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Graphics Software GNU is Not Unix

SIGGraph and Open Source 193

Posted by michael
from the good-gnus dept.
SeanCier writes "The SIGGraph 2004 conference showed off a lot of trends: high-dynamic-range (HDR) displays and video, suddenly ubiquitous general-purpose GPU programmability (it's not just for polygon shading anymore), 3D and high-colour displays, ever-more-refined fluid dynamics, crowd animation, and point-based graphics, to name just a few. But there was an unspoken undercurrent, a trend that's waiting to happen in the visual effects community, and happen in a big way: Open Source." Read on for more.

There are plenty of examples of open source and the graphics community getting along grandly: Gimp and CinePaint (aka FilmGimp), ILM's OpenEXR, and projects like Open Scene Graph. Linux, in particular, has made spectacular inroads: nearly everybody uses it for rendering, and many (most?) use it as their desktop OS of choice. In the RenderMan user's group (I'll get into RenderMan more in a minute), for example, somebody asked how many people used Linux as their main OS. Plenty of hands, and some approving chuckles all around. Mac OS X? A few hands, and woots. Windows? No hands at all -- and moreover, an handful of boos, followed by everybody cracking up as they realized the whole community was abandoning Microsoft wholesale.

But then there's the other side. All the major visual effects and animation studios -- ILM, Pixar, Dreamworks, Digital Domain, Blue Sky, Disney, and so on -- have a team of programmers in-house. Five, ten, two dozen, or more. They're the ones that'll write the software that does special rendering algorithms for Shrek 2, or an animation control system for Mr. Incredible, or produce massive crowd simulators for Lord of the Rings. Things that commercial software doesn't quite do -- or that nobody else has tried to do, or even thought of. Things they need to do just so. Things they need to do now.

Everybody has a ton of custom software written -- often good software, with flexible frameworks and clever hacks. Moreover, they don't want to rely any more than necessary on commercial software, because if ILM finds a bug in Maya that holds them up or slows them down, they best they can do is pay Alias to fix it fast (i.e. weeks) and then have hundreds of animators waste thousands of hours time working around it for weeks. And worse, if Digital Domain buys Alias and decides they'll keep new versions of Maya to themselves, ILM is simply screwed, in a big way. If they want to get a particular feature in Maya, and a plugin won't cut it? Well, that's even harder -- and involves more money and more time.

So ILM writes their own stuff whenever they have to, and whenever they can. And Digital Domain writes their own stuff. And Dreamworks writes their own stuff. And Disney writes their own stuff.

And most of it is all the same stuff. Fluid dynamics? Hair? Subsurface scattering? Muscle-and-skin systems? Crowd control? Dozens of topics -- and every studio pretty much has pretty similar, rather redundant code to do 'em all.

These studios aren't in the business of writing software, they're in the business of making movies. So why are they spending their time and money writing software? Because they have to; it's a Necessary Evil.

So, what if they all worked on Open Source stuff instead? Look at what I just wrote. Every word is a reason to go Open Source. No drawbacks, all upside: no lock-in, you can fix stuff, you can add stuff, you don't have to wait on anybody else, and plus, you can do all this while also using what others have written.

The knee-jerk reaction that may be some executives' first objection: our code is a strategic advantage, giving it away would be throwing away money. If we can do hair and our competitors can't, we'll make better films then they can (and, if it's a visual effects studio, we'll win contracts based on that unique ability).

Bull honkus. If your competitors need hair, they'll write hair software, no problem. Another quote from the Pixar RenderMan user's group, this one by a RenderMan developer (paraphrased): "this is based on the subsurface scattering papers from a couple years ago. Everybody does this, based on those papers." Nope, I don't see strategic advantage there: I see waste.

It is, as they say, a win-win scenario; the studios contribute their code to Open Source projects, and everybody helps make that code better. ILM started it in a small way, with OpenEXR, and it worked: OpenEXR is *the* format for high-dynamic-range images, no questions asked. Did it benefit ILM? You betcha: major packages everywhere (Photoshop, RenderMan, etc) either import/export OpenEXR now, or will soon. Pixar even contributed new compression code.

So, a great scenario, and proof that it works. Why hasn't it happened in a bigger way yet? Fear of the unknown. But listen close, and you'll hear a flood coming that could change the landscape -- and it's hard to divert a flood.

