The Future of Lightwave 3D

A few months ago, monolithic software giant Autodesk finalized the purchase of Softimage XSI and pretty much all of its assets. This is big news in the CGI world because Autodesk now owns three of the Big Four animation packages – Maya, Max, and XSI. Only Lightwave 3D stands alone as an independently-developed, all-around effects and animation solution.

Sure, there are a few specialty 3D products that Autodesk hasn’t absorbed yet, like Houdini and Vue and Zbrush (although they did acquire Zbrush’s only real competitor last year), and plenty of smaller players like Cinema 4D, Carrara, and Blender… But Lightwave is the only single application that can really compete with any of Autodesk’s main animation packages.

This is important, because the current sophistication of computer graphics is totally the result of the dog-eat-dog graphics industry of previous years. For the last two decades the Big Four were engaged in a cutthroat race for market supremacy, with each player trying match the features of the other three and invent brand new technologies at the same time.

Now, Autodesk’s monopolistic grip on three of the main applications will likely result in a much more stagnant development path. Market dominance could perhaps be achieved without technical superiority, and so the incentive to excel in the areas of research and product streamlining will be lessened. A bland future for animators, unless Lightwave, long considered the underdog of the group, can offer stiff enough competition to keep Autodesk’s engineers on their toes.

I think that’s a very likely possibility, since Lightwave has already beaten all comers in the television effects market. Battlestar Galactica, the CSIs, 24, and just about every sci-fi series since the early 90s have relied on Lightwave for fast and realistic graphics delivered on tight budgets by small effects teams. Today, even blockbuster effects features like Ironman, Dark Knight, and Pirates of the Caribbean (all featuring effects by Maya and expensive proprietary tools) use renders from Lightwave as well.

More to Come

And interestingly, Newtek is only six days away from a new announcement about Lightwave’s future. For the last several days this countdown clock has been piquing the curiosity of animation forums across the web. Regardless of the direction that Lightwave takes, I expect it to be the most influential, even if not the most widely-used, 3D software package of the next few years.

  1. You really like Lightwave…don’t you.

  2. What if Autodesk tries to purchase Lightwave?

  3. I don’t think the DOJ would allow that, particularly with the economy the way it is.

  4. Have you looked at Blender recently?


  5. I try to check out Blender every time there’s a major upgrade, but my feelings haven’t changed (since three years ago, when 2.40 came out). I like open-source software and I like Blender, but its render engine is still inferior, its feature set will always be one step behind professionally-developed tools, and its architecture will always be more disorganized than code that’s being built by people who’s jobs depend on its stability.

    And from a business standpoint, that is the key. If my paycheck depends on an application’s ability, then I want its designers’ paychecks to depend on it too. Blender’s main disadvantage is that it can’t be written into a solid business plan, which means it can’t be a part of a solid production plan, which means it won’t really be used for large projects and thus has a limited influence within the industry.

  6. There was a time when Lightwave WAS the “king of the hill” for many. However, latter development lagged (for whatever reason) and Brad Peebler and Hastings left Newtek…Modo!

    I have been most impressed with LW since 9.0 was released and I sense that a need to catch-up has been recognized by the folks at Newtek. I am a LW novice who hopes that version 10 will once again bring LW to the forefront. I have faith.

    Jeremiah, at this time I highly doubt Newtek would sell off Lightwave to Autodesk.

    “Autodesk’s monopolistic grip on three of the main applications will likely result in a much more stagnant development path.” Agreed. Many of the monopolistic sect tend to become complacent over time….all focus is lost.

    - Bob Fields
  7. “I don’t think the DOJ would allow that, particularly with the economy the way it is.”

    The economy has nothing to do with merger approval–lobbyists and “friends” D.C. do. Look at Microsoft’s dodging anti-trust remedies as proof. Autodesk has a lot of leverage given their dominance of the industry. That said I doubt Autodesk is buying Newtek–they don’t need that last bit of marketshare. But Newtek does need a hit and I believe they have the capability to pull it off. Core is most likely a major re-write of their Lightwave core graphics engine and application MVC architecture so they are as scriptable, powerful, extensible, and flexible as Maya has been for years now. I hope it is because I like Lightwave I wonder how much the upgrade is going to cost. We know tomorrow.

