At SIGGRAPH 2011, Autodesk and Walt Disney Pictures announced an agreement to bring an innovative new animation and visual effects technology to market. Under the deal, Autodesk obtained an exclusive five-year license for the XGen Arbitrary Primitive Generator technology (XGen), used most recently by Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) in the hit animated film Tangled.
XGen technology was first presented by WDAS in a research paper at SIGGRAPH in 2003 for the creation of computer-generated fur, feathers and foliage. Since then, XGen has evolved and been refined on seven features, three shorts and one TV show. It has been used to create the fur, hair, feathers, trees, leaves and rocks in Bolt; the trees and bushes in UP; the dust bunnies, debris, trees, bushes, clover and flowers in Toy Story 3, and the grass and trees in Cars 2.
In Tangled, WDAS used XGen to bring the lavish 3D animated world to life: from Rapunzel’s perfectly groomed golden locks to the film’s lush, vegetation-filled landscapes, including bushes, flowers, vines, grass, weeds, moss, thistle, ground mulch, fallen leaves, sticks, rocks, butterfly fur, airborne dust, leaves and trees, plus props such as roof tiles, arrow fletchings, a broom and paint brushes.
XGen is a comprehensive system for generating arbitrary primitives on a surface. XGen allows techno-artistic access to interpolation in an intuitive manner for artists, empowering them with a powerful and flexible framework for primitive generation, which is highly art directable. The genesis of XGen was a collaboration between the WDAS production and software teams to provide its artists with intuitive, creative tools for 3D animation — such as “grooming” tools for fur and hair — so that they can develop the look and feel of their characters and environments more quickly and easily.
Senior development software engineer at WDAS Tom Thompson was an initial creator and remains the chief architect of the software. Walt Disney Pictures’ agreement with Autodesk will enable Autodesk to make this technology available to VFX artists.
“Twenty years ago, visual effects artists creating computer graphics were mostly mathematicians and scientists using highly technical and complex software tools that required significant amounts of custom programming,” explained chief technology officer Andy Hendrickson, Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Back then, off-the-shelf software could not create the required details of nuance and emotion. Today, we were able to create XGen as an effective artistic tool because Autodesk provides studios like ours with comprehensive tools and a flexible, extensible platform to develop on.”
“A key challenge in the visual effects industry continues to be the need to constantly evolve creatively while somehow controlling rapidly escalating production costs,” said Marc Petit, senior vice president, Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “To help customers better address this challenge, Autodesk has been working with industry leaders like Walt Disney Animation Studios to help them innovate faster and to make these new technologies more broadly accessible. Digital Entertainment Creation users are sure to benefit from developments designed by industry visionaries and proven in production.”
Walt Disney Animation Studios director of studio technology Dan Candela said, “A primary focus for my team is to ensure that the production pipeline is streamlined in order to efficiently produce the best possible CG animation. With Autodesk’s Maya as a core piece of our toolset, we’ve developed over 100 plug-ins and extensions for the platform to enable our artists to create a movie of the quality of Tangled within necessary time and budgetary limits. Sharing our technology with the VFX and CG animation community raises the creative bar for the entire industry.”
Walt Disney Animation Studios has contributed many innovations to the entertainment industry, including the open source projects: SeExpr, Reposado, munki, and Partio. Over the past two years, Autodesk has integrated two other WDAS technologies into its software, the Maya Camera Sequencer and Ptex. The animation studio’s Camera Sequencer was introduced in Autodesk Maya 2011 3D animation software and provides multicamera editorial capabilities for previsualization and virtual moviemaking. WDAS’ Ptex texture mapping system was incorporated into Maya 2012 and Autodesk Mudbox 2012 digital sculpting and texture painting software. With the single-step interoperability between Maya and Mudbox in the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites, Ptex enables artists to create highly detailed, textured, models more quickly and efficiently.