That leaves only one question: how will it start? Well, it could begin with open source projects becoming valuable to studios, as started happening with Gimp (though here I'm talking more about advanced 3D animation, simulation, and rendering; Blender's great for what it does, but medium-to-large studios aren't its intended audience; it's not going to displace Maya any time soon, because it doesn't offer anything that Maya lacks as far as the studios are concerned). Or it could start with a studio making a bunch of their custom in-house software Open Source (like ILM did with OpenEXR). Either way, it's up to us as a community -- either to write the software or to sell the concept.

I'd suggest that a great place for all this to start would be with Pixar's PRMan (PhotoRealistic RenderMan, these days often called just RenderMan). And note I say this as a shareholder. Selling RenderMan and related software accounts for less than 5% of Pixar's revenue; the real reason -- the *only* business reason -- they still develop it is for the other 95% of the company to use. If open-sourcing it would bring in collaboration and improvements that would make them just 5% more efficient in generating movie revenue, doesn't that justify the decision right there? And of course that's not counting those who would still pay for service contracts, or the reduction in development costs that could come from the rest of the community helping with their R&D (the budget for which, BTW, surpasses their software revenue). RenderMan has always been a product ahead of its time, and that's why -- despite Pixar's belligerent and hostile use of patents and close-held IP -- it's still the golden standard in this industry. The RenderMan protocol and API was intended fifteen years ago to be a renderer-independent standard, the PostScript of the 3D world. That dream died because of Pixar's unwillingness to release IP: it became difficult or impossible for others to implement that standard officially, or at all, because Pixar grasped the it so tightly (case in point, ExLuna: their lawyers summarily killed what was the best chance in years of having a RenderMan-compliant renderer with new and different functionality, complementary to PRMan). But the renderer -- PRMan -- doesn't have to die through the same mistake, even in the face of an ever-shrinking market share and competitors with the advanced global illumination algorithms PRMan lacks.

But that's not to say Pixar is the only -- or even the best or most likely -- option here. They most certainly don't hold all the cards. So, don't sit back and wait for Pixar or another studio to start the ball rolling: we need to give it a push.

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SIGGraph and Open Source

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  • Brain rot! (Score:5, Funny)

    by kunudo (773239) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:04PM (#10039396)
    Pretty colors [slashdot.org]
    • Thanks for the link to fix the colors. Unfortunately that didn't solve the main problem with this story: there's just way too much to read here, even without clicking through to the article. I'm going to go take a nap now.
  • by Simon South (8535) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:12PM (#10039431) Homepage
    It's great to see movie houses coming to the realization that sharing development tasks helps everyone; I hope people in other industries come to this realization too.

    I've worked at several companies now where I saw a tremendous amount of effort invested in developing custom, proprietary solutions to relatively common problems outside the company's primary business domain. (In some cases, this meant duplicating the exact functionality of existing free software.) Since ten programmers can't outdo a thousand, inevitably the result was buggy, half-baked work that the rest of us employees had to limp along with, or find workarounds for.

    Keep the software that drives your core business proprietary, if you like; but why not co-operate on all the non-core stuff that merely keeps the business going? It just makes sense.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:18PM (#10039456)
      This one guy who wrote the article is speculating that Open Source will be big in the film industry. No big movie houses. Not Pixar. Just this guy SeanCier. Who the hell is he?

      This is just an opinion piece, not news.
      • by Simon South (8535) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:27PM (#10039491) Homepage
        I'm referring to the example Sean gives in the article of OpenEXR.

        But I'll grant you that I am perhaps indulging in a bit of wishful thinking.
      • > This is just an opinion piece, not news.

        Yes, it's mostly an opinion piece; but it's also an attempt to transcribe the type of news that doesn't make it into press releases: social trends in the industry. It's not speculation, it's suggestion -- but if you're interested only in hard-fact news, the first paragraph should fill the quota.

        -spc
      • He's a guy who went to SIGGRAPH and sat in a room with all the deveopers from the studios. He's got a feel for what's about to happen. Don't look to upper management for this type of insight, they'll talk about it after it happens.

        Cinepaint was a mistake IMHO. Hollywood forked the Gimp to get better color depth and now they don't have the resources to keep up with mainline Gimp development. It's an example of trying to take control rather than cooperate. Now that they learned how to do it (and how not to)

        • They forked the Gimp because the Gimp developers weren't interested in merging the changes back in, wanting to wait several years until GEGL was ready.

