Autodesk, Feeling Pressure from Blender, Offers “Indie” Versions of Maya and 3ds Max Software

The overwhelming majority of people who create mesh content for virtual worlds use one of the following three software packages instead of the rather limited in-world “prim building” tools provided by products such as Second Life and High Fidelity:

  • Blender (which is free to use and always will be);
  • Maya by Autodesk (which costs US$1,545 per year); and
  • 3ds Max by Autodesk (which is also US$1,545 per year).

Given the choices, it is not surprising that Blender is extremely popular, especially among those indie creators who are not associated with major game design companies that can afford the outrageously expensive Autodesk software costs. A vibrant and supportive user community has sprung up around Blender over the years since it was first released as freeware in 1998:

In May 2002, Roosendaal started the non-profit Blender Foundation, with the first goal to find a way to continue developing and promoting Blender as a community-based open-source project. On July 18th, 2002, Roosendaal started the “Free Blender” campaign, a crowdfunding precursor. The campaign aimed for open-sourcing Blender for a one-time payment of €100,000 (US$100,670 at the time) collected from the community. On September 7, 2002, it was announced that they had collected enough funds and would release the Blender source code. Today, Blender is free and open-source software largely developed by its community, alongside two full-time and two part-time employees employed by the Blender Institute.

Wikipedia

Recently, Blender has released an updated version of their software (Blender 2.80), which includes a new user interface and many new features. And major game development companies such as Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed) and Epic Games (Fortnite) have thrown their support behind Blender:

Assassin’s Creed maker Ubisoft has followed Epic Games in supporting open source 3D creation tool Blender by joining the Blender Foundation’s Development Fund as a corporate Gold member. The move will see Ubisoft fund online support for Blender developers, while Ubisoft Animation Studio — a division of Ubisoft Film and Television — has also committed to using the tool in-house and contributing to various open source Blender projects. 

The news comes a week after Epic Games donated $1.2 million to the Blender Foundation through its MegaGrants program, with company CEO Tim Sweeney praising the tool as an “enduring recourse within the artistic community.” Those remarks were echoed by Pierrot Jacquet, head of production at Ubisoft Animation Stdio, who also saluted the “strong and engaged” Blender community.

Obviously, Autodesk is feeling the heat. Today I learned that the company is now trying to entice content creators with new, “indie” versions of their flagship products, Maya and 3ds Max. The restrictions for Maya Indie are:

  • Your annual gross revenue from design work must be less than USD$100,000 per year
  • Only one license can be used per user or organization
  • Offer is only available to users in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. or the U.S.

The cost? US$250 per year (only 16% of the full-price version). The website also announces:

Autodesk Maya Indie is the same industry-standard product used by professional studios, at a price point accessible to those who are just starting out. If you are a recent graduate or freelancer with less than USD$100,000/year in revenue, you can get started now. Please note that this is a limited-time offer.

“Act now, supplies are limited!” This is a standard come-on. I seriously doubt that Autodesk is going to rescind its offer in the face of competition from the popular, similarly featured, and totally free Blender software. The same offer, with the same terms, applies to 3ds Max. CGPress reports:

Comments by Chip Weatherman suggest the limited time disclaimer refers to the fact that this is a pilot program to “determine how and where we expand it. Much like when the telecom companies offer a new channel in select areas to see how to roll it out, this is similar.”

The Indie versions of Max and Maya are fully featured with no restrictions on render size, file format, plugins etc. There is a limit of only one indie license per business in addition to the income cap mentioned above. Users should also be aware that the license will auto-renew at full price, but this can be avoided by disabling automatic renewal and resubscribing to the Indie license once it expires.

True fact: when I was learning how to create avatar clothing for Cloud Party (a nascent virtual world bought out by Yahoo! and closed in 2014), I used the free student version of Maya (mainly because my teacher used Maya in her tutorial videos at the time). However, I doubt that I will shell out US$250 a year (which works out to $330 Canadian) when I can use the equally powerful and well-supported Blender. I would rather put that money towards the upgrade fees for Marvelous Designer, which I still plan to use to create my avatar fashion empire 😉

Competition in markets is a good thing; it drives down prices while it encourages software makers to add features and improve quality. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out!

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Easy Sansar Content Creation Using Microsoft Windows Paint 3D and Blender

Several months ago I wrote about using Microsoft Windows 10’s Paint 3D program to create content for Sansar. Using Paint 3D is so easy that a child could use it to create great-looking three-dimensional content! But unfortunately, there were some problems with importing linked objects from Paint 3D into Sansar, as well as with the huge size of the imported objects.

Draxtor Despres and Vassay have worked together to create this YouTube tutorial video which explains how to use the free Blender software to fix the problems in mesh content created using Paint 3D. Drax and Vassay used this workflow to create the fun and funky content you can see in Drax’s experience, called Meet the Draxies. It’s got a wonderful cartoon-like feeling to it, which is actually very easy to recreate!

Basically, there are six steps to using Blender to fix your Paint 3D-created mesh object:

  1. Import the FBX-format file you got from Paint 3D;
  2. Rescale the object (to fix any potential size problems in the object);
  3. Decimate each part of the object (to cut down on the number of polygons in your object);
  4. Set the normals of each part of the object using the Set From Faces feature;
  5. Create UVs for each part of the object using the automatic Smart UV Project feature;
  6. Select all the parts of your object and export as an FBX-format file.

This is an excellent tutorial video, which takes you through the workflow step-by-step. My only quibble with it is that Drax doesn’t give enough information about the all-important roughness and metalness maps, which you need to include so your Paint 3D-created mesh objects look the way you want them to in your experience. (Linden Lab recently released an update to the Sansar client software, so a lot of mesh objects created before the change now have an unnatural shininess to them.)

So here is a bit more information on the metalness and roughness maps. These are just PNG-format image files, which can be as small as 2×2 pixels in size. You can create them in PhotoShop or GIMP or any graphics program. They are essentially one of the 256 shades of grey between pure black and pure white. Here’s a diagram from OldVamp that shows what an object looks like when you change the metalness and the roughness maps:

Sansar Metalness and Roughness Maps Better

Most of the time, you are going to want to use a white roughness map, and a black metalness map (the ball in the bottom right corner of this diagram). If you want something really shiny, you are going to use a black roughness map and a white metalness map (the ball in the upper left corner of the diagram). You should only use a white metalness when you want a metal object. Here’s another example of roughness and metalness maps, using a brass object:

Sansar roughness metalness brass.png

And there you go!