I can't imagine Autodesk would have been so successful without giving users the ability to work within their software to develop their own tools and applications. They had the foresight to essentially give users the ability to create "apps" before many ever considered the concept. It started with small additions to their software such as giving us the ability to run AutoLISP through the AutoCAD command line, providing VB support, until eventually they massed micro-nation-sized populations of employees to mold their applications so users can use create almost anything we want. In the end, organizations and people across the world have used that ability to develop their own tools that benefit thousands of people around the globe. In this article, I'd like to present a few of those tools, and with luck, you'll find a third-party application you might find useful, or one that will spark an idea for you to create your own. First though, I’d like to mention Autodesk’s new forum for third-party application development.
If you've not heard of the Forge yet, you will. For the next year or two you'll be hearing Autodesk talk about it. Somewhere in the armies of Autodesk employees are teams of people dedicated to providing a complete solution, or "platform" for developers to work with their cloud services, APIs, and SDKs to take part in "the future of making things." I promise this won't be the last time you hear that term. In fact, I read an article somewhere where it's already abbreviated (“TFMT”). Autodesk isn't all talk, though. Despite the buzzwords, acronyms, and promises, Autodesk has invested $100 million into the project (as listed on the website http://forge.autodesk.com). Expect to see 3ds Max® content generated, shared, modified, and manipulated in ways you might not have imagined before. Now, let’s talk about a few smaller steps for mankind that might help right now.
Automodeller Pro by Code-Artists
Figure 1: Automodeller Pro example
Automodeller Pro started from a much lighter program and grew to be an incredibly powerful product. I describe it as a real-time, multi-threaded geometry painter that gives users the power to populate massive and impressive scenes in a matter of seconds. Users can texture their geometry with a group of meshes to create very high resolution and interesting content. All we have to do is select a source to paint with and a target. With a variety of options, we can generate complex scenes like that shown in Figure 1 in just a few minutes. A few of the many options for painting geometry are listed below.
- Entire Object − Choose to paint source object over your entire object.
- Face − Limit painting mesh objects to a single face.
- Only Borders − Excludes the faces, allowing users to generate complex and interesting frames.
- All but Borders − Useful to coincide with custom columns, pilasters, or whatever can be imagined.
- Offsets − Control randomization and offsets of painted mesh to ensure a unique look every time.
Debris Maker by Aaron Dabelow
Figure 2: Debris Maker examples
If you're an expert, Aaron Dabelow might be a person you'd go to if you had a question about 3ds Max. His experience in production with 3D and visual effects, combined with the ability to program, makes his tool "Debris Maker" effectively one of the most useful tools I've found. Debris Maker is a procedural geometry generation tool to help populate scenes with debris common in many environments. The tool includes:
- Bricks − Choose from three different brick styles and auto stack them to form a wall or place them one brick at a time.
- Corrugated Metal − Create sheets of metal with crease control and option to add holes.
- Crystals − Grow clusters of crystals with options to smooth or sharpen edges.
- Gemstones − Determine irregularity, facets, and chamfer edges to create gemstones.
- Grass − Choose switch, indian, yard, wheat, or bulrush with options including height, bend, and more.
- Gravel − Generate gravel or stones.
- Leaves − Define resolution, crease amount, skew, twist and types including ash, elm, oak, birch, maple, and white oak.
- Logs − Generate stacked or unstacked logs with radius, length, deformation control, and more.
- Meteorite − Select count, irregularity value, and optimization.
- Obsidian − Control count, chip amount, banding amount, and optimization to generate the stones.
- Pigeons − Automatic generation of animated pigeons with casual or fast flight using the particle flow system.
- Planks − Options to break, add knots, twist, cracks, and more.
- Riverstone − Add pit amount and size, banding, and more.
- Sandstone − Choose count, thickness, thickness variation, and edge detail.
- Shrapnel − Options to choose noise scale, count, and panel resolution.
- Slate − Similar to sandstone with sharper edges.
- Snowflake − Only option is to define the amount of flakes wanted.
- Splinters − Splintered branches with twist, height, variation, and count options.
- Twigs − Generate branch and twigs with options such as twisting, warping, branching, and more.
Lucid by Ephere
Figure 3: Lucid examples
Lucid is a deep-integrated complete physics system using the power of Nvidia graphics card (required) to generate physics simulations quickly. There's nearly no limit to what Lucid can simulate. Some of the basic simulations are shown in in Figure 3.
- Water − I'd argue that water is probably the most important object a physics software should simulate, and Lucid handles it well.
- Foam – Foam’s unique structure is difficult to simulate. Lucid makes it simple.
- Rope − Working with splines and nurbs, Lucid's curve physics helps create believable rope, chain, or cylindrical object physics easily.
- Softbodies − Lucid simulates softbody interaction such as a sponge, Jello, and more, quickly.
- Denting − Using a plastic creep parameter, Lucid can create believable dents in rigid bodies.
- Bending − Flexing and bending of objects with persistent deformation.
- Rain − Puddle and rain drop simulations made easy.
- Cloth Tearing − A personal favorite. Stress-based tearing of Lucid cloth.
- Magma − When a substance thicker than water is required, magma is a great substitution.
- Gas − The ability to mimic gas by altering some of the fluid parameters shows how Lucid can be used in creative ways.
The list goes on, but if you're like me you'll find Lucid a great alternative for your scene development and simulations.
The ability to manipulate Autodesk software is perhaps it’s greatest attribute, and Autodesk is doubling down on the services it provides to do just that. Look forward to finding great new third-party applications to help with your own production and workflow. If you happen to be a developer, I’ll look forward to using them myself.