          Frankly, I generally prefer to use Cinepaint instead of the Gimp, especially the Gimp 2.0.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    doesn't seem a sensible proposition to me. i'm sure open source has it's place, but this seems over the top.
    • Well that's true, if your software is really that much better than your competitor's. If not, then it's really just an expensive commodity cost, and you ARE better off open sourcing. For most of these productions, the "competitive advantage is your story and animators, not your software.
    • Sure, ILM, DD, Pixar, PDI, and the other big boys have all duplicated effort writing essentially the same code, so making everything open source wouldn't really give any one of them a big advantage. But what about Joe's 3D GarageWorks, Ltd.? He's trying to start up his own effects house and having a damn tough time getting all the cool software together. He's only been able to implement a basic photon mapper, and a crappy rigid body simulator. Sure would be nice for him if all the big boys would share t
  • by momogasuki (790667) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:16PM (#10039442)
    Wow! 30 times brighter and 10 times darker than a normal display. Anybody got a screen shot?
  • linux? WOW (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    hum... didn't know linux was so popular? At my university the graphic professor is doing all this work on windows... and he has plenty of cool stuff done.

    If I had known I would've purchased a Nvidia card over an ATI.
  • by jakeweston (785112) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:29PM (#10039503)
    There was a panel about the role of custom software development in VFX houses. Though it seems like a good idea on the surface, none of the four big houses represented seemed particularly keen to move towards open source. Most of reasons come down to competition - sure they are all building the same things, but the differences between how well and rapidly they build them determine whether they win contracts over their competitors. Simple business, just as all the big competing auto manufacturers are building the same type of components, but they're not rushing to share their designs...

    And the benefits are not as clear as it would seem - the best case seems to be OpenEXR, but the ILM guy was disappointed by the lack of community contributions, that most of the work on the new version had to come from within ILM, and the initial packaging work had cost them more than expected.

    Also mentioned were the risks associated by opening their source, particularly the patent issues. I'm sure SCO has persuaded a few companies not to open sources just in case they get involved in that kind of opportunistic farce.

    So, in some idealistic collaborative future, a lot could be done with open source, but in the real competitive one, it will be slow progress...
    • Yes, the panel was fascinating, and dealt the more concretely with these topics than anything else at SIGGraph. I don't agree that the panelists believed wholeheartedly in the viewpoint you suggest; in fact, it seemed to me that most felt that open source would be the ideal thing to do, but that the problems I mentioned in the article -- and those you discuss -- are the stumbling blocks that need to be overcome. But you're quite right in pointing out the, uh, counterpoint: it's not clear-cut, or it would
  • Roll your own (Score:3, Interesting)

    by deanj (519759) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:32PM (#10039517)
    Back in the old days, Blue Moon (I think that was it) had a Renderman package you could download. The person that did it ended up getting hired by Pixar, and has been there to this day.

    Here's the thing.... Pixar isn't going to open source Renderman. They just aren't. The best bet is to get a group of people together and create their own open source version of it. It's been done before, and it can be done again.
    • Re:Roll your own (Score:4, Interesting)

      by cmowire (254489) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:46PM (#10039578) Homepage
      Ahh, but you aren't aware of the rest of the story.

      Said creator of BMRT (Blue Moon Rendering Toolkit) then left Pixar, commercialized BMRT, was sued into oblivion by Pixar, and the tatterd remnants of BMRT were then picked up by nVidia.

      BMRT is now off the market. Which is too bad, because it was entirely NOT like the traditional renderman rendering engines. It used ray tracing with caustics instead of REYES.

      The problem is, there's certain things that Pixar owns patents for and has been getting progressively more predatory about. So there's a limit to how successful Pixar will let the other renderman engines get.

      Even though, of course, they don't make much money off of it.
      • The problem is, there's certain things that Pixar owns patents for and has been getting progressively more predatory about. So there's a limit to how successful Pixar will let the other renderman engines get.

        Not entirely correct. They sued the Entropy developers because the guy that developed it used to work for them, then bailed and started his own company. Pixar alleged willful patent violation on the part of Gritz and company. No, there is not a limit to how successful Pixar lets other Renderman engin

    • Re:Roll your own (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Sunday August 22, 2004 @06:14PM (#10039678) Journal
      Well, mostly right. Larry Gritz did write BMRT, the Blue Moon Rendering Tools, and he did go to Pixar and was one of the leading people on the RenderMan team for quite a few years.

      He left to form ExLuna, and ExLuna was then bought by Nvidia. At Nvidia, Gritz and the rest of his team are behind the new Gelato hardware-assisted high-quality rendering product. It's pretty cool. [pun reluctantly admitted to]

      It's all a very long and interesting story, that unfortunately will not fit within the margin here.

      Thad Beier
    • Umm... (Score:5, Informative)

      by boomgopher (627124) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @06:42PM (#10039823) Journal
      The best bet is to get a group of people together and create their own open source version of it.

