Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 Posted by Jim Thacker

Autodesk announces 2014 Extension releases


Originally posted on 8 August 2013. Scroll down for updates.

Autodesk has announced details of the upcoming subscriber-only Extensions to its entertainment products – or at least, to 3ds Max, Maya and Mudbox.

The updates, which add new features to the 2014 product releases, will become available to customers with active Subscription contracts on or after 16 September.

3ds Max
New features in 3ds Max include support for point clouds, Python scripting and a new stereo workflow.

The point cloud toolset (above) enables users to view point cloud data in true colour in the viewport, interactively adjust the extent of the cloud displayed, and create geometry by snapping to cloud vertices.

The Extension also adds support for the native .rcs and .rcp file formats from ReCap Studio and ReCap Photo, Autodesk’s new tools for cleaning point-cloud data and photogrammetry, introduced earlier this year.

In addition, the new Stereo Camera plugin implements a steroscopic workflow similar to that in Maya inside Max, including the option to create stereo camera rigs and multiple in-viewport stereo display modes.

Modes available include Left Eye, Right Eye, Center, Anaglyph and Active stereo displays – the latter only officially certified for users of new AMD FirePro graphics cards and requiring an HD3D active stereo monitor.

In-scene 3D volumes help with the adjustment of safe zones and convergence planes.

Finally, the new Python support enables users to execute Python scripts from MAXScript and the 3ds Max command line; and access a subset of the 3ds Max API from within Python scripts.

The future of 3ds Max development?
No discussion of 3ds Max’s functionality would be complete without a mention of the long and heated debate currently running on Max Underground.

The key thread is too long to summarise in full here, but now includes reports from attendees of the latest 3ds Max London user group about Autodesk’s official position on support for OpenSubdiv, Ptex and Alembic within 3ds Max (don’t hold your breath, apparently), and makes for fascinating reading.

Maya already supports Ptex, of course, and the new extension adds support for another Disney-developed technology, in the shape of the XGen Arbitrary Primitive generator tech licensed by Autodesk in 2011.

XGen enables users to generate curves, spheres, and custom geometry on the surface of polygon meshes, providing a new way to create fur, hair and feathers, or populate environments with vegetation and rocks.

Geometry is created procedurally at render time rather than loaded in memory, enabling artists to manipulate otherwise very dense scenes, and may be previewed in Viewport 2.0.

Instanced objects may be controlled by painting maps, creating expresions, or via the new XGroom interactive grooming toolset. Hair can also be controlled via the nHair tools introduced in Maya 2013.

The NEX modelling toolset introduced in Maya 2014 has been expanded for better retopology workflow, and now includes a Relax and Tweak feature with Soft Selection, and an interactive Edge Extend tool.

The software’s Bullet physics plugin has also been rewritten, adding the ability to create compound collision shapes from multiple meshes; and a new Hierarchical Approximate Convex Decomposition (HACD) algorithm for better collisions with concave shapes.

Equally importantly, performance has been improved – raising the number of objects that may be supported in a rigid-body simulation by an order of magnitude, we’re told.

The Extension also adds a new Boolean library, although there’s little detail on that on Autodesk’s site beyond the fact that it’s “faster and more reliable”.

Finally, Mudbox gets a new Caliper tool, for measuring distances between points or along curves; and a new workflow for handling symmetry when modelling or retopologising.

The symmetry workflow can be used during retopology work, and may be based on source topology – meaning that meshes may be made topologically symmetrical, but spatially asymmetrical; or completely symmetrical.

Users can also choose whether to copy painting and sculpting detail from one or both sides of the source.

In addition, a new Make Symmetrical tool makes meshes symmetrical across one or more axes without retopologising: useful for eliminating unwanted irregularities from scan data, for example.

Nothing for Softimage or MotionBuilder users
And if you’re wondering why we haven’t mentioned Extensions for Softimage or MotionBuilder so far: it’s because there aren’t any.

Autodesk has confirmed to us that it won’t be releasing an Extension for either package this time around: something that we suspect will be more of an issue for Softimage users than it is for MotionBuilder users

Updated 1 October: The 2014 extensions are shipping. You can read the official announcement here. If you’re on a subscription contract, you should be able to download them from the Autodesk Subscription Center.

Read more about the upcoming Extension releases on Autodesk’s AREA community site