Studio licenses its vfx, animation software

Walt Disney Animation Studios has licensed its XGen visual effects and animation software, used for Rapunzel’s hair in “Tangled” as well as fur, feathers and foliage, to software giant Autodesk.

Under the exclusive five-year license, Autodesk will turn XGen into commercial software available to animation and vfx professionals and to students. Announcement came at the Siggraph computer graphics conference.

WDAS chief technology Andy Hendrickson said XGen lets artists “add complexity in very easy ways, to make a really complex image in a very artistic and painterly way rather than having to get down into the math and figure it out on your own.” It was developed by WDAS and first introduced at the 2003 Siggraph conference. “My biggest hope is that (XGen) becomes a standard,” Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson said the shift to simpler tools is driven in part by the changes he sees in the CG biz and the artists coming into it. “They’re more artistically oriented and less mathematically oriented,” he said.

Marc Petit, senior VP of Autodesk Media & Entertainment, told Variety the deal represents two growing trends in vfx and animation. First, he said, the studios are demanding open file formats so images can move freely and cleanly among facilities. Second, he said, tools are becoming standardized, and such widely used commercial programs as Maya are encompassing more and more tools.

Autodesk expects to make more such licensing deals in the months to come, said Petit, though not necessarily with Disney.

It is not the first time Autodesk has incorporated Walt Disney Animation Studios technologies into its software. In the last two years it has incorporated Disney’s Camera Sequencer, which provides multi-camera capability for previsualization and virtual moviemaking, and texture-mapping tool Ptex, into its widely used Maya software.

Disney has also taken several of its internal software projects open-source: SeExpr, Reposado, munki, and Partio.

Hendrickson cited three reasons that Disney likes taking its tools either commercial or open source. “Disney has some really good technology. It hasn’t been known lately for its good technology so this helps us get known for that,” he said. “Second, giving back to the industry is important. Third, it decreases our training liability.” If artists are already familiar with Disney software when they’re hired, then Disney would spend fewer resources training them.

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