Outlook: Open source software - a catalyst for collaboration
Antony Passemard
Issue: November/December 2023

Outlook: Open source software - a catalyst for collaboration

Most visual effects artists and animators are in the media & entertainment industry because they enjoy the artistic process. When done in a vacuum, creativity is limited to one or a few perspectives, but approached with a diverse group of minds, it can yield standout content. Collaboration helps drive innovation, and brings people together to advance tools, techniques and solutions for their collective benefit. As open source software (OSS) has gained traction in M&E, it’s clearly a catalyst for collaboration and should be considered in modern workflows across production and post.

While many OSS options are available, OpenEXR and, more recently, Universal Scene Description (USD), have been widely adopted in M&E. Both technologies have improved pipeline efficiency and interoperability, and have reduced the need for studios or artists to do complex format conversions between proprietary scene and raw image formats. New interoperability standard OpenAssetIO is also helping tools and asset management systems communicate, and open source 3D software Blender has matured to the point where artists can use it to achieve high-quality productions. This proven viability is important for instilling user confidence, which, in turn, perpetuates development to further advance open source toolsets. 

The benefits of OSS are attractive in theory, but the fact remains that studio environments and pipelines are still complex, especially for legacy implementations. So how do we solve for that? If we look at rendering pipelines specifically, they almost all share common components: workflows, software, dependencies, parallelization and file formats. Render solutions are also one of the last remaining vendor-lock in scenarios for pipeline developers. This means that if your render package doesn’t support your software (or version of it), you must wait until developers update it. However, pipelines that support open source file formats can avoid this limitation, regardless of the tools used. 

Using an open, portable job specification would effectively make render pipelines future proof and enable artists to choose the right tools for the job, not just the most popular ones. The AWS Thinkbox Deadline software stack for rendering content currently supports more than 80 pipeline tools and digital content creation applications, but AWS is working on taking its accessibility a step further. With collaboration in mind, we’re working on a submitter plug-in that leverages an open standard for describing jobs and makes them portable between any renderfarm solution, unlocking previous barriers. 

Throughout our development journey, we’re thinking like artists and technical directors, considering pipeline needs from their perspectives. OSS is not just code, it encompasses people and processes. Open source initiatives foster community, encouraging the sharing of knowledge and trust, and provide a catalyst for true innovation. We’re not looking to create yet another competing standard for Deadline, but rather, we’re listening to and learning from customers. A well-designed, farm-agnostic way to describe complex jobs will provide a much more flexible pipeline. Then, studios can evolve their farms at their own pace, regardless of the creative tools they use and where their compute resources are located. 

Antony Passemard is the General Manager of AWS Creative Tools.