent of all AR/VR content, in general. So we see a lot of the headsets. VR will continue to be used in a limited space, mostly around architecture, rendering, walkthroughs and things like that. Like everyone is saying, we continue to see more and more momentum around augmented reality (AR), particularly in the AEC where you have the design and as-built worlds seen together. There is a lot of work going into real-time 3D applications for AR headsets and handsets that allow people to manage the BIM data in a physical way.

Do you think that using your smartphones will ultimately be the platform for AR, we won’t necessarily have dedicated headsets or glasses for it? 

Well, we see a lot of stuff. What I will tell you that if you are a construction worker you probably have hands that are bigger than mine, they might have a glove on them, you might be carrying some tools, and you might be in a precarious area.

So doing this [me swinging my phone around] with my iPhone really isn’t of that high value than in the AEC context?

No. To really capture the value of AR and the value of that BIM model compared against the as-built we see a world where you are going to be wearing something. And what that requires is a good understanding where devices are going and Unity happens to have a good history there. It also requires you to have a good understanding of streaming technology.



We have different versions of the authoring tool. They all run on the Mac, they run on PC, we are bring out Linux this year.



I was in Korea last week and had a tour of their 5G lab and of course, it was all set up to impress—and it does—but it begins to give you an idea of what is possible when the bandwidth is 40x faster than the speed that exists today.

It is interesting where this is all going. There is that smart construction helmet by Daqri and Apple and everyone else will eventually master some kind of glasses. But this miniaturization will take awhile.

We definitely see us having the smartphone in our pocket for quite a while still.

Right? When you really think about it the smartphone is a pretty big volume for your thermal envelope for how much processing power you can take with you, compared to glasses of the future which will be quite small if we are ever going to love them. 

Yeah, one of the things that the headset manufacturers think about when they are thinking about 5G and frequencies and the power requirements is having something that powerful next to your brain. So we do see some form of device in your pocket or on your belt.

So I saw your booth on the show floor. You have a really great booth. How many years have you been at this show or is this your first AU?

This is our first AU on the show floor.

Is Unity interested in these other markets because maybe growth in the gaming market is plateauing? 

Not at all. The game industry is alive and well. And there is a lot of work to do. I heard a stat early today that every ten years the cost of bringing out a new game goes up 10x. So there is a ton of work to do to bring out these hit games. So Unity is truly committed to the gaming industry. We power 50 percent of all mobile games in the world, close to that in console and PC. We continue to expand our position in the gaming industry. In fact, there have been 28 billion unique downloads in the last 12 months of Unity-based applications, a big chunk of them being games. So we feel good about where we are in the market.


So we are committed to the gaming industry, not simply because it’s a good business—and it is—but because the tech there drives innovation in these other industries.

So originally you had one authoring tool and it was noteworthy because it ran on the Mac. Do you have more authoring solutions now and what platforms do they support?

We have different versions of the authoring tool. They all run on the Mac, they run on PC, we are bring out Linux this year.

Why are you bringing out Linux now? 

Mostly for the auto, aerospace, and the film industry. Those industries have big Linux shops.

So this last question touches on the competitive landscape with you and Epic. So is this partnership with Autodesk exclusive?

Well, we are here to talk about our relationship with Autodesk. It is not exclusive but as I said at the beginning, we chose each other, likely because of the market positions we each have, respectively.

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