A brief History of the big 3D applications.

Community Forums/Developer Stations/A brief History of the big 3D applications.

AdrianT(Posted 2005) [#1]
Borrowed this from Logan Foster, who posted a rather excellent summary of where they all came from and what they are today.

To be honest the answer to why a 3D application like Max, Maya, XSI or Lightwave is so popular really comes from the history of the application itself and as such you are looking at over 10 years worth of notes, evolutions and market shifts to really outline and understand why a particular application is the way that it is today...


Max for example can have its history traced way back to the Atari ST and a program called Degas 3D and a magazine called Antic (which was basicly a magazine full of demos, apps and tools). The magazines editor, Gary Yost, saw a whole bunch of great applications and got the developers together and formed the "Yost Group", whose purpose it was to take all these smaller apps and build something newer and better. The first release of this 3D application was called "3D Studio" and it was bundled with every version of AutoCad for a while. This is one of the main reasons why Max is used so much for architectural, AutoCad being the defacto CAD tool (even back then) coupled with a 3D application that could import your CAD work and make it look real was pretty amazing at the time. Soon 3D studio was sold on its own and coming in at about $3500 (USD) compared to $15,000 competitors it made it a pretty popular application at the time for developers to adopt. At this time it was used in a wide range of markets from Film VFX (including some shots in Terminator 2), TV VFX, Architectural and Games. Max soon found its niche though in Games and Architectural and focused in on it while Alias|Wavefront (Maya) and Microsoft (SoftImage) poured their R&D into Film VFX features. When Windows NT came out Autodesk and the Yost Group rebuilt 3D Studio into a new application, 3D Studio Max which introduced a lot of firsts to the industry such as non-destructive modeling, the animate anything mentality and scripting to name but a few. From there Max continued to focus in on and dominate the neglected Games and Architectural markets while slowly adding in more and more features to allow it to be used in VFX in a significant number of films for today. It is also important to note that Autodesk is currently the only 3D developer doing signifcant funding for their application to the tune of 300 Million and is currently in negotiation to purchase its competitor Alias (formerly known as Alias|Wavefront) later this year (primarily for its Studio Tools application which dominates the manufacturing industry and not for Maya as most people here will think and believe).


Maya - Maya's roots come from the merger of two companies Alias (Power Animator) and Wavefront (Wavefront) by SGI. Each of these companies were pioneers of the 3D industry way back in the early days when everyone used IRIX and super computers to do this sort of stuff. When it was first released Maya merged in a lot of the pros of both PA and Wavefront and provided a very powerful and versatile tool that was designed from the ground up to work in a massive production environment such as in feature films and at the very beginning Alias|Wavefront (now known as just Alias) invested a lot of money on R&D and came up with a lot of amazing tools and functions to meet the needs of the Film VFX market (unfortunately as time has gone on their much fabled R&D and innovation has slipped to the way side). One interesting thing with Maya was that initially its massive price of $10,000 was offset by the fact that you could buy modules or parts of the application (ie. modeling, rendering, etc.) for smaller chunks of cash. As the VFX market for films dried up (simply because everyone already had Maya or XSI and simply needed upgrades or support contracts from there) Maya was slowly pushed as a solution for the games industry to adopt, this combined with the historicly agressive business tactics of Maya, some of which were very dirty (ie. we give you maya for free and in return you say that everything you do uses Maya, such as what they did with ILM) while others were pretty good (they are always eager for a sale or a potential lead into a particular market as well as a willingness to make a sale or offer trade-ins from other applications). One particular problem with Maya and its massive growth was that it took massive amounts of capital to fund the tools continued development, as such while the Film VFX contracts slowly dried up the company began to cost SGI up to 80 million a year in operation expenses. SGI, who makes their money selling super computers (and sold many to power companys that used Maya), a market that was also drying up, could soon no longer afford to keep Alias|Wavefront around. A couple of years ago SGI sold Alias|Wavefront to a private equity firm who is, as mentioned above, now selling the company to Autodesk (makers of 3DS Max).


Lightwave - Started out as a 3D tool for "The Video Toaster" which was one of the first commercial non-linear editing and VFX systems released (first on the Amiga). I believe it was a roughly $10,000 application that came with both the video digitizing hardware, video editing software and 3D software all in one bundle. "The Video Toaster" got a lot of early popularity since it was a one stop suite for providing editing and VFX for TV shows such as SeaQuest and Babylon 5 and has heavily dominated this market since then. Lightwave was spun off as its own application a few years after Video Toastaer due to its immense popularity. An interesting hold over from the early Amiga days with Lightwave is the division in the application for Modeling and Rendering where they look and feel like two different apps. This is due much in part to the memory restrications at the time when Video Toaster was first made and the work flow has remained so popular and an integral part to workflow with Lightwave users that its


This applications roots come from SoftImage which was another early pioneer of this undustry using IRIX systems and has been in direct competition with Alias|Wavefront for a long long time since they both were after the same Film VFX market. XSI is essentially the evoltion of SoftImage and had a significant amount of its work done while they were owned by Microsoft, who bought SoftImage for its Video Editing system SoftImage|DS as a tool that would complement their WebTV iniative (back in the early 90s). While owned by Microsoft XSI was complete, albiet late, and challenged the recently released Maya for the Film VFX market for many years. When Microsoft grew tired of their failing WebTV iniative, they sold SoftImage to a video editing company called AVID (which is the king of non-linear video editing systems). Unfortunately AVIDs real interest in the company was in SoftImage|DS, which was one of the first tools that could edit HD, the tool was soon rebranded as AVID|DS and XSI became the red-headed step child of the company. A great tool that pulls its own weight finacially but doesn't get any love or attention from a management group that has no interest in the 3D market.

As for which application is the best, well to be honest any answer you get is personal opinion or bias based on preference. Any 3D artist will tell you that their favorite application is the one they have the most experiance with and will give you more than enough reasons to illustrate their point.

In all honesty though there is no one single 3D application that is the best when you are looking at Max, Maya, XSI or Lightwave, they all have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses that balances them out on the playing field.