      Pixie [sourceforge.net],
      Aqsis [aqsis.com],
      jrman [jrman.org],
      et al.

  • by FueledByRamen (581784) <sabretooth@gmail.com> on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:34PM (#10039525)
    As a student, I use Pixar's tools - Renderman Artist Tools 6.0 and Renderman Pro Server 11.5.3, plugged into Maya 5.0.1.

    Why did I start using these tools? Maya's Fur renderer was (and still is) a complete piece of shit. No offense to anyone who's actually gotten it to work well, but... damn. If you've ever used it, you'll know what I'm talking about, specifically in regards to the lighting, and trying to match it to the rest of your scene. And yes, I've tried Maya 6 rendering out Fur in Mental Ray - something about trying to allocate several gigs of RAM just for the Fur, where PRMan would use 800 MB for the whole scene, turned me off from that. And RAT includes a plugin to build Fur out of RiCurves primitives. Perfect match, right? Of course.

    Well, it was lacking a couple of features. Specifically, Attractor Influence Start and Influence End (specifying how far along the length of each hair dynamic attractors would affect the curve direction). Thankfully, Pixar decided to throw in the code for the mtorFurProcedural DSO with the toolkit. So I added the 6 (or so) lines of code needed to implement those features, recompiled, and it now works perfectly, exactly the way I'd expect it to.

    And then the shading model being used wasn't giving me the results I needed. I took a look at a paper (from a previous SIGGRAPH) on the fur shading used in Stuart Little, specifically in regards to mixing the underlying surface's normal with the hair normal. Sounds like a good idea, think I'll try that. Oops, the plugin doesn't pass that information to the shader. 10 lines of code later - a new shader variable, surface_normal, has been added. And after modifying a shader to take advantage of that (loosely based on the example code in the paper), the shading looks infinitely better than anything I EVER got out of Maya. Score another point for having the source.

    Unfortunately, there was also another bug, this time in the mtor_maya5 plugin (which, being the bulk of the product, is NOT open source). I had to reimplement the command that the mtorUltraFur RIBGen plugin was using to dump the surface information (for each uv coord: x, y, z, normal vector, u vector, v vector), because its handling of trimmed NURBS surfaces was broken. That was irritating, but made possible because I had the source to the plugin and was able to change the command that it was calling (to my own plugin's name). (Though it would've been easier if I had the source to the mtor_maya5 plugin as well...)


    So, because I got the source with the tools, I was able to very quickly fix the problems that showed up, and tune them to do exactly what I needed them to do.
    • This just means Pixar could make a little extra by licensing their code or they could distribute it via a similar license to Microsoft's SharedSource, not that their source code should be distributed wholesale via the GPL so anyone and everyone can poke around with it.
      • by FueledByRamen (581784) <sabretooth@gmail.com> on Sunday August 22, 2004 @06:46PM (#10039843)
        Thanks, I think you just finished the point I was trying to make. I guess I should've said shared-source, but I was drawing a blank for the right terminology there.

        What I was trying to imply is that if companies can make the code available to their customers, it becomes much easier to integrate their products into the existing software environment. For something simple like a word processor, this wouldn't make much sense; it already stands alone. But for such a complex environment like a computer graphics production pipeline, with software from different manufacturers and (sometimes) running on different platforms all needing to work seamlessly together, eventually you're going to run into an integration problem. And in all likelyhood, the company producing the software package in question hasn't had the time nor the resources to test your exact configuration.

        So in this scenario, if you don't have the source, you're left at the whim of the manufacturer to fix the problems. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. But if your software license (that you bought and paid for, just like any other software - I'm not advocating giving this stuff away for free) includes the ability to easily get the source and make your own modifications to it, then you both win. The company gets their money and you can fit it into your pipeline. If the source license also includes proceedures and methods to submit said changes back either to the company for a potential merge into the main source tree (if it doesn't break something else), or to a user community group where other (licensed!) users can view code patches and apply them to their own (legally licensed!) copy of the code, then EVERYONE wins. Including the company that is now selling more licenses of the software because it is gaining new features and having integration issues fixed up.

        But just open-sourcing the code will probably put companies out of business ("why pay when you can just grab the code yourself?"), and we don't need that.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:36PM (#10039532)
    I notice that the NVIDIA 6800 [simhq.com] has 220 million transistors. If they added a few million more transistors or sacrificed a few pipes for a RISC processor, the chip could do all the computation for the system. For people whose only demanding applications are graphics-intensive games, a CPU-on-GPU design might be a great idea. Admittedly, this solution does nothing for servers, but then it does not seem like servers are driving the mass-market PC technology at the moment.
    • GPUs and CPUs are very different beasts. That's why they're called GPUs and not "smaller CPUs on video cards." The process to design a CPU, especially one that can execute x86 instruction set, is signifigantly more complex than creating a video card math processor.

