Paul Babb, President and CEO of MAXON Computer USA recently spoke with C4D Café reporter, Marsha Carlson, while at SIGGRAPH 08. Babb is known for his creative energy , progressive product development, exceptional customer service and unwavering support for education and training.
C4D Café: Every company with a booth in the SIGGRAPH Exhibition Hall had an announcement to make this year. It appears SIGGRAPH has a competitive effect that drives companies to innovate and produce for the show date. Would you say this is true for MAXON? Is SIGGRAPH a singular event for the company?
Babb: That is true for us about SIGGRAPH, but another equally important venue for MAXON is the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Expo each year. Different shows inspire in unique ways. There are little shows in between, but they are more promotional. Both SIGGRAPH and NAB are benchmarks for us, yes.
C4D Café: Related to issues of hardware demands and sustainability, how does MAXON approach such issues of bandwidth and processor demands?
Babb: The CINEBENCH tools get used by Intel as a benchmark to develop their processors. The evaluation tool allows manufacturers to test their hardware on 3D scenes, letting them see directly what kind of power will be pulled. MAXON Germany has a close relationship with Intel which resulted in us having the use of 4 Intel processors, with 6 cores for SIGGRAPH. For Intel, MAXON’s CINEBENCH has become an evaluation tool to explore the relationship between hardware and software.
C4D Café: Although MAXON is a major player in the entertainment industry, the use of CINEMA 4D as a tool to assist in complex decision making such as medical animation and architecture is growing. Does MAXON USA include these markets in their current business plan?
Babb: Architecture is a huge market for MAXON in Europe, while in the United States our big market is motion graphics. MAXON USA would like to expand in these areas, but there just isn’t the demand for high quality rendering as there is in Europe or South America.
C4D Café: People love to hear what executives really think behind their corporate pr. Share something of the ‘story behind the story’. What gets you, Paul Babb, excited everyday about your work?
Babb: It’s what people do with our tools. I am jealous of what the artists get to do. I wish I had more time to play with them myself. I say this over and over. We build a very fancy complex paint brush and it’s not the brush that’s interesting. It’s what people do with the brush. When I see what people do with our tools, it excites me. Last year an artist, Chris Schmidt, used the Xpresso tool to create a tree generator that really impressed the developers. I keep my Google alerts set for new CINEMA 4D imagery and when artists post something on their blogs, I will sometimes log in and comment. Interaction with artists is really interesting to me.
C4D Café: Congratulations on hitting 1,000 tutorials on CINEVERSITY. Who are the subscribers? What are the demographics on them?
Babb: We now have over 1200 tutorials on CINEVERSITY. The back-end of CINEVERSITY is currently being rebuilt so that users can create their own playlists of tutorials. This will be especially good for teachers who can make assignments and even check if a student has actually watched them. This will make CINEVERSITY easier to manage and use.
With over 1200 tutorials, it can be an overwhelming feeling of ‘where do I start?” MAXON plans to continue to expand CINEVERSITY’s features, to include an evaluation tool so that people can assess their skills and get suggestions about what tutorials they should be watching. MAXON also has plans for an interactive, hands-on, online service for our customers.
As far as tracking CINEVERSITY users, the 40,000 subscribers to CINEVERSITY are all over the map. We have students, hobbyists and high end users from studios. As an example, a subscriber may be someone who hasn’t used Thinking Particles in a while, who will log in for a refresher. Presently MAXON tracks where in the world subscribers are located, but not what industry they come from. Once the new back-end is built, MAXON has plans to collect more information about subscribers, in order to serve them better.
C4D Café: IT companies have to continually innovate and move further up the economic food chain. Release 11 seems to be a move up that chain. How long will MAXON hold on to that position with Release 11?
Babb: (Laughs) CINEMA 4D Release 11 is not innovative as much as it is about process improvements, that increase flexibility and workflow for our customers. The Global Illumination tool is better mostly because it is more accessible to more people. In earlier versions you had tremendous control over it, but that translated to having to do a lot more work to get the images you wanted. Now you can just turn it on and get a pretty picture.
If we could come out with a new version every three months, that would be advantageous. There is always something you can do to make workflow easier. Now that Release 11 has online updates, we will be tweaking the program and updating continually. These will be things that we would normally wait to include in a new release, but with the online updater we will be putting those out more often. This gives me a good feeling.
C4D Café: Is MAXON the 800 lb. gorilla of Motion Graphics?
Babb: Yes, we are. Adobe told us at NAB that they did a survey of After Effects users and it showed that over 40% of them were using CINEMA 4D. The next 3D package in use accounted for 21% of users. So we are proud that CINEMA is the most preferred 3D package for motion graphics.
C4D Café: I have had users tell me that CINEMA 4D makes scripting simple for them. Was that a deliberate plan?
Babb: It is fairly easy for people to write their own scripts for our program, but it is an area where we could definitely improve. We provide a nice interface for the average user to do some scripting and we like to give users a sense that this is something that they could do themselves.
C4D Café: CINEVERSITY is an education bargain. You could pay as much for a single day of training. How do you do it?
Babb: We are just trying to have CINEVERSITY pay for itself. When I started MAXON USA, I had the idea that if you make things easy for the user, they are going to want to continue using it. I think the fact that as soon as we release a new version, we create tutorials for it, makes people want to get on board. We hoped when we started CINEVERSITY that it would pay for itself and it is getting to that point. Eventually when we get enough users, it may make money. Right now we are happy CINEVERSITY is paying for itself.
C4D Café: The Adobe Power Integration Tour was a major coup for MAXON. Now similarly you are working seamlessly with Render Man How does MAXON establish these relationships? Does it happen at SIGGRAPH?
Babb: Yes, SIGGRAPH is a place where these relationships get started. With more and more studios using CINEMA 4D and wanting to take those assets into Render Man MAXON saw another opportunity to integrate the creative pipeline for artists. This was the same for CINEMA 4D’s integration with Adobe and it also applies to WACOM’s new 6D Art Pen integration with Body Paint tools.
C4D Café: If a movie has VFX, MAXON products are there. It seems this is more pull than push for customers, as though CINEMA 4D sells itself, letting you focus on the service end of the business. Talk about that a bit.
Babb: Artists choose many brushes and it is always nice for us to find artists choosing to use our product. Our biggest battle is getting people to understand how widely used MAXON’s products are. That’s changing. The artists are now dictating which tools they will use and making the match to the tools they want, rather than the studios and manufacturer’s making those decisions. We are aware that artists do not use just one tool, but many.
C4D Café: MAXON is growing slowly and surely. You have been around in the US for ten years as the little guy. Now you are everywhere. How does MAXON keep its eye on the next horizon for development and navigate successfully to it? Talk about your business model.
Babb: The 3D industry is very complex and is actually a slowly growing industry. That said, MAXON has grown 20% in just three years. That is tremendous growth, with most of it in broadcast. Still 3D is only a small part of the business. Our tools are just another paint brush in the tool kit along with Photoshop, After Effects, Shake and others. We know artists do not focus on one application and we are happy to be one of their many tools.
Marsha Carlson for C4D Café