Tech focus: Project Skyline

Tech focus: Project Skyline
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

March 1st 2011 at 4:30PM

A look at Autodesk's vision of a productised closed-loop pipeline

At Autodesk’s chic Montreal office 2011 is already proving a very busy year for the technology giant’s games team.

As well as gearing up for the April launch of the 2012 versions of the tool suite that includes 3dsMax, Maya and the likes of Beast and Kynapse, there’s the recent Scaleform acquisition to make use of, and the further development of the recently unveiled Project Skyline; a concept build of what Autodesk hopes will become a fully productised pipeline.

The idea behind Skyline is simple enough to grasp. It is effect an evolution of the modern closed loop pipelines that themselves sought to better the familiar linear workflow that starts with asset creation and ends with runtime.

Born from Autodesk’s expanding tool set and the increasing complexity of the tools that cater for the mid and late stages of a traditional pipeline, Skyline strives to make game development more efficient by adding live content authoring into the modern workflow. It also has the potential to save developers the huge cost of engineering their own closed loop pipeline.

IN THE LOOP
“The fact game developers have been building this kind of thing themselves shows how super important it is,” says Eric Plante, Autodesk’s games production manager. “The problem with how most people had built it, though, is that the artists were mostly left out of that loop at the beginning of the chain.”

Recognising that problem, Skyline brings asset creation into the closed loop workflows studios have been creating internally that tend to focus on assembly and runtime. Currently built for animation, Skyline’s future may see it embrace other elements of the creative process. Either way, its effect on the dynamic of a development team could be substantial.

Skyline is essentially a collection of game content authoring tools that allow developers to create character animations quicker than ever before, and it promises to benefit both artists and programmers. Its live linking means animators will be able to see and play with their characters in a game engine while they work in the familiar Autodesk Maya software environment. Meanwhile, technical artists and directors will be able to build and edit custom interactions without coding thanks to a node-based visual programming environment.

Finally, thanks to middleware integration, programmers will no longer need to concern themselves with writing low level animation code and data translators.

SMART THINKING

It's a smart way of bringing the creative team closer to the final product and allowing for more creative experimentation, and it serves to empower artists to diagnose and fix problems without programmer intervention; a fact that means programmers can return focus to building features.

“The impact is huge. Particularly in the case of the animator, it changes the workflow entirely,” suggests Plante. “In the case of the programmer and the technical animator or character TD – those people assembling the animations – what we’re proposing makes their lives a lot easier for the animator. Project Skyline changes the game.”

“I look at it as an economy of creative decisions,” adds Mathieu Mazerolle, games senior product manager at Autodesk, who sees Skyline as a shift in the balance of power of the workflow from which everyone will benefit. “If you can take more shots faster, and make those shots more informed, your going to get something kickass faster than anyone else.”