      In fact, if the general trend of computing is followed, integrated video solutions may eventually go on chip. Remember the days of having addon FPU slots on motherboards? Every chip just about has an FPU builtin (maybe not some embedded chips, bu
  • by oquigley (572410) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:37PM (#10039540)
    It was an interesting Siggraph for display technology.
    That high-dynamic range monitor was far and away the coolest innovation (it's contrast range is like, 300 times higher than ordinary monitors. When they set it to maximum brightness it actually takes your eyes a moment or two to adapt when you go from a bright part of an image to a dark part).
    And modern graphics cards actually have the precision to make a huge gamut like that useful. Hopefully they'll take off and we'll see games start to use it. It really made all of the other monitors look dim and washed out.

    There were a bunch of different naked eye 3D displays. Nothing fantastic, but still pretty cool, although headache inducing if over-indulged in. I'm guessing that they'll be used for trade shows...

    Another group was showing a projection system with 6 primary colors.
    large color gamut display [siggraph.org]
    They ganged up two sets of projectors. One with straight up RGB, and another with CMY (I think!), and by overlaying the two they were able to get a much wider color gamut than traditional RGB monitors. It was very hip, but I have trouble imagining it ever leaving a research lab.

    There was also some cool stuff done by registering lots of projectors together to get very large, very high resolution displays, without any visible seams. It would make for a cool game room (assuming that you had a machine that could drive a 4000 X 12000 pixel display!).

    Still the high dynamic range monitor is the one that I'm lusting after...


    • they were able to get a much wider color gamut than traditional RGB monitors

      So what do these new colours look like?

      (If that seems ignorant, it probably is. I don't even know what a gamut is, I'm just assuming a wider one gives more colour, even though the idea of >4billion colours (32bit) seems unnecessary to me :)

      • The 32-bit option on your monitor isn't 32 bits of colour, it's 24 bits of colour and 8 bits of alpha. What on earth the alpha is used for I have no idea...
        • What on earth the alpha is used for I have no idea...

          Then listen up -- it's like this! Take a piece of graph paper and draw a sloped line on it. You'll notice that the line goes through some of the squares just a little bit and some of them a lot. Now take a marker and color in every square that the line goes through "a lot" -- you'll notice that what was supposed to be a pretty line ends up looking more like a staircase when you leave out those squares. But if you color them in it looks blocky too. You'l

        • It's not on your monitor, it's on your video card (and in your software) and it's used for transparency and thus compositing. Your monitor is an analog device and it takes whatever voltage signals for red, green, and blue that your video card sees fit to send to it. 24 bit color gives 8 bit (256 level) precision per pixel, but there are 10, 12, or whatever bit RAMDACs around. This is, of course, unless you have a digital display. Either way, your monitor doesn't get a transparency signal.
      • Basically, there are colors that the eye can perceive, but that a monitor just can't display. Really intense flourescent green, or deep, dark, saturated violets for example.
        Every display device can only show some subset of the range of visible colors. CRT Monitors can show some colors that LCD monitors can't, so you can describe the gamut (basically the achievable range) of colors of the CRT monitor as being larger than that of an LCD monitor.
        The thing to keep in mind with 32bit color, is that even
        • Actually, tetrachromatic vision DOES give you the ability to see colors that other people can't. We only represent the color-space as 3-dimensional because most people have 3 color receptors. If we were, for example, mantis shrimp, we would see color as a 10+ dimensional space.

          Note that color vision is very different from hearing -- we can hear multiple tones at the same time - color vision is just the summation of various light energies captured by receptors attuned to different frequencies. Perfect co
  • by green pizza (159161) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:38PM (#10039542) Homepage
    Microsoft isn't going to drop out of the VFX world without a fight. They had a huge booth at SIGGRAPH this year, lots of vapor and FUD.
    http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2004/aug0 4/08-09SIGGRAPH2004PR.asp [microsoft.com]

    They even hired SGI founder and uber hardware/software enigneer Kurt Akeley!
    • by shadowmatter (734276) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:53PM (#10039599)
      They had a huge booth at SIGGRAPH this year, lots of vapor and FUD.