    - Daniel Lord
  8. well im not impressed by the count down page or the current logo design. its messy and shows seriously challenged sense of design.. i hope it doesnt apply to the product. ps i think c4d has over taken lw int he motiongraphics area for sure.. especially with the advent of mograph.

    - lost
  9. Newtek’s vision from the beginning was to bring 3D technology to the masses, -desktop video, the way the Mac brought desktop publishing mainstream. They’ve suceeded admirably, keeping the price low, the render engine powerful and the interface clean. While the masses will never embrace 3D fully, small, independent studio houses have. Lightwave’s pipeline, which gets more capable with each new update, can take a production from A-Z in one package. LW is like the Mac in a PC world, and that’s a good thing!

    - CC Clarke
  10. “LW is like the Mac in a PC world, and that’s a good thing!”

    Only infinitely controllable, instead of being operated with just one shiny button! Actually, I make the case that a piece of software which was originated on the Amiga platform should never be sullied by comparisons to Mac or Windows.

  11. I use Lightwave at work, surrounded by 3ds Max users who tell me Lightwave will never be more than a hobbyist’s 3D package. I remind them of that every time I solve their modeling problems on a project which is fast nearing it’s deadline. Arrogance can make people seem so ignorant.

    - Guillermo M.
  12. Hahahhaha, ONE MOMENT………..

    Why everybody has the same problems with countdown events??

    COME ON!!!

    We are waiting!!

    - Lightsource
  13. AT LAST hours after, the server is up again..
    Just to see a page full with propaganda and full of new prices… :(

    Pay pay pay..

    - Lightsource
  14. Yes, I missed the announcement because I was on the road (and driving where there was no mobile broadband) but apparently there was a considerable delay due to the unexpectedly high number of viewers, which bogged down and Ustream, the video site the announcement was played on. Slightly embarrassing, I imagine, but at least the outages were the result of too much interest and not too little preparation.

    As for “propaganda,” I think it’s pretty safe to say that any new product announcement will consist almost entirely of information on why the product should be purchased by the consumer, and the interesting thing about purchasing a product is that it generally costs money. I’m sorry that you are disappointed in those points, Lightsource, but I’m excited, and will write more on Core later.

  15. Not sure what the DOJ can do. Autodesk is a Canadian company based out of Montreal.

    - Aiden
  16. If the things really going to develop the way I imagine them, I do not think any of us will need to worry too much about LW’s future :) I am really excited about the Core :) and I hope we will all see what it can do soon enough :)

    And for the Autodesk, you know the proverb right?
    The bigger they are …
    need I say more, folks? :)

    - ALp
  17. I think CORE looks very interesting. A nodebased program with an SDK that gives developers full acces to the program may result in new technical possibilities. Not only the Lightwave team may come up with new things but it should also be far easier to properly develop new tools for 3rd parties.

    - Bart Janssen
  18. Why is it that C4D, Carrara and Blender are not capable of competing with the big four?

    - Conor MacCallan-Finkelman
  19. I’ve been a Lightwave user for about 5 years. I used to be a Max user and now have to learn Maya for a job. I still don’t get what Maya and 3DSMAX have over Lightwave. Lightwave has the best artist friendly Sub Division modeler that works with dynamics, weight maps and morph targets. There’s no rubbish like modeling in low polys and then converting to sub-d or increasing the resolution. The hair/fur system is also instant and cusomizable. You also have to do very little to get ultra realistic renders. I find Maya’s interface and pointlessly complicated and unintuitive.

    May Lightwave take over the world!!!

    - Sias Jordaan
  20. For the record, Autodesk is a public American company (NASDAQ: ADSK).
    The Media and Entertainment Division is based in Montreal.

    - Jacques
  21. I agree. I’ve been a Lightwave user for 15 years, and have tried to wrap my head around Maya, but it’s been a struggle. I think the modelling tools in LW are far superior, and the render engine is second to none.

    But, alas I’m afraid if or when core is released it means the end of LW as we know it. I saw some of the CORE demos, and it bares no resemblance to LW whatsoever. It’s all nodebased, and is more Maya-like than LW.

    Good bye Lightwave, I’ll miss you.

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