Outlook 2020: Why Open Source?
Mike Janov
Issue: November/December 2019

Outlook 2020: Why Open Source?

Since entering the media and entertainment scene, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have transformed and redefined the content creation landscape, most recently with original content production. Fueled by an explosive consumer appetite for content, companies like Disney and Apple have followed suit, further driving demand for animation, VFX and post, often on tighter timelines as entire seasons of programming release at once to accommodate binge viewing. This boom is prompting creative outfits large and small to evolve workflows to stay competitive. Open source initiatives are more relevant than ever in film, TV and games. 

Why Open Source?

Historically, Hollywood studios contracted creative work out to multiple vendors, each with their own workflows, proprietary technologies and preferred file formats. It quickly became clear this environment was not conducive to sharing assets. Open source standards provide a solution, allowing studios to collaborate and share content throughout the production chain – from animation to shaders, effects and sound. The ability for VFX studios to more easily exchange files has become more important as the scope of projects now regularly exceeds the bandwidth of just one studio. Oftentimes ten or more vendors are enlisted for a feature or episodic series.  

The continued development of open source standards like Open Color IO, Universal Scene Description (USD), open VDB, and open EXR, among others, makes it simple to move files from one software application to the next so data is preserved and consistent as it’s passed between vendors. Open source standards also level the playing field for smaller studios, helping independent artists and freelancers who work remotely be more efficient. Studios and artists aren’t the only ones who benefit. Developers can also build on these standards to bring new technology and features to market faster than if starting from scratch, and can forge a pathway to greater interoperability between industry standard tools. 

A standards evolution

The Academy Software Foundation, backed by the non-profit Linux Foundation, marked a key moment for open source in M&E. Eager to support initiatives that advanced the industry as a whole, Autodesk and other developers joined as members. We committed to providing funding as well as two full-time engineers dedicated to contributing to the foundation. Since then, the foundation has released a number of projects, such as open VDB, which will make it easier to externally share volumetric VFX, or what audiences recognize as explosions, fog and smoke, and open EXR, a VFX industry standard high dynamic-range (HDR) image format developed by Industrial Light & Magic. 

USD quickly gained momentum this year, in part because of its origins at Pixar. Since its release, we’ve seen massive adoption across film, TV and games, likely because it’s extremely useful in handling geometry, shading and animation. Developers are also taking note. Autodesk announced a common USD integration in Maya at SIGGRAPH this year that combines efforts from Animal Logic, Luma Pictures and Pixar, and there’s more on the horizon in terms of USD support. We’re also experimenting with USDZ, a variation of USD that launched with iOS 12 that makes it easier to create 3D objects and share and experience them in augmented reality settings. 

Looking at all standards in development for the visual effects and animation industry, the value of open source is apparent. I expect to see new Academy Software-backed formats emerge in 2020, while more established formats like USD mature and grow in popularity. Furthermore, we’ll begin to see more industry vendors and facilities embrace and contribute to open source standards. As this happens, the artist experience will improve along with the overall progress of the industry.

Mike Janov is the industry strategy manager for media and entertainment at Autodesk (www.autodesk.com).