2019 saw significant buyout and merger action in the visual effects world. This past mid-December, Friedrichsdorf, Germany-based Maxon – creators of the 3D app Cinema 4D – merged with Red Giant, well known for its advanced filters offering particle effects and more. The two companies will become one under the media and entertainment division of Nemetschek Group, Maxon’s parent. The transaction is expected to close in January 2020.
The merger comes on the heels of a key acquisition by Maxon earlier in 2019 — that of Redshift, creators of Redshift Render, an extremely powerful, fully GPU-accelerated render engine.
Mergers Deliver New Customers
Speaking of mergers and acquisitions, Maxon is not the only one in the game. In late 2019, Boris FX merged with SilhouetteFX, the developer of Silhouette, a high-end digital paint, advanced rotoscoping, motion tracking, and node-based compositing application for visual effects. Also in 2019, Boris FX merged with Digital Film Tools, developer of Digital Film Tools plugins for photographers and visual effects artists. Its toolkit includes specialized camera lenses, film stock and grains, lens flares, and lighting gels.
So why merge?
As industries mature, including film effects and broadcast media apps, growth potential can start to slow. To sidestep slow organic growth, mergers and buyouts offer a route to expand, which helps to keep investors satisfied. Privately-held companies such as Blackmagic Design have also gone on buying sprees over the past few years to good effect, snatching up hardware and software vendors including Cintel (scanners), Da Vinci (color correction) and Teranex (standards converters).
Why Maxon Bought Redshift
Rendering is the part of the job when all the ‘creative’ work – think modeling, rigging, lighting, texturing – is finished and the computer is left to “render” the pixels of the final frames of your scene. Cinema 4D has had its own capable renderer built in, namely its “Physical” renderer. But many 3D pros have turned to third party renderers such as Otoy’s Octane Render, Autodesk Arnold Render and Redshift Render.
Animators embrace third party, stand alone render engines for various artistic reasons, as well as to access powerful node-based methodologies to build shaders. Perhaps the most important reason people adopted third-party render engines – first spearheaded by the growth of Octane Render – is their reliance on the graphics card’s GPU to perform final renders instead of using the CPU. Why does this matter? Simply put, it’s a lot faster.
Why GPU Rendering?
Traditionally, the GPU was used to render the interactive part of working with a 3D program, specifically modeling and animation in the viewport. This gave artists an experience that was akin to working with digital clay or solid objects. However, while interactive viewport renders are great at giving you an idea of what you are working on, they traditionally lacked sophisticated and subtle effects such as realistic shadows, global illumination and reflections — all present in final production renders.
For that, the GPU was abandoned at the final step of the 3D production process for highly customized rendering algorithms that ran on the CPU. For those who have worked in 3D production, you know how painfully slow this was. It could take days to render even a short sequence and required the fastest CPUs or more likely large render farms either in a separate machine room or off site on one of the newer cloud configurations.
As GPUs, specifically those manufactured by Nvidia, got more advanced with features such as CUDA (which enables massively parallel processing), final rendering started shifting away from the CPU and over to the graphics card. In other words, both the interactive renders and the final renders were now done by the GPU. The effect of this was that frames that once took unbearably long times to render could now be rendered in a fraction of the time.
Redshift Render happens to be a third-party GPU render engine that was already very popular with Cinema 4D users. Thus, Maxon’s acquisition of it made a whole lot of sense. Not only does it save them the trouble of writing their own GPU render engine, but with the acquisition of Redshift, they are getting a renderer that is already embraced by the C4D community.
The Maxon/Redshift merger is not only a smart move, but a competitive one as well. It wasn’t all that long ago that Autodesk acquired Solid Angle, the manufacturer of Arnold, another third-party render engine, favoring it to their own native Mental Ray renderer. Like Autodesk, Maxon’s Cinema 4D now has a production quality render that is capable of any project from broadcast graphics to high-end feature film work.
While Autodesk’s Arnold is only now beginning to incorporate GPU acceleration into Arnold (previous versions were CPU-based), Redshift is already fully GPU-accelerated. That means the more GPUs you install in your system, the faster it goes.
Apple still doesn’t support Nvidia cards, which meant Mac users had few rendering options. But Maxon announced at the 2019 Apple WWDC that it is porting Redshift to Metal, Apple’s hardware-accelerated 3D graphics interface. This was keyed to the announcement of the pricey but powerful new Mac Pro. At that June 2019 conference, Apple touted that the new gear delivered “20% faster GPU render performance in Cinema 4D than on a Windows workstation maxed out with three of the latest Nvidia Quadro cards.”
Maxon’s Merger with Red Giant
While the advantages of Maxon’s acquisition of Redshift are blatantly obvious, the merger between Maxon and Red Giant is more subtle, holding implications about where Maxon is headed. and the kind of company it is becoming.
Maxon is already well known for its flagship 3D product, Cinema 4D. Red Giant, on the other hand, provides a range of plugins and tools for motion designers, compositors, VFX artists, editors, color graders and others. I’ve used Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite, a useful collection of plugins which run in After Effects. This includes a powerful particle simulator called Particular, which has recently been upgraded with fluid dynamics and allows you to create smoke, fire, fog, snow and other compelling effects.
The Trapcode Suite even includes a capable tool Sound Keys, that uses audio waveforms to drive animated effects.
Red Giant also publishes the Magic Bullet Suite, a comprehensive collection of color correction and finishing tools that run inside After Effects, precluding the need to roundtrip your footage into a dedicated color grading application.
However, the Magic Bullet Suite is more than just grading. There are tools for blemish and wrinkle cleanup, video denoising, a collection of preset cinematic looks and more.
There are also other valuable tools for other aspects of production, including Pluraleyes, a quick and easy way to sync up professional external audio recordings with internal sound captured by the built-in mic of the camera.
Merging with Red Giant brings new opportunities and markets for Maxon. No longer focusing only on 3D modeling and animation, Maxon wants to expand to better address changing markets for apps for VFX compositors, filmmakers, motion designers, editors and, of course, 3D animators.
Products from both companies are used daily by high profile clients such as ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, BBC, Sky, Fox, Turner Broadcasting, Netflix, Discovery Channel, MPC (Moving Picture Company), Digital Domain, Sony, Universal, The Walt Disney Company, Blizzard Entertainment, Facebook, Apple, Google and more.
“This merger is a major milestone, not only for Maxon and Red Giant but also for the design industry as a whole,” said David McGavran, CEO of Maxon. “Our combined technology and knowhow have the potential to progressively reshape the content creation landscape for years to come.”
According to Paul Babb, Head of Worldwide Marketing for Maxon, the merger between Maxon and Red Giant has obvious business reasons in which two companies of similar size suddenly become one big company with more resources and influence than they might have had apart.
Great companies have always grown by acquiring or merging with other companies. Unfortunately, mergers don’t always work – Yahoo and AOL anybody? But sometimes they exceed expectations.
Here’s a toast to interesting times in the motion media industry.