Exclusive Q&A with Imageworks ’ Rob Bredow about Imageworks
November 2, 2009

Exclusive Q&A with Imageworks ’ Rob Bredow about Imageworks

Sony Pictures Imageworks, a visual effects and animation company known for the innovative digital production tools it provides to its artists and filmmakers, and The Foundry, a leading developer of visual effects software, are embarking on a reciprocal technology-sharing relationship to mutually advance the state of the art in visual effects and digital production.

In this unique collaboration, The Foundry acquires access to Sony Pictures Imageworks’ highly regarded 2D/3D lighting technology package, Katana, with which they will be able to collaborate on future developments. As part of the collaboration, Sony Pictures Imageworks adds The Foundry’s industry-renowned compositing software, Nuke, to its existing stable of the company’s plug-ins. (For specifics about this agreement, see the press release at the end of the Q&A.)

Rob Bredow, CTO of Sony Pictures Imageworks, discusses this relationship and what it means to Imageworks and to the industry as a whole, in the following Q&A with CGW chief editor Karen Moltenbrey.

How long was this alignment in the works?
We have been talking to The Foundry about different flavors of this agreement for months now, dating almost back to the beginning of the year. It was really back then that we discovered that we are really aligned on a lot of different plans as it relates to compositing and lighting, and how they might best fit together in a future package.

Why the interest in Nuke?
We are an artist-driven facility, and our artists who actually do not complain a lot about Katana—they really like Katana—were beginning to see that every other major studio was getting site licenses of Nuke and buying a lot of Nuke. One of the things we wanted to do is see if we could add that tool set to our pipeline to have that ability. We started using that on some shows in some limited capacity and saw that it has some great features. So that was really the impetus of the beginning of our conversations. And once we found The Foundry was really aligned with us in the direction they wanted to take the product in the future, and we had some technology they were interested in, in terms of our lighting technology and our rendering pipeline, then it just became a natural fit. Plus, they are a great team over there. They have a good track record of taking production-developed software and turning it into industrial-strength commercial products, so we had a lot of confidence in these guys that they would be the right team to partner with.

How will this affect the use of Katana at Imageworks?

Katana does 3D lighting and 2D compositing. That has really been in use, starting with Spider-Man 3 and Surf’s Up. For all those years we have been using it. For example, G-Force was a big live-action show that was recently composited exclusively or at least primarily in Katana 2D on all the work we did at Imageworks. It has some pretty good compositing chops.

What is the attraction for Imageworks?
Today we become a site license user of Nuke, so we can use Nuke and Katana alongside each other in our production pipeline, and we are sharing all the Katana technology with The Foundry and they will be ale to take those lighting features and all those other features they find desirable in our code base and work those into their commercial product. And then they will be available to everybody, and of course we will benefit from that as well. One thing we get, we will be pairing a very strong lighting tool with what is arguably the best-in-class compositor that certainly has the widest adoption and looks like it has a great future.

We are really looking at that strong partnership between those two areas of the pipeline that really need each other in order to be successful. The other thing is that it is great for us when other people get exposed to our technology and certainly they know where it came from, and if we are able to collaborate to make the industry better, that is just better for the industry as a whole. And we are part of that, so if we can make this industry successful, that is terrific for us.

Was the stereo support in Nuke especially attractive, since Imageworks has been doing so much in the realm of stereo 3D? It is great for us (stereo capability in Nuke). We are bringing a lot of stereo technology to the table for them as well. We have been doing stereo movies. Their Ocula plug-in actually does some things that our in-house tools don’t do, so we are both kind of benefitting on the stereo front, which should help push things forward.

What will the short-term benefits be?

The first version of this for us will be two tools side by side. We will continue to use Katana just as we have and then we will also have Nuke in addition. So in this next round of films, we will be working with each of the groups of artists working on the films to kind of choose the right tool for the job. We will use Katana 3D, of course, for the lighting, and when it comes to compositing, we will pretty much have our choice between using Nuke or Katana for whatever their strengths are. So that will be our first version for our next big round of shows coming up.

Our perfect long-term plan would be to fully migrate over to the commercial product, whenever that is ready for us, to be able to use for our whole lighting pipeline. But say, for some reason, The Foundry would want to take it in a different direction or we couldn’t adopt Nuke as our primary pipeline some time in the future, we still will be able to share a lot of technology and get a lot of benefit out of this.


Culver City, CA, November 2, 2009.  Sony Pictures Imageworks, the award-winning visual effects and animation company known for the innovative digital production tools it provides to its artists and filmmakers, and The Foundry, a leading developer of visual effects (VFX) software, are embarking on a reciprocal technology sharing relationship to mutually advance the state of the art in visual effects and digital production.

In this unique collaboration, The Foundry acquires access to Sony Pictures Imageworks’ highly regarded 2D/3D lighting technology package, Katana, with which they will be able to collaborate on future developments.  As part of the collaboration, Sony Pictures Imageworks adds The Foundry’s industry renowned compositing software, Nuke, to its existing stable of the company’s plug-ins.  Katana is a production-proven toolset that has been used by Imageworks to facilitate their award-winning VFX work on films such as the Spider-ManTM movies, Superman Returns, I am Legend and, most recently, G-Force, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the upcoming Alice in Wonderland.  Nuke has most recently been used on such films as District 9, Transformers, and Terminator Salvation.

The agreement also involves close cooperation going forward.  The two companies will work together to ensure the successful use and integration of each other’s technology, and exchange updates and new discoveries.

