Open Source
Issue: Summer 2019

Open Source

There was a time, not so very long ago, when many tools used by studios to create visual effects were based on proprietary code, making it difficult - and sometimes, nearly impossible - for studios to collaborate, or share shots, a practice that is fairly common today as the VFX work continues to grow in scope and intensity.

There has been many milestones over the years that have led us to this "communal" point in time. For instance, at SIGGRAPH 2009, Sony Pictures Imageworks announced the launch of an open-source development program, initially releasing five technologies: 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++. 

Then, at SIGGRAPH 2010, Image-works and ILM announced that they have co-developed an open-source project called Alembic, a new interchange format designed to efficiently store animation in a format that can be read by multiple software applications.

Since then, there have been a number of developments in the drive toward open source, including Lucasfilm's MaterialX, an open standard for the transfer of rich material and look-dev content between applications and renderers. 

During his keynote address at last year's SIGGRAPH, Rob Bredow, senior VP, executive creative director, and head of ILM (and formerly CTO and VFX supervisor at Imageworks), discussed the launch of the Academy Software Foundation by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and The Linux Foundation - a forum for open-source software developers in the film and broader media industries. The intent of the hub is to share resources and collaborate on technologies for image creation, VFX, animation, and sound.

According to AMPAS, more than 80 percent of the industry uses open-source software, particularly for animation and visual effects.

"Developers and engineers across the industry are constantly working to find new ways to bring images to life, and open source enables them to ​start with a solid foundation while focusing​ on solving ​unique, ​creative challenges, rather than reinventing the wheel," said Bredow, also a member of the Academy's Science and Technology Council​, Open Source Investigation Committee. 

Here, we take a closer look at two important open-source offerings - MaterialX and Alembic - by those who know them best. - Karen Moltenbrey