      From the link you provide:
      This week at SIGGRAPH 2004, the world's leading computer graphics conference, computer scientists from Microsoft Research's Beijing, Cambridge, U.K. and Redmond, Wash., labs will present the results of 12 research papers, nine of which were done in partnership with universities around the world.

      Look, I know it's cool to bash Microsoft and call them "M$" and whatnot, but not just any paper can get accepted to SIGGRAPH. It has to have some merit -- they have very high standards. No papers fly into the SIGGRAPH/SIGCOMM preceedings based on vapor and FUD alone.

      Furthermore, Microsoft (in particular, MS Research in Beijing) has been doing some excellent work in graphics technology, and the academic institutions that usually make up the bulk of the research presented aren't afraid to admit it:

      "MS Research is by far the biggest contributor to graphics in the corporate world. It's a powerhouse" - Paul Debevec, USC Institute for Creative Technologies
      "They're really doing first class research." - Victor Zue, MIT CSAIL

      Technology Review Magazine has a good look at the advancements of the MS Beijing lab in its June 2004 issue.

      Look, I'm no fan of MS either, but please... In the case where they actually do innovate, do research, give credit where credit is due? Double standards help nobody.

      - sm
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Technology Review Magazine has a good look at the advancements of the MS Beijing lab in its June 2004 issue.

        It has been said before [slashdot.org]:

        I wouldn't put a whole lot of faith in what Technology Review has to say. With a quick look at their

        staff [technologyreview.com] you will see where their priorities lay. They have one fact checker and 26 people involved in marketing and advertising.

        They may have once been a reputable magazine, but since Bruce Journey [technologyreview.com] took over, they are more concerned with selling magazines than quality re

      • Look, I'm no fan of MS either, but please... In the case where they actually do innovate, do research, give credit where credit is due?

        Exactly. Like remember Talisman from siggraph '96? That would have rocked if micro$oft hadn't screwed the pooch on execution. Kudos.

      • They're throwing money from their (legal) monopoly on OS's and office suites into other markets to attempt to extend their monopoly (illegal). No, I'm not going to give them any kudos. If they would stop trying to put everybody else out of business the computing world would by a lot more fun.

      • MS Research is by far the biggest contributor to graphics in the corporate world.

        Because they can afford to.

        And I'm happy MS is funding good work that gets published in the open literature.

        Microsoft is just like Bell Labs used to be. A wonderful place to work, full of smart people, funded by a monopoly that dominates its market and is resented for it by squashed competitors and unhappy hostages.

    • Microsoft did not have a booth at Siggraph. They have not had a booth for the last 3 Siggraphs.
  • by GeorgeMcBay (106610) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:40PM (#10039549)
    Pixar has made a pretty good amount of money off the sale of Renderman. Why give up that revenue stream?

    Then we get into the issue of patents. A lot of code these companies produce includes patented algorithms which would disqualify the code from even being released under a lot of Open Source licenses to begin with, not to mention the fact that the companies don't want anyone else using these algorithms anyway...

    I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for big OSS projects to come out of any of these studios...

    • > Pixar has made a pretty good amount of money off
      > the sale of Renderman. Why give up that revenue
      > stream?

      Because that's not their core business; taking a risk with 5% of your revenue stream that could pay off against the 95% is a gamble worth considering.

      And open sourcing part of their technology (e.g. PRMan) doesn't mean they'd have to give up the entire revenue stream, not by a long shot: those that now pay for PRMan would likely continue to pay for development, bug fixes, and other support
    • Then we get into the issue of patents. A lot of code these companies produce includes patented algorithms which would disqualify the code from even being released under a lot of Open Source licenses to begin with

      That is a problem trivial to deal with. Relocate your special effects shop to Canada, Europe, or -- should those two be Finlandized by the United State's expansion of patent law to include mathematics, software, and business models and cave completely -- South America or the far east.

      Software an
  • by furiousgeorge (30912) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:40PM (#10039551)
    As somebody who works in 3D graphics, there are so many things wrong with this I don't even know where to start.

    You just don't get it.

    Damn zealots are boring.

    I'll take one example:

    "case in point, ExLuna: their lawyers summarily killed what was the best chance in years of having a RenderMan"

    Um - no. PIXAR killed ExLuna. They sued them into the ground. Then even took the nasty step of not only suing the company, but suing the founder (Larry Gritz) and others. Hello - software patents? And even though ExLuna claimed they weren't violating them, it was easier to settle than fight with somebody who could/did crush them like a bug.