“Artistry enabled by cutting-edge technology is the cornerstone of our business,” said Randy Lake, executive vice president and general manager of Sony Pictures Imageworks. “This creative relationship with The Foundry brings great technologies together and places powerful production tools into the hands of artists.”

“Imageworks is taking a far more open approach to its technology. Sharing software with a progressive company like The Foundry is an important step for both of our companies,” said Rob Bredow, chief technology officer of Sony Pictures Imageworks.  “First, it enables Imageworks to provide the best compositing tools to our artists today by adopting Nuke widely into our VFX and animation workflows.  And second, The Foundry has a proven track record of taking production proven software and turning it into industry-leading solutions.  We’re looking forward to collaborating with The Foundry to help create the next generation of tools leveraging the best of our mutual technologies. We are expecting great things from this relationship to give artists the tools to create even greater imagery.”

Bill Collis, The Foundry CEO, said, “It’s highly unusual for software or post production companies to share technologies and that’s what makes our new relationship with Sony Pictures Imageworks so special. There are some exciting ideas we can explore over the coming years, building on Imageworks’ Katana technology and The Foundry's customer-driven product focus for Nuke to deliver the next generation of compositing software.  Sony is obviously a highly respected player in the industry and the fact that they are implementing our software, and collaborating on future products, is a huge compliment. We are looking forward to working with Sony, and to seeing what fantastic results we can achieve together.”

Imageworks continues to aggressively advance the company’s artist capabilities and core technology, optimize its production pipeline and processes, and foster broad-based adoption of formerly proprietary tools.  

In June, Imageworks named Rob Bredow, one of the industry’s leading visual effects supervisors, as its Chief Technology Officer.  Bredow, who was most recently the visual effects supervisor on the hit animated movie Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, brings practical experience and artistic perspective to this new role. He has been instrumental in optimizing the production pipeline and improving the company’s color, lighting and rendering processes.

The Katana software is an integral component of this strategic partnership with The Foundry.  Katana is a tool developed at Imageworks to aid artists in look development, lighting, rendering and compositing of digital imagery. Rather than defining a rigid pipeline for these tasks, Katana provides a framework for building custom tools tailored to the unique needs of each show. In development since 2004, this approach has allowed Imageworks to remain "cutting edge" when "cutting edge" is a constantly moving target.  Through the Foundry relationship, this technology can now become available to the industry.

In August, Imageworks launched five of its technologies into an open-source development program. The program initially includes OSL, a programmable shading language for rendering, Field3d, a voxel data storage library, Maya Reticule, a Maya Plug-in for camera masking, Scala Migration, a database migration tool, and Pystring, python-like string handling in C++.

Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc. is the Academy Award® winning, state-of-the-art visual effects and animation unit of Sony Pictures Digital Productions. The Imageworks production environment supports live-action visual effects and character animation, all-CG animation, Imageworks 3D stereoscopic, and Imageworks Interactive, a full service creative group that produces websites and supports digital marketing for the studio and outside clients.

Imageworks’ achievements have been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with Oscars® for its work on Spider-Man™ 2 and the CG animated short film The ChubbChubbs! In 2008, Surf’s Up was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. In 2007, two of Imageworks' projects, Superman Returns and the all-CG animated feature Monster House, were nominated for Academy Awards in the Outstanding Achievement in Visual Effects and Best Animated Feature respectively. With those two nominations, Imageworks became the first studio to be recognized in the same year in these distinct areas, an indication of the diversity and quality of the company’s capabilities. Other Oscar® nominated projects include The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Spider-Man™, Hollow Man, Stuart Little and Starship Troopers, for a total of ten nominations.

Imageworks’ most recently completed projects include Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, G-Force, and Watchmen, Upcoming projects include 2012, Alice In Wonderland, and Cats And Dogs 2.
Imageworks maintains operations in Culver City, CA; Novato, CA; Albuquerque, New Mexico and Chennai, India.

Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc. is a division of Sony Pictures Digital Production Inc.
For more information, please visit www.imageworks.com.

For further information, please contact:  donlevy@sonypictures.com

The Foundry is a world-leading innovator of visual effects and image processing technologies that boost productivity in motion picture and video post-production.

The Foundry has a well-established client base that includes leading visual effects facilities worldwide, such as Warner Bros., The Moving Picture Company, Weta Digital, Framestore, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Digital Domain.  It is at the cutting edge of software development, marketing and sales for visual effects compositing.

In June 2009, The Foundry announced a management buyout for an undisclosed sum led by Advent Venture Partners.  Advent backed The Foundry’s management team, led by CEO Dr. Bill Collis and the original founders.

The Foundry is highly profitable and has more than doubled revenues in the last eighteen months to $10m. Advent’s support permits the company to continue expansion plans that have seen staff numbers more than double from 20 to over 50 in the past two years.

The Foundry’s products support a wide range of award-winning host platforms including After Effects, Autodesk® Media and Entertainment Systems, Avid DS, Baselight, Film Master, Nuke, Scratch, Shake and Final Cut Pro.  In 2007, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded a Scientific and Technical Achievement Award® to The Foundry’s development team for the Furnace image processing suite.  The company now holds two products with AMPAS Sci-Tech Award® winning technology including high-end compositing system Nuke.

The Foundry is headquartered in London, and has offices in Los Angeles. For more information please visit : www.thefoundry.co.uk

For Further Information contact:
Cordelia Meacher, cordelia@if-communications.com +44 (0) 7961 311080