Rumours That Leave Some Terrified…

Adobe-nuke

When the news first came out that The Foundry is going to be available for sale in 2015, and my friend told me that there were rumours that Adobe might be interested in acquiring it, at first I dismissed it as rather unlikely. However, this week, first an Adobe employee tweeted The Foundry’s reel, and soon after an article in Telegraph confirmed this possibility, which makes things almost official.

Some of the early tweeter world reactions were not very enthusiastic, to say the least:

twitter

If you are familiar with the profiles of these two companies, the initial wariness is understandable. Adobe delivers tools for everyone, while The Foundry has been traditionally associated with high-end workflows for larger visual effects studios. Perhaps the dismay of some The Foundry users comes from the fact, that The Foundry does not really need anything from Adobe to supplement their great products in the niche that they positioned themselves at. Were it not for the venture capital (The Carlyle Group in this case) that simply wants to profit from their investment, there would hardly be any interest for The Foundry in mingling with Adobe. From Adobe’s perspective though, acquiring The Foundry is a perfect opportunity to fill in the areas, which have always been their weak points – true 3D (Modo, Mari, Katana) and high-end compositing (Nuke).

Personally I would not mind having an additional set of icons added to my Creative Cloud license. Depending on how this (potential) marriage is handled, it can be a beginning of something great, or a potential disaster to some. I am cautiously optimistic.

Both companies have their own mature line-up of products that are mostly self-sufficient. The real challenge is immediately obvious: integrating these is not going to be a piece of cake. For example, Adobe’s internal scripting platform revolves around JavaScript, while The Foundry’s is centered around Python. These are not compatible in any way, shape or form. Adobe has their own UI framework called Drover, while The Foundry is using a Linux-gone-multiplatform standard of QT. This is also very unlikely to change, and perhaps shouldn’t. To cater for the needs of large studios, The Foundry delivers not only for Windows and OS X, but also – and perhaps most importantly – for Linux. This is an area where Adobe has arguably limited experience – they released one version of Photoshop for Unix once, which was subsequently discontinued because of a total lack of interest. Will Adobe then have to develop at least the Creative Cloud Desktop application for Linux to handle licensing? This might be interesting.

The questions appear almost instantaneously: what will happen to the alliance between Adobe and Maxon, when they acquire their own 3D software package (Modo)? If Nuke becomes the main compositing tool for Adobe, how it will impact the development of After Effects as a platform, and what will happen with quite a few compositing plug-ins? This is the most obvious place where these technologies can clash, and some third-party developers might be left out in the cold. How much of the development power will be focused on integration, and creation of Dynamic-Link engines in all applications that talk to each other, as opposed to implementing new, cutting-edge features or fixing bugs? Without a doubt, it would be great to see a link to Nuke composition in Premiere Pro – and this might in fact be not so difficult to achieve, since Nuke can already run in the render mode in the background. However, how will it impact the development of “Flame Killer” Nuke Studio itself? Hard-core Nuke users will most definitely see the necessity to use Premiere as a hub as a step back, especially when it comes to conforming – an area, which is known to be an Achilles heel for Premiere (see my previous notes about it) – and the vfx workflow. And if we are to take hint from what happened with the acquisition of SpeedGrade, when most development resources were moved towards creating Dynamic Link with Premiere, and the actual development on SpeedGrade itself almost stalled, this might be worrying.

Certainly there are some valid concern about responsiveness of Adobe towards the usual clients of The Foundry, as the market audience for the products will inevitably shift. At the same time Adobe does crave to work on the higher end, and it’s much easier for high-profile people like David Fincher to ask for the features, and receive them, as opposed to common folks like you and me. So the studios will still have the leverage on Adobe. However, a challenge will come in the fact, that The Foundry tools (with the exception of Modo) are not as accessible and intuitive, as Adobe’s, and very often require extensive personal training to use properly. Again, Iridas acquisition being an example, Adobe will try to make small changes in the UI, where necessary, but in general the efforts will be spent elsewhere. Personally I don’t ever envision myself using a Katana which is most definitely a specialised relighting tool for high-end 3D workflows, mostly working with assets coming from the software owned by Autodesk. If I were to name a single product that is most likely to be dropped after the acquisition, it would be Katana. It would take quite a pressure from the studios using it to keep it in development. Adobe would have no skin in this game – in fact, possibly quite the opposite. One way or another, I highly doubt Katana will make it to the hands of Adobe’s typical end-user. It might become a separate purchase, like Adobe Anywhere is now.

