Inside the Factory with 3ds Max: Thinking out loud to see what sticks.
More than one dozen inveterate 3ds Max customers visited Autodesk Montreal a few weeks ago for the annual “Inside the Factory” event. A maelstrom of ideas were shared, and an attentive product team actively listened to customers about nits, picks, tricks and more.
What do you have when you bring Luke Skywalker, The Prince of Persia and The Gherkin to Autodesk Montreal? A gathering called “Inside the Factory”. Industrial Light & Magic, Ubisoft and Foster + Partners (architects) are among several valued Autodesk customers whose representatives spent time with members of the 3ds Max team in October. Customers come to us to be heard, to listen and to engage with one another during an intensely busy period of some 72 hours.
“The fact that expert users drop their regular jobs to spend time with us for nearly three days is a testament to the vital role that 3ds Max plays in their organizations”
Chip Weatherman has a collection of photos of dozens of yellow sticky notes, stuck to a whiteboard, surrounded by green marker lines, surrounding squalls of other notes, some of which are dotted with one or more thumb-sized stickies. Chip is a Lead Product Owner for 3ds Max and his collection of “photographs of ideas” has kept him ruminating. He goes back some 15 years with the product. When he was a customer, he says gatherings like these were called “gunslingers.” The introduction of a gentler name and the use of sticky notes to track input and output have not changed the fact that ideas, questions, suggestions and demands fly in all directions for hours on end. There is much to take in and the 3ds Max team records and parses it all
Senior product line manager Nicolas Fonta presented attendees with a roadmap for 3ds Max. Customers were quoted as saying they had not seen anything like it in years.
“Instead of compartmentalizing elements, we strive to tell a story” says Fonta. Something with a beginning, a middle and an end. “The customer can picture him or herself in command of new capabilities and an improved workflow in a familiar environment.” He says renewed energy and a heightened focus and sense of purpose are driving development of the product. This, in turn, is invigorating customers. “Everyone in the room knows 3ds Max is unrivaled for its power and its flexibility in a host of applications. They’re invested and it shows. We’ll take the cheers along with the challenges” says Fonta.
"Knocking down barriers brought on by niche thinking naturally leads to improved workflows"
Product Manager Laurent Gibert spent time with clients outside the “Inside.” He says it was a great opportunity to connect with customers in a less structured environment, during what little down time they had. “A relationship with a long-term perspective is key” says Gibert. Having clients from different sectors in the same room leads to some interesting and productive discoveries. Counterparts exchange notes help one another and in turn contribute to improving the product. “I heard from several customers who said they had not imagined that 3ds Max could be used for one task or another.”
For example, Universal Studios is using 3ds Max (along with Revit) to design theme park attractions. Chip Weatherman calls it the perfect marriage of media entertainment and design. “They design roller coasters with our products, plus they create and produce the content that people experience (video, audio, etc.) before they board the ride.” He says knocking down barriers brought on by niche thinking naturally leads to improved workflows. “Once we had people locked into pipelines that were application-specific” says Weatherman. These days, a pipeline is a pipeline. “You want to move various types of data in and out of your production continuum with minimum fuss, minimum muss and minimum loss” says Weatherman. “We’re on that big time.”
“The fact that expert users drop their regular jobs to spend time with us for nearly three days is a testament to the vital role that 3ds Max plays in their organizations” says Nicolas Fonta. “We’re working on keeping the product as exciting and as fun to use as it was when our customers first fell in love with it”.
The product team continues to comb through the wealth of information it has collected, Chip Weatherman is poring over his photos. Notions and suggestions, bouquets and brickbats, are gelling into leads for innovation and improvement. Before all is digested, another “Inside the Factory” confab will come around, some time next year. Organizers say they expect to add more key customers to the roster in 2019 and scuttlebutt has it that the product team may hit the road.
Stay tuned for something along the lines of: “Inside the Factory: Hello Asia!”. And keep your sticky notes handy.