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Dinner with Tom Hudson

Wed, 17 Jan 2007 13:22:11 EST | Permalink

I was recently in Chicago teaching Autodesk 3ds Max, and I had the opportunity to have dinner with Tom Hudson, the father of Autodesk 3d Studio.

Autodesk 3ds Studio code name THUD
I first worked with Tom in 1990 on the very first release of Autodesk 3ds Studio for the PC at Autodesk. At that time, I was the first artist hired to test the software, which was codenamed "THUD". I thought that was an odd codename to use and that perhaps some irony was at work here. I was worried the product would launch with a "thud" and be a "dud" and I would be out of a job. I was relieved to find the name came from the "T" in Tom and the "HUD" in Hudson. It turned out the Autodesk 3d Studio was not an ordinary software package and Tom Hudson was not an ordinary software programmer.

Created to make cartoons
"I created Autodesk 3d Studio because I wanted to make cartoons," Tom told me over our salads. "Now its 30 years later and that's just what I'm doing."

Tom originally developed the program for the Atari ST as CAD 3D and CyberSculpt. He described how he was demonstrating at a trade show in Las Vegas when he was approached by Eric Lyons and David Kalish, one of the founders of Autodesk. "They saw the software and asked if I wanted a job," stated Tom. Tom was pretty happy working for himself, but before long, he teamed up with Gary Yost and Dan Silva as the Yost Group, and they signed an agreement to produce a version for the IBM PC.

3ds Studio release one was a truly revolutionary modeling and animation package, because the creator (Tom) stopped programming every day at 6 pm, and then spent the evening animating. The next morning, Tom would know which tools were missing and what was broken, before any tester (namely me) even got into work.

Klanky the Robot

Klanky the Robot Klanky the Robot

Tom told me the storyline of a cartoon he had developed 25 years ago. It was the story of Klanky the robot, and a boy named Joey. Joey discovered Klanky in his attic, a discarded robot that his grandfather had developed. Joey learns how to bring Klanky back to life and discovered hidden secrets of the past, present, and future.

After dinner, Tom brought out his laptop and launched Autodesk 3ds Max 8. He opened the scene file of Klanky the robot. He showed me how he was using Andy Murdock's new Automatron plugin for Autodesk 3ds Max 8 to animate Klanky. "I got excited with what Andy was doing, so I started beta testing for him." Tom showed me a pose library he had built for Klanky, I watched as Klanky did calisthenics before my eyes.

Armed and Dangerous
Tom explained that he was working on a three minute short called "Armed and Dangerous", with a shot that required thousands and thousands of robotic arms to whoosh into place around Klanky. For that shot, Tom wrote a plug-in he called "Armory" which created random sized arms that had all secondary motion proportionate to their length. I watched and in seconds Tom created an array of random robot arms, all wiggling back and forth at different speeds. It looked very, very cool.

"I'm a programmer, so my approach to many problems is to write a plug-in. Autodesk 3ds Max is so fantastic because it's designed to be pluggable; it's the ultimate tool in that regard. This software is really getting to be pretty good. I was playing with Autodesk 3ds Max 9 and had 17 MILLION POLYGONS with Motion Blur and it rendered, no problem, with the Autodesk 3ds Max scan-line renderer," said Tom.

Tom showed me a Mars Rover vehicle he created and animated moving over a moonscape for a shot in his movie. "I love the things that have been added to Autodesk 3ds Max, like parameter wiring for example. It lets me do things so easily and quickly; it's great."

Tom picked my brain about his IK setup for the Mars Rover. "I used to know every line of code in this software, now it's gotten so vast, no one person can be master of it all."

Tom told me, "It blows my mind, all the different uses for this product. Architects, engineers, game developers, forensic animations, and movies! The fact that Neil Blevins at Pixar did shots for The Incredibles using Autodesk 3ds Max; it's hard to believe sometimes, we've come this far."

It says something about Tom Hudson, that he dreamt up his story of Klanky the Robot in the mid-seventies, and now 30 years later, he's hard at work, building the models and rigging the characters, and still using the software he fathered so long ago.

Read More (Tags): tom hudson  autodesk 3d studio  3ds max  modeling  animation 


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Blog Author Mark Gerhard
Author: Mark Gerhard

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