    (FYI - ILM considers OpenEXR to be a big failure. They've gotten pretty much zero contributions back from anybody. It's only take take take. It still helps ILM because they're getting most other packages to implement the format so they can make their pipeline more unified, but whether that was more or less effort that open sourcing the package in the first place is subject to debate).

    I'm not even going to refute the rest of your points because it's a waste of time. You don't get it.
    • > Um - no. PIXAR killed ExLuna. They sued them into the ground.

      what's your point here?, that's exactly what the article says....
    • > As somebody who works in 3D graphics

      As do I.

      > there are so many things wrong with this I don't even know where to start.

      Please try.

      > Um - no. PIXAR killed ExLuna. They sued them into the ground.

      As others have mentioned, that was my point. I'm at fault for constructing a terribly poor sentence ("they" was meant to refer to Pixar). I don't see how their actions helped themselves directly or indirectly, and the entire industry got to see them being -- as you said -- nasty and selfish. That d
    • by dhess (65762) on Monday August 23, 2004 @06:22AM (#10042733)
      furiousgeorge wrote:

      (FYI - ILM considers OpenEXR to be a big failure. They've gotten pretty much zero contributions back from anybody. It's only take take take. It still helps ILM because they're getting most other packages to implement the format so they can make their pipeline more unified, but whether that was more or less effort that open sourcing the package in the first place is subject to debate).

      Speak for yourself, it is simply not true that ILM considers OpenEXR to be a failure of any kind. We have received contributions from the open source community. The initial version of OpenEXR didn't support Win32, for example, yet 3 days after we released it, there was a port to Win32 which we later incorporated into the main code base.

      Billy Biggs has written a useful collection of OpenEXR tools [scanline.ca] and made them available as open source.

      Cinepaint supports the format and there's at least one other open source project which, last I talked to them, is rewriting its entire image processing pipeline to deal with floating-point pixels, inspired in part by OpenEXR.

      Pixar donated code for a new compressor to the project and made it available under our modified BSD-like license.

      I will admit that I would have liked to see more VFX houses following Pixar's lead and making contributions, esp. in the form of plugins for various commercial packages, but overall I'm very happy with the support we've gotten from the community in general. Many commercial packages support the format now, or will in their next version, so that's basically a moot point now, anyway.

      OpenEXR's success as an open source project isn't judged solely on the number of contributions made, either; it's really all about its acceptance in the industry, and it's doing pretty well in that category. There were several goals in releasing OpenEXR as open source. The main one, from ILM's perspective, was to get support from commercial packages so we didn't have to write and maintain our own plugins. That's already happening, and that alone will save more developer time in the long run than it took to package OpenEXR as an open source project.

      Another positive, yet unforseen, outcome that's shaping up is interest in using OpenEXR as an exchange format between post houses. This is something that ILM is currently working on, with valuable input from the community. There was a BOF covering this topic at SIGGRAPH; the initial proposal can be found here [openexr.com]. In today's climate of multiple post houses working simultaneously on movie productions, exchanging files and managing color information between houses is a big PITA. There's a lot of excitement about using OpenEXR for this and, in the process, preserving HDR data, which is not possible with DPX (not to the extent that it is with OpenEXR, anyway). Something like this wouldn't have been possible if we hadn't open-sourced OpenEXR.

      So, in summary, it's simply not true to say that ILM considers OpenEXR to be a "big failure." We regard it as a pretty big success.

      -dwh-

    • It was obvious that the author meant that Pixar's lawyers killed ExLuna. That was the point. That was the only point, right there...that a lawyer's point of view rather than a technologists point of view led Pixar to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

      In terms of "whether that was more or less effort", comparing the open sourcing to the uptake of the format...it was because of the open sourcing that the format became ubiquitous.

      Sorry, all, if I've been trolled...
  • by bhouston (788429) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:46PM (#10039575)
    A few of us from Frantic Films Software [franticfilms.com] wrote up summary of SIGGRAPH 2004 for CgChannel [cgchannel.com] this past Thursday. It touches on many of the same topics in a slightly different light -- although not at all on open source in the industry.

    I understand that open source is a hard sell for VFX companies. Most specifically while at SIGGRAPH I heard Steve Sullivan from ILM [ilm.com] speak (at a discussion panel [siggraph.org]) about how even though they have had many users of OpenEXR [openexr.com] and wide community adoption of the technology they have had very few people from other VFX companies contribute back to its future development. Steve said that ILM pretty much had to write version 2.0 of OpenEXR by themselves. Thus in effect they have had the problem of many people free riding on their large effort.

