10 years: commentary from Michael Girard

Posted by Area Editor, 28 August 2006 5:22 pm

Michael Girard has been patiently trying to solve the complexities of character animation for more than a decade (actual time is a state secret). After inventing Biped and working tirelessly to improve and innovate it, Michael eventually sold Unreal Pictures to Autodesk and started working his magic at the core of 3ds Max with the integration of Character Studio. He's currently leading research on new character animation techniques which we call "Geppetto".


For what its worth, here are some of my spontaneous recollections from the early days of MAX:

Design of MAX
1. Gary hosted friendly "Yost Group" brainstorming sessions at his house to discuss the initial design and architecture for MAX. He invited our tiny 3 person Character Studio team (Susan Amkraut, John Chadwick and myself) to many of these initial meetings in order to insure that MAX accommodated the requirements of parametric rigs and complicated multi-bone plug-ins( like Biped.) During this time, the Yost Group invented the key ideas behind Max's dependency tracking, interchangeable controllers, and modifier stack. It was a fun and exciting time. My first impression of MAX technology was Dan Silva's prototype of a spline editor shown in Gary's dining room.

2. Because Character Studio used an explicit "set key" whereas MAX (for many years) provided only "animate mode", this became a source of debate. At a meeting at Autodesk's Sausalito offices, Bob Bennett (then the product manager for MAX and CS, later to become the general manager at Alias) suggested that "Animate Mode" was a "Religious Issue." That was my first realization that there are cultural factors in software design that are beyond the pale of good workflow, engineering and ergonomics.

Development of MAX and CS V1.0
3. Our character studio team had never written a windows application or developed a software product. We didn't realize it to begin with, but this was going to be a trial by fire! The complexity, at times, seemed overwhelming, but we all worked feverishly with manic determination. 4am phone calls with Rolf and gentle guidance from Gary, Don, and Dan helped to keep us on track.

4. Several months before MAX and CS 1.0 ship, my life becomes an experiment in massive work stress combined with chronic sleep deprivation. Did you ever wonder what would happen if you worked 20 and slept 4 hours for over 6 weeks? Saturation with work and elevated levels of excitement almost compensate for the chronic "jet lag" and mental retardation that gradually sets in. I realized, at some point, that this was counterproductive, and I slowed down to only working 14 hours a day.

Siggraph LA: MAX debut
5. Gary hosts a Users Group party with demos and a film show, and then delivers his own brand of charismatic, inspirational talk. The room is buzzing with enthusiasm and celebration. We are the front line in the battle to bring high quality PC-based computer animation software to the masses. I feel the glow of the moment.

6. John Chadwick and I give CS 1.0 demos at the Siggraph booth every two hours. I'm disappointed that MAX 1.0 cannot play back a single biped at 30 frames per second. Regardless, the high point, for me, is when I instantly retarget a pre-dancing baby "cha cha" motion onto a biped dinosaur

7. Carol Bartz speaks at the Sony Imageworks MAX release press conference in the studio theatre, and we give a CS 1.0 demo during her talk. All goes well!

Michael Girard



Posted 12 September 2006 11:45 am

Hello sir,

Its Aneesh from Kerala, India.
I wouldlike to knowhow to animate charecters in Max..


Posted 10 October 2006 9:48 pm

I had no idea of what went into CS. When CS came out it was like candy. My friends and I shared bip motion files. Today CS is a good tool in the arsenal. And though I don't use all the whiz features I still find myself going for the quick fix found in CS.

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