Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sort of Off Topic: Movie Studio Software

Since I can't say anything about what I've learned about the next versions of Revit, AutoCAD, Vault, Productstream and Inventor - I'll do an off topic post.

I thought I'd blog about something else I'm working on - my family's personal Christmas-card-on-DVD... I've been using Sony's Vegas Movie Studio software to put together a year's worth of still pictures and a few video segments - and then put it all to music. It's a laborious task - this year's version will probably run 20 minutes, and I'll have 20 hours into creating it...

The Payoff
I start by slogging through the layout, order, theming and titles (which is 95% of the work). But then comes the music - and suddenly, what had seemed like a dull slideshow that even our parents would not want to watch - is transformed into something really, really cool. I sit back and watch the video, spellbound. I AM STEVEN SPIELBERG! (OK, perhaps more accurately I'm Cameron Crowe, leveraging the music unapologetically to tell the story and connect with the audience).

The Take-away
In any case - it leaves me wondering - why can't CAD software be like this more often? Where's the payoff that makes me feel like I've created something timeless and incredibly cool? Yes, in my previous post I joked that "I am Frank Gehry" - but that was comparatively minor (for a comparatively minor effort, as well)... I suspect that reducing the hurdles involved with visualization and animation might go some of the way towards reproducing "that feeling". But somehow I suspect that until we can hook our CAD software to music, we won't get the emotional leverage that I get from making a movie. It's an interesting thought...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Extreme Architecture with Inventor and Revit: You too can be Frank Gehry

One of the most interesting presentations I saw at AU this year was Autodesk's Lisa Brady, showing how Autodesk Inventor (a primarily manufacturing tool) could be used with Revit to generate both complex architectural massing shapes - as well as everyday content.

The key is the use of the ACIS SAT file as an intermediate format - as well as Revit's ability to take all kinds of massing elements and build walls and curtain systems on any face. While Revit is capable of modeling these kinds of things natively - it's certainly far, far harder than what you can do with Inventor.

See my example below:

Content Creation
Lisa also showed how to create Revit Family Content in Inventor... The trick is again to create a 3D SAT file of a part or assembly. In the case of an assembly, the SAT file made a trip thru AutoCAD - because Inventor has a strange layering convention, you need to change it to a set of DWG solids in order to place the solids onto layers. The layers, in turn, are used inside of Revit to assign different materials in the family.

What's Hot a Autodesk University? DWF...

This has been true for some years at AU - but this year it was definitely pervasive. Everywhere you looked people were touting DWF, and doing more and more with it. The (unofficial?) theme of the conference seemed to be "Experience it before you build it" - and DWF was a big part of that.

Windows Vista and DWF
One of the classic objections to pervasive use of DWF has been that "my customers know and have Acrobat Reader - they don't have this DWF thing, and they won't download it". Autodesk has pulled off quite a coup - while they didn't get the DWF Viewer included into Vista, they came close... They made DWF compatible with Microsoft's XPS (PDF competitor) spec... So Vista will be able to view 2D DWFs NATIVELY... Of course, it won't support 3D - but it will CERTAINLY help the adoption of DWF in the marketplace over the longer term (it's too bad that Vista adoption will be so slow).

Editor's Clarification: From Scott Sheppard, DWF Evangelist... It will just be the new DWF 7.0 standard files which is viewable via Microsoft XPS Viewer. XPS Viewer will also be backported to Windows XP as well. Also look for a new file extension: DWFx for future versions.

DWF Freewheel
One of the most interesting technologies I've seen lately has been Project Freewheel from Autodesk - a technology that uses AJAX (asynchronous Java and XML, and DHTML, etc) - to view DWF files on a web page with no viewer installed.

How does it work? Using only Javascript and web services, it requests that one of Autodesk's web servers render the view of your DWF file. Every time you pan and zoom, it does a quick round-trip to Autodesk to render it.

What's the downside? Well - I'm not sure if customers will have a hard time with the fact that the DWFs must be uploaded to Autodesk or otherwise publicly visible on the web in order to make use of the technology. I know that certainly manufacturing companies have been skeptical of such approaches in the past (raising the question, "how long before we see the Enterprise Freewheel project?").

The Freewheel sample has been been posted for a few months now - but only in 2D of course. Of course there was the inevitable question - what about 3D? And the word was that they were looking into it... But I was skeptical - that would mean some kind of capability of simulating 3D rotation in DHTML - and then re-rendering the 3D View dynamically... But they've done it!
That is quite the technical accomplishment...

Check out:

If I had to guess, I think that they might be pre-rendering a bunch of low-resolution shots of different angles... Still impressive.

What's New in AutoCAD 2008? Reducing Customer Embarrassment.

OK - that was just a tease - Due to a Non-Disclosure Agreement, I can't reveal the specifics of what I learned at the Autodesk Developer Network conference this week... At least until February or so.

But as I was thinking about how I might vaguely characterize it - I was reminded of one of the worst parts of being a Product Manager - Customer Embarrassment. This happens when you sit and watch how your customers actually use your tools, day-in-and-day out. You quickly realize that for all the wonderful, whiz-bang features you've added, some very simple tasks are still incredibly difficult to do - or that customers work out elaborate unnatural acts to get what they need out of your software. As a Product Manager, it's painful and embarrassing to watch.

The good news is that, as a Product Manager, you have the power to fix things in the next release!

So that's all I can say for now... I'm not sure how many new features will have the WOW factor like we saw in AutoCAD 2007... But there are MANY features that will draw a collective sigh of happiness from the users in the trenches, when they realize that their day-to-day work will become much easier.