Today, 3D artists and studios have some of the best 3D programs at their disposal to work on their projects. This means they get to choose which one to use based on their needs or how much they can afford. We will talk about the future of some of the major 3D software and how they affect one another in this competitive industry.
The evolving of 3D software over the years
In order for us to have a solid understanding of the subject at hand, we need to look at the full picture, which means we need to understand how these 3D packages evolved over the years.
3D Computer graphics software has been around for a long period of time, most of the major ones that are used in the industry today were created in the early 90s. Even though the visual effects, 3D game development, and 3D animation industries were still in their infancy, the competition was fierce because the market was so fresh and the potential of what could be possibly done using this new technology was not defined yet.
3D software development companies were competitive and made sure that they were always few steps further than their competition when it comes to providing new, easy-to-use, and more intuitive modeling and animation tools for studios that always wanted more. And they didn’t hesitate to leave the software that they have been using for years if another one offers better tools that can make their workflow faster and help them achieve better results Because studios also had that kind of pressure coming from their competitors and they also had to stay on top.
In the late nineties and the beginning of the new millennium meaning in the early 2000s, the major 3D software that was used in the industry had already been defined after a decade of development and innovation and some of those software were 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Houdini, Lightwave, Maya, and Softimage just to name some of the most recognized ones at that time. Some of these software are unfortunately no longer with us today, like the great Softimage that was very important in that period time and played an essential role in helping studios to create amazing award-winning films and video games.
Even though these software were established to a certain extent, they still had a long road ahead of them in terms of development and growth. Also, because other 3D software companies were trying to emerge to take their cut from this thriving industry since the prices of 3D packages were insanely high compared to the prices we have today, for example, 3D packages that cost over $10,000 per license weren’t considered very expensive in the market of the late nineties and the early 2000s because it was considered the norm. in contrast, a lot of artists and studios consider a $1500 subscription to be expensive which leads us to an important point that we will talk about later.
Some of you were using 3D software in the last decade and you might have noticed that we did not see a lot of significant growth especially in some 3D packages like 3ds Max, Maya, and Cinema 4D. To be honest, Autodesk did enhance Maya modeling tools and introduced powerful effects and simulation tools like Bifrost also, Maxon worked on some of the most important points of weakness in Cinema 4D to a certain extent and they introduced new tools and features, but we did not see a real considerable growth with 3ds Max, for instance, even though it is a major player that is used by hundreds of thousands of artists. Except, I would say, some enhancements here and there that didn’t really make its users happy with its growth but in the last couple of years, it seems like things are starting to change for the better for reasons we will talk about later.
On the other hand, software such as Blender that was considered for hobbyists has seen major enhancements by introducing many useful tools and powerful features, especially in the last couple of years, which made it very attractive for artists, small studios, and even big companies and studios such as AMD and Ubisoft.
Also, we have seen a lot of artists and studios use the powerful node-based software Houdini for visual effects to work on some of the best feature films.
One of the reasons why artists do think that big companies that own those 3D packages are not doing their best is the fact that third-party developers are doing a fantastic job by providing better and powerful tools that artists and studios are using to make their workflow faster and to achieve better results. And we can see this in all parts of the pipeline, independent developers are providing better modeling, animation, and texturing tools especially rendering and visual effects they are making huge progress.
The future of 3D software
I think, in this decade, things are going to be different in terms of how much effort the major 3D software developers like Autodesk, Maxon, and the foundry are going to put into the development of new tools and features, even Blender developers don’t seem to be slowing down, and the fact that Blender is free and open-source, I think will disrupt the industry to a certain extent over the long haul, and the other 3D software companies know that, especially, Autodesk.
A lot of artists that don’t use Blender think or believe that the fact that Blender is becoming better is not a good thing. I would argue that it is a fantastic thing, and probably, one of the best things that they will be thankful for later. Why? you might ask. Well, because the competition is good for consumers, and by consumers, I mean artists and studios, especially, given the fact that Blender is free. Autodesk has to keep constantly developing and bringing new features from now on to its software, mainly 3ds Max and Maya to keep its loyal customers from switching to Blender or Houdini, especially, artists that work for themselves like freelancers, small studios, and indie developers. Autodesk will have to make them feel comfortable paying $1500 a year.
Autodesk is a giant software corporation that has been developing and acquiring dozens of the most used and the best software when it comes to computer-aided design for architecture and industrial production and entertainment.
They have been around long enough to understand and master the process of acquiring new clients and making sure they keep using their products, one of the long term strategies they started to implement in the last decade is proving 3ds Max and Maya 3 year licenses for non-commercial use for students which means that they will use these software when they join the industry. Autodesk realizes that this is important so they are willing to lose money in the short term because they know they will make way more in the long term from the artists of the future.
The problem for Autodesk and the other major 3D software developers is when Blender will be adopted by more and more schools in the long term, which, I think, will disrupt how much the other packaged are used in the industry. By the way, we are talking here about the long term, meaning at least between the next 5 to 15 years if things continue in the same trajectory.
Also, one of the most remarkable things that Autodesk did is providing its users with indie versions for both 3ds Max and Maya for $250/year to artists earning less than $100,000/year in revenue.
Both the 3ds Max Indie and Maya Indie programs give users access to full versions of the software, not cut-down versions like Maya LT, but are capped at one license per user or per organization.
The subscriptions are described as making “the same industry-standard product used by professional studios at a price point accessible to those who are just starting out”.
I think that Autodesk is targeting freelance artists, small studios, especially those who are new, to keep them using their products instead of going somewhere else.
Autodesk is a business that generates almost $2.57 billion a year in revenue with a very high margin since it sells software. The Entertainment division generates about 10% of the total revenue, which means around $ 250 million a year.
This is an insane amount of money, even 10% is still a considerable amount of their revenue, which means they will not let it go easily, especially, knowing that Autodesk is a publically traded company which means they need to keep their shareholders happy by providing the industry with the best tools so they can keep making more money for themselves and for the shareholders.
For now, all major software like 3ds Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, Houdini, and Maya are doing very well, but I think that all the developers of those 3D packages will come up with better tools and new features in the next few years to stay relevant in this very competitive industry, which I personally think, will grow exponentially in the next decades because a lot of other industries are relying on it more and more, especially, Virtual reality.
If you take a close look, you will notice that all major 3D software have now the ability to use virtual reality tools, because they know it will be big in the future.