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AU21: Autodesk Plans Cloud-Based Production Ecosystem for Media & Entertainment

Autodesk Forge is the future for Autodesk’s Media & Entertainment industry products where the pandemic hyper-accelerated cloud workflows.

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Consistent with AU21’s overall messaging, Autodesk is aiming to leverage its Forge cloud-development platform for the future of M&E industry production systems. Bringing media and entertainment industry applications to the cloud isn’t just Autodesk’s wish but rather the company is responding to the M&E industry’s demands and they have been fueled by the global pandemic.

Why Cloud

The COVID-19 global pandemic has had an interesting impact on the M&E industry. On the one hand, like nearly every industry on the planet, the pandemic had a workforce, supply chain, and logistics impact on M&E companies worldwide. But on the other hand, the pandemic itself drove up demand for streaming entertainment in both games and television and film. Studios worldwide were hit with increased demand coupled with decreased capacity due to quarantine mandates and travel restrictions.

The shift to the cloud became critical in 2020 and Autodesk is focused on helping fuel the transition to new models of workforce configuration and production delivery. The company’s vision with Forge aligns with the 2030 view of M&E production outlined by industry think-tank MovieLabs.

Autodesk Forge will power the future of tools like Bifrost.

Lee Griggs creates sophisticated simulations and effects with Bifrost. (Image: Lee Griggs)

Underlying this vision is a foundation built on open standards such as USD (Universal Scene Description) for 3D data exchange, and OpenColorIO for color calibration and management. Working with customers and the Academy Software Foundation, Autodesk is actively involved in assisting in the formation of these open standards plus their integration into Autodesk products.

USD Format

Pixar invented the Universal Screen Description (USD) format and Autodesk is extensively collaborating with Pixar, Animal Logic, Luma Pictures, and Blue Sky to help refine the multiple flavors of USD into a common industry-standard USD implementation. This format is getting integrated into Autodesk Maya and Autodesk 3ds Max.

USD enables artists to load and edit massive datasets at lighting speed, increasing pipeline efficiency and improving collaboration, so that teams can more easily handle the high-volume data workloads of 3D scenes.

Forge-Based M&E Workflows

Autodesk announced and discussed at AU21 its intention to move workflows to the cloud across a range of industries the company provides solutions for. Autodesk Forge provides both a unified vision and a foundational technology for cloud-based distributed workflows. Forge will provide both the security and scalability to connect teams near and far, form alignment on tasks and data, and yield newfound efficiencies and capabilities.

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Autodesk will be bringing Maya, 3ds Max, Flame, and ShotGrid to a new cloud-based Forge platform. As Autodesk moves toward production in the cloud, the company is investing in content creation tools, like Bifrost a low-footprint, low-code, visual programming environment for creating sophisticated simulations and effects. By bringing this technology to the Forge platform Autodesk can provide greater performance and scalability, new types of services such as simulation wedging, as well as future, cloud-connected workflows with third-party tools like Unreal Engine, Unity, Blender, and Houdini.

New Partnerships

Autodesk has announced it is partnering with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine to improve image quality and broaden the accessibility to virtual production to a wider range of budgets. Autodesk previously had a partnership with Unity to bring its game engine technology into Autodesk AEC products, for example. This new Epic partnership likely reflects the strength of the Unreal game engine and its traction in pro markets.

Autodesk previously partnered with famed Weta Digital, the company behind “Lord of the Rings,” “Avatar,” and “Planet of the Apes.” The partnership introduced WetaM, a cloud-based production pipeline toolset that seamlessly integrates Weta’s signature artist tools and Maya to deliver next-generation procedural workflows. WetaM productizes Weta Digital’s proprietary visual effects (VFX) tools as they are connected to Maya via Maya’s open API (application programming interface).

Architosh Analysis and Commentary

Forge for Autodesk when spread across industries means the company can leverage common research and development to bring about process change to multiple industries, from AEC and MCAD industries to M&E. Whether this common set of foundational technologies is optimally suited for all three major industrial sectors remains a critical question to be evaluated at a much later today. This push to a common Forge vision is in the early stages and as we noted in some of our AU21 writing in our latest Xpresso #32 issue just released, Autodesk knows this transition is going to take years. 

Autodesk has different levels of market share and dominance in AEC sectors, MCAD sectors, and M&E. They ideally hope to grow share, influence, and revenue via synergies in the Forge-based platform. The real question will be how its largest rivals will engage with its Forge visions. Another critical question is how its largest rivals in AEC and MCAD will respond to Autodesk Forge in the near future. 

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