Autodesk Makes 3D Play For Alias

Alias, a privately held developer of 3D graphics technology, has ridden the bought-and-sold wave up and down and back up again.

On Tuesday, Autodesk said it would acquire Alias for $182 million in cash.

Silicon Graphics (SGI) purchased Toronto-based Alias in 1995 for $500 million to stave off competition from Microsoft in the graphics software sector. SGI combined it with Wavefront Technologies to form Alias/Wavefront, which produced 3D animation software for feature films.

In April, SGI sold the company to investment firm Accel-KKR for $57.5 million in cash.

Autodesk’s acquisition will enhance its offerings for the design of consumer and automotive products, the company said, while better serving customers in the media and entertainment markets.

The company said its design customers are demanding more powerful visualization, animation and publishing capabilities, while media and entertainment customers are increasingly using the data created by its design applications for broadcast, film and games projects.

“We’re seeing customer requirements on the games and film side for increased collaboration and better tools to support that,” said Martin Vann, vice president of Autodesk’s media and entertainment division.

“On the manufacturing side, there’s a desire from the largest auto and industrial design companies to use the tools created for film and games to help express their brands.”

For example, the company recently introduced Autodesk Vault as part of its 3DSMax software to manage the data used to create games. Automobile manufacturers want to use it to export the CAD data they use to design cars in order to expedite the workflow from design to marketing and training.

The companies said that functionality from Alias’ product line will be rolled into Autodesk’s products.

For example, Alias MotionBuilder 3D character animation product, Alias FBX software for the exchange and use of 3D content, and the Maya professional 3D authoring application will augment Autodesk’s tools for the film and video and interactive games segments.

Alias StudioTools software for design tasks will add industrial design and high-end visualization capabilities to Autodesk’s manufacturing software.

But the companies said that Autodesk will continue to develop the Alias product lines, as well as its own products and technologies.

While some see 3DSMax and Maya as competitive projects, Vann said they’re more complementary — and customers for years have asked for better integration between the two.

“Maya excels at character animation and fine detail,” he said. “We’re a great meta-editor, a tool for building the backgrounds you see in games. Much of our work in the last 12 to 18 months has been less on features and more on workflow and collaboration.”

Vann said it was too early for Autodesk to have made any decisions about merging products. “Our focus right now is on interoperability,” he said. “We are very much committed to both 3DSMax and Maya, and we think interoperability is the right way to go.”

The acquisition should be complete in four to six months. Vann said the company would retain Alias employees in their Toronto offices, saying, “We go where the people are.”

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