Software giant Autodesk moves into MaRS, sets up its largest office in the world

Software giant Autodesk moves into MaRS, sets up its largest office in the world

Note: This post originally appeared on the University of Toronto’s website. Story by Olivia Tomic.

When Bill Buxton first worked on Active Desk, an early application of touchscreen technology, he could only imagine what his research would mean to the future of human-computer interfaces.

Twenty years later, touchscreens are everywhere, and so is Buxton’s influence.

Bill Buxton first worked on Active Desk, the very early forerunner of Auto Desk, more than 20 years ago.
Bill Buxton first worked on Active Desk, the very early forerunner of Auto Desk, more than 20 years ago.

After graduating from U of T with a master’s degree in computer science, Buxton joined the Toronto firm Alias/Wavefront, later known as Alias, and became part of a digital revolution producing cutting-edge software for 3D design, engineering and entertainment. (Read more about Buxton)

Maya, the signature Alias animation product, has been used to bring many major films to life, including Jurassic Park, Jumanji and Star Wars Episode I.

In 2006, Alias was acquired by Autodesk, a multinational company that provides tools for architects, engineers, designers and visual artists creating their own reality through cloud-based software.

The company has maintained a strong presence in Canada. More than 100 U of T graduates have worked for Alias or Autodesk over the years. Employees have become faculty and vice versa.

Autodesk recently announced that its new Toronto home will be the second and third floors of the MaRS West Tower. The company will also occupy the street-level space at the northwest corner of the building, which will be transformed into an event space.

At more than 60,000 square feet, this will be the largest Autodesk office in the world. And the employees will be close to their roots at U of T’s downtown Toronto campus.

“We’re thrilled to be moving to MaRS to be close to leading research groups and incredible talent,” said Gordon Kurtenbach, senior director of research at Autodesk.

“We intend to be a greater part of the community, enabling the next generation of makers and doers to push their crafts into new and unexpected directions with our design tools.”

Among this community of innovators, Autodesk has already partnered and contributed to multiple startups and projects coming out of U of T.

Through 3D scanning and printing, Autodesk has been working with a U of T lab to create prosthetic limbs for Ugandans. Autodesk technology allows Matt Ratto and his team at the Faculty of Information to create digital images and 3D prints of highly customized prosthetics at a fraction of the time and cost of current techniques. (Read more about Ratto and the 3D Lab.)

Toronto’s Autodesk team has also been working with U of T and 26 other institutions worldwide on the Parametric Human Project. This project, which aims to create digital models of individual muscles, has wide applications for the health care sector and medical research.

Yet another Autodesk collaboration is with U of T’s Team Attollo, a social enterprise that aims to improve the literacy of underprivileged children through talking stickers.

This innovation (pictured below) was recently one of six finalists in the running for the Hult Prize administered by the Clinton Global Initiative. (Read more about Team Attollo)

“U of T’s history with Autodesk goes back to Buxton, but it certainly doesn’t stop there,” says Karen Sievewright, managing director of U of T’s Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

“Autodesk’s extensive software, and now their footprint at MaRS, create a great opportunity for students to explore their creativity and contribute to the future of design and development in an experiential and hands-on environment right here in Toronto’s innovation ecosystem.”