Outlook: Open source's evolution for VFX
Darin Grant
Issue: November/December 2023

Outlook: Open source's evolution for VFX

As we move into 2024, the visual effects and animation industries are experiencing an exciting shift in the open-source landscape toward greater proactive development, more widespread collaboration and deeper resiliency. The Academy Software Foundation, which was founded in 2018 in partnership between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Linux Foundation, has matured into a robust organization and neutral forum, driving the development of open tools and standards for visual effects and animation. We’ve seen significant evolution in the Foundation over this past year, going beyond adopting existing open source projects to now proactively identifying gaps in the industry and developing new forward-thinking solutions. We anticipate even greater growth and industry-wide collaboration on this front in the year to come.

Some examples of these new open-source projects coming to fruition include the Digital Production Example Library (DPEL) and the Open Review Initiative. Both of these were launched in late 2022, and we’ve gotten to see the impact they’ve had on the industry throughout 2023.

DPEL was the first instance where members of the Academy Software Foundation responded to a clear need across the industry — in this case, for production-grade sample content to thoroughly test hardware and software in development. Crucially, the Foundation worked to establish the ASWF Digital Assets License, a uniform license agreement that balances the intellectual property concerns of the asset donors with the needs of the users — thereby eliminating the hurdle of getting legal approval for each new piece of content, while also making it easier for studios to contribute production-grade content to the broader community. Alongside DPEL contributions from other Foundation members, Animal Logic contributed ALab, the first open-sourced complete USD production scene. ALab is a full scene with over 300 production quality assets, two animated characters, and baked procedural fur and fabric. Over the course of 2023, this scene alone was downloaded from DPEL over 2,600 times, proving the value of this type of project for the community at large.

The Open Review Initiative is another example of proactive development from the Academy Software Foundation, with member companies Autodesk and Dneg contributing code in the mission to build a unified open source toolset for media playback, review and approval. By fostering a neutral platform for collaboration and innovation, the Foundation incentivized each of these companies to open source their commercial property (RV from Autodesk and xStudio from Dneg) in an effort to propose one united solution for playback and review. Each company’s code addresses a different aspect of the overall ecosystem, and the project brings a shared vision and efficient convergence, which benefits the entire creative community.

Moving forward, these are the exciting types of projects and collaborative efforts that we’ll see more of coming from the Academy Software Foundation. New projects in the early stages of development, including OpenAssetIO, and OpenPBR within MaterialX, are ones to keep an eye on in the year ahead. As the Foundation’s pool of member companies continues to steadily grow, and as we continue to bring in a new generation of contributors through efforts like Dev Days and the Summer Learning Program, we see a bright future ahead for the open source landscape.

Darin Grant is CTO at Animal Logic and a board member of the Academy Software Foundation (ASWF). The Academy Software Foundation (www.aswf.io) was developed in partnership by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Linux Foundation to provide a home for open source software developers in the motion picture and broader media industries to share resources and collaborate on technologies for image creation, visual effects, animation and sound.