On a good side, this acquisition will indeed make Adobe’s video pipeline next to complete. We used to snicker at the slides and demos suggesting or even insisting, that it’s possible to do everything within the Creative Cloud. We knew that making even a simple 3D projection in After Effects was an effort often destined to fail. A lot of great work has been made in After Effects despite its shortcomings, but the workarounds are often time-consuming – with Nuke at our disposal this would no longer be the case. It indeed has the potential to make Adobe a one-stop shop in post-production. And even more good news? The drop in price is inevitable, especially with the recent acquisition of Eyeon by Blackmagic Design.

If I am to make predictions, I’d say that initially some The Foundry products (After Effects plug-ins, Modo, Nuke, Mari and Mischief, if it doesn’t get integrated into Photoshop/Illustrator) will immediately become part of the Creative Cloud offer. Adobe will be showcasing Modo and Nuke to sell more CC licenses. A lot of users who just shelled out thousands of dollars for their Nuke licenses will be unhappy, but Adobe will most likely give some grace period for them – maybe in the form of free Creative Cloud licenses to current The Foundry users without active CC subscription or something similar. However, to avoid legal issues with Linux users, where Adobe is not able, and will most likely never be able to deliver their full line of Creative Cloud products, a separate offering will be made for this platform – perhaps on custom order, similarly to CC for Enterprise customers. Linux versions will keep up feature-wise at the beginning with their counterparts, but depending on the number of licenses sold this way, they might stall or be discontinued. Katana is most likely the first to go. The whole Nuke line will be integrated into a single product – hopefully Nuke Studio, but possibly to what is now known as NukeX. The latter would be unfortunate, as there is quite a lot of potential in Nuke Studio, but I’m not sure Adobe folks will understand it at the moment, as they seem to be only now learning about high-end vfx workflow. Hopefully outcry from the clients will be enough. Hiero, however will also most likely be dropped, as it essentially is redundant to conform part of Nuke Studio.

I hope some of the original The Foundry branding will be retained, but I am a bit afraid that we will quite fast see either square icons with Nuke symbol, or even letters Nu, Mo, Ma, Mc. Hopefully someone can point Adobe Media Encoder icon as a precedent, and at least the Nuke symbol remains intact. Adobe letter salad becomes a bit tedious to keep up with.

Again, if we are to take hint from Iridas acquisition, The Foundry development team will remain mostly the way it is – unless people decide that they don’t want to have anything to do with Adobe as a company, which does happen from time to time – but it will be integrated into Adobe culture. Adobe seems to be pretty good in this kind of thing, so the falloff should be minimal. Development-wise, most certainly the attempts at making exchange between various application easier will get priority right after making sure Creative Cloud licensing works. An importer of Modo files into After Effects, perhaps a bridge between After Effects and Nuke, sharing cameras, tracking data, scene geometry, and some layers; or attempts at Dynamic Link between Nuke and Premiere – these are my initial guesses. Perhaps even the XML exchange between Premiere and Hiero/Nuke Studio will finally be fixed, and at some point The Foundry applications will be able to read and/or write Premiere Pro project files. Adobe’s XMP model of metadata will most likely be employed throughout the Collective.

On a good side, it will allow The Foundry to focus – I had the impression that for some time this company began to behave like Adobe in times of CS5-CS6 – trying to expand the market, pumping out new flashy features instead of focusing on stability and bug fixing, and diluting Nuke line, or in general trying out to lure people to buy their products or updates. Creative Cloud subscription model, regardless of how it was perceived when introduced about two years ago, helps in this regard quite dramatically, as there is less pressure on the developers to cater to the needs of marketing department (vide introduction of Text node in Nuke) and maintaining various versions of the software. This should translate into more time and manpower being directed towards the “core” development – the good stuff.

I think this is promising – if it ever happens. There already has been a precedent of a lower-end company acquiring high-end tools and making them available for public without necessarily watering down their value. We’ve all seen it. Most of us loved it. The company’s name is Blackmagic Design, and the tools were daVinci Resolve and Eyeon Fusion. Here’s to hoping that Adobe handles this acquisition in a similarly efficient and successful manner, bringing the high-end 3D and compositing tools to the hands of many. That is, if this buyout ever happens. Because you know what? Why wouldn’t Blackmagic simply outbid them just for the sheer thrill of disrupting the market?

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