Author: Mark Visser
Last year, we unveiled the Unity FBX Exporter, giving creators the ability to round-trip scenes between Autodesk 3ds Max or Autodesk Maya and Unity. On the heels of today’s announcement of our deeper collaboration with Autodesk, we want to share some exciting details of how we’re building significant interoperability between Unity and multiple Autodesk tools such as Shotgun Software, Revit and VRED.
The FBX Exporter is now available from the Package Manager, if you’re using Unity 2018.2 or newer (you’ll need to enable “Show preview packages” from the Advanced drop-down). For older Unity versions, the FBX Exporter is also available on the Asset Store.
Note that animation export is not supported on versions older than Unity 2018.2.
As you may know, our FBX Exporter addresses two common game-dev use cases: 1) white-boxing (or grey-boxing) a level in the Unity Editor, then switching to Maya or 3ds Max to complete the level with production-ready assets; and 2) recording gameplay in the Unity Editor, exporting animation to Maya for an animator to polish, then returning to Unity to add the animation to a Timeline track.
Let’s look at these two use cases in greater detail.
Exporting static scenes
The term “white-boxing” (or gray-boxing) comes from the practice of using white (or gray) boxes to build your game’s levels. Avoiding expensive models and textures at this early stage means game designers can focus all of their attention on game mechanics without becoming unduly distracted by how the game might eventually look. Ideally, white-boxing is done inside the Unity Editor, giving the designer full access to Unity’s rich set of game components. ProBuilder (part of Unity since 2017) is a popular tool for white-boxing, and provides game designers with a cohesive set of tools for building simple geometry like walls, floors and stairways, and also dynamic objects such as props, vehicles, and character items.
While sketching a level, the designer can also add physics, navigation, gameplay scripts, cameras, audio and input controllers in order to turn their level into something playable. Game designers can rapidly iterate at this stage without waiting for other departments to provide assets. Once a level reaches the desired stage of completion, the scene (or individual items) can be exported in FBX format using the Unity FBX Exporter (supported since October 2017).
The resulting FBX file can then be loaded into Maya or 3ds Max, where a 3D artist can add detail through textures, materials and prop assets, or even by replacing major parts of the scene with pre-created models.
Thanks to Unity’s convenient DCC integration tools (available inside Maya and 3ds Max), a single click reads or writes an FBX file, without the need to navigate complex options or directories. The integration also tracks which objects should be exported for each file, and gives artists an easy way to keep this information up to date using export sets. Our DCC integration tools can be installed from inside the FBX Export Settings.
The FBX Exporter also enables a non-destructive workflow, automatically merging changes to the FBX file back into the prefab without destroying all the additional Unity-specific components that were added by the level designer (e.g. physics, navmesh, audio sources). Often, studios do not enforce naming conventions in game levels until they enter the 3D department, meaning object names in the white-boxed level are rarely final. With the Auto-Updater disabled, the FBX Exporter handles changes by letting you match unknown FBX objects to their corresponding Unity GameObjects.
Once back in Unity, iteration can continue, either with the level designer sending a new FBX back to the 3D department or with the 3D department continuing to provide updated FBX files. Round-tripping gives artists the power to iterate using the right tool for the job.
Exporting animated characters and props
Another common use case for FBX export (supported since March 2018) is the export of gameplay animation for in-game cinematic sequences, or cut-scenes.
Cut-scenes often use the same assets as gameplay, but add additional polish to animation. Hand-animating characters from scratch is time-consuming, so a common trick is to record animation from gameplay, then polish and refine that animation in Maya. The FBX Exporter also supports Unity’s physical camera properties, giving animators accurate framing context of their scene from inside Maya.
You can record gameplay to an asset using the Unity Recorder’s animation clip support.
Once you’ve added this new animation clip to Timeline, you can export it as an FBX clip. You can then import the FBX clip into Maya, where an animator can polish and refine the animation using the powerful Maya animation toolset. The final animation can then be re-exported as an FBX file and added to the cut-scene’s Timeline. Watch our full-animation round-tripping video to see how to do it.
This new collaboration enables opportunities for more improvements to material interoperability, closer connections between Unity and Maya and 3ds Max, and enhancements to the FBX file format.
Find out how Unity and Autodesk are collaborating to improve workflows across the gaming, film, automotive and architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) industries.