Autodesk CEO: We’ll make ‘Avatar’ on an iPad

“Over the past 15 years, every movie that has won an Academy Award in the US for visual effects used our software,” says Carl Bass.

By SHMULIK SHELAH
November 29, 2010 22:19
3 minute read.
Avatar with gun

Avatar with gun. (photo credit: )

Autodesk Inc. president and CEO Carl Bass fits in well with the milieu of GarageGeeks in Holon, where every few weeks Dr. Yossi Vardi hosts a global technology personage.

Bass enthusiastically relates his history in independent building products, which is perfectly tailored to GarageGeeks’s activity. His eyes light up when he speaks with the participants on the sales strategy for software on the Appstore, and he waxes nostalgic about Autodesk’s early days.

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Bass felt at home at a recent meeting, which is not something to be taken for granted when talking about one of the less sexy software companies in an era of mobile electronics and humancomputer interfaces taken from the pages of science fiction, which attract all the attention.

“Our software is not interesting, unless you give it to creative people who do interesting things,” says Bass, almost apologizing for the need to explain how AutoDesk’s veteran AutoCAD software is used to design products and buildings.

But Autodesk, which has a Nasdaq market cap of $8.2 billion, has another side, one that is much more relevant to contemporary interesting technology. In recent years, the company has also been involved in the design of many leading electronic products – even in the design of animated characters in movies such as Avatar and 3-D games.

“Over the past 15 years, every movie that has won an Academy Award in the US for visual effects used our software,” says Bass.

Bass’s visit to Israel took place as the result of an acquisition made a year ago.

“We acquired a company called PlanPlatform, which was previously called VisualTao,” he says. “I promised at the time to visit Israel, and now I’ve popped over here on my way back from India.”

Autodesk has an R&D center in Israel as a result of the acquisition, which pursues PlanPlatform’s technology to develop remote access to engineering design software via the Internet.

Another use, which is relevant to our times and closely resembles science fiction, is design for synthetic biological needs; in other words, artificial organs.

But the most interesting topic that Bass talks about is the use of software in the contemporary computer era, since Autodesk has options on all the hot topics in this world: cloud computing, the iPhone, iPad and 3-D.

“Something crazy is happening in the world of mobile telephone applications,” says Bass. “A year ago, some of our guys began a project unauthorized by management, in which they adapted the software to work with the iPhone. We didn’t believe that anyone would want to use it, but we were wrong. There is big use.”

Bass said the illustrations created following the use of Sketchbook software for iPhone’s has caused millions of users to consider buying the software.

“We’ve been in the business for 28 years, and 10 [million] to 12 million copies of our software have been purchased to date,” he says. “That’s a lot, but it’s only an average of 11 million over all the years, and all of a sudden half a million people bought the software at the application store. This was the cheapest project we ever did, which reached more people than any other project. It surprised me.”

The vision of the software is to combine cloud computing and 3-D printers, which can produce complete products at home or in the office from a range of materials.

Bass imagines the time when people will be able to order from home; in other words, to actually design, for example, shoes via the application that will be available through cloud computing. Bass did not mention a timetable for this vision, but he was prepared to be more specific about another topic: the ability of private users to create high-quality 3-D movies at home.

“Very soon, users will be able to sit with an iPad at home and make a movie like Avatar,” Bass says.


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