    Thus for us [franticfilms.com], while we do plan on releasing smaller tools open source (similar to some of my past open source projects: ExoEngine [exocortex.org] and Exocortex.DSP [exocortex.org]), ILM's experience with a large costly open source endeavor scares me away from trying this with a larger project -- at least for the time being.

    -ben
    • According to their website, it was released approximately a year and a half ago.

      Depending on the complexity of a project, it can take a LONG time before "outside" contributors see something that needs to be changed, AND feel confident enough in their understanding of the code to change it.

      Just look at the Netscape source release - I'd say it took 4-5 YEARS before the Mozilla project became mature enough to actually produce something worth anything. (See the nightmare known as Netscape 6 and its Mozilla e
  • by SpootFinallyRegister (787720) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @05:53PM (#10039600)
    yes, writing the same thing over and over again is silly.

    then again, when everything only has to be written once, its a lot harder to find someone to pay you to write anything. this is unfortunate for those of us who have no problem producing free software, but have slightly less enlightened landlords, loan officers, and grocers.

    • Flawed logic.There is sooooo much software yet to be written, so many fields where IT hasn't penetrated or where it can be further used. There is no need whatsoever of clutching to rewriting the same old round wheel over and over again. If all common ground were covered today, there would still be jobs for every software developer alive.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 22, 2004 @06:48PM (#10039857)
    "If we can do hair and our competitors can't, we'll make better films then they can (and, if it's a visual effects studio, we'll win contracts based on that unique ability).

    Bull honkus. If your competitors need hair, they'll write hair software, no problem."

    First of all, let me address the "no problem" part of that -- it's not that easy, bub. I've worked in the industry for over a decade and these things can't just be whipped up. It takes years to perfect systems like hair, crowds, water, or fire -- even a basic lighting pipeline and tool can years to get working nicely.

    Granted, knowledge trickles from place to place, either by people moving around or by publishing papers (mostly the former). But whipping up a whole new fluid dynamics simulator overnight.. it just doesn't work that way, even when you know what you're doing.

    And there is competitive advantage to these systems, no bull. Maybe not for Pixar, since they control their creative product from end to end, but definitely for companies that bid for work. The company that has developed the most streamlined system for doing a particular kind of effect often gets those jobs. When it comes down to bidding, the company with the most efficient existing pipeline will win. Someone who has to develop it from scratch often won't. Why do you think R+H has gotten EVERY talking animal job since "Babe"? It's not just the talent, it's the process, tools and pipeline. Giving away those three in open source is essentially giving away a market. One of your artists, who you've trained on the toolset, could easily start a new company and take away your bread and butter.

    And why are you using OpenEXR as the proof? OpenEXR is a file format that ILM wants mainstream developers to support. It's not Yoda's cloth simulator. It's not the water shader from "Perfect Storm". There's nothing to lose by releasing OpenEXR. There's a ton to lose by releasing my other examples.

    Finally, let me just say that the Linux transition has not been easy. There is currently no good solution out there to replace SGI's hole. Linux has zero support from mainstream apps like Photoshop, Quicktime, etc. -- and even SGI had those for a time. And to go down the route of Mac is kinda like joining up with another SGI... a niche player.

    In principle, I see what you're saying.. but in the end it is a business. If every business gave away everything they built, that would be called communism. That just ain't hollywood's bag, baby.

    • " If every business gave away everything they built, that would be called communism. That just ain't hollywood's bag, baby.'

      Didn't you pay attention in the 50/60s? Hollywood is Communist!
    • In principle, I see what you're saying.. but in the end it is a business. If every business gave away everything they built, that would be called communism.

      No that would NOT be communism. Communism is a scheme which abolishes inequalities in the possession of property, as by distributing all wealth equally to all, or by holding all wealth in common for the equal use and advantage of all.

      Free software does NOT change the possession of property. It establishes a license which allows participation and

    • Piece by piece is the answer. Perhaps OpenEXR hasn't been a raging success for ILM, but it provides one tiny piece. Slowly but surely others will release pieces, however tiny. Others will release early and often on new pieces they start to write, and sometimes they will hit on others work who are working on similar things and who want to go in the same direction. Some pieces will become the standard/most popular but soon enough everything will be covered, then while R+H might still be getting talkin

  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Sunday August 22, 2004 @07:00PM (#10039929) Journal
    The problem is patents.

    It's an unmitigated disaster. If I was to release the color correction tools I use at Hammerhead as Open Source software, for instance, there is no small chance that I would be sued by somebody, or more likely several somebodies, for infringements on their color correction patents. This kind of stuff is patented out the wazoo, and (unfortunately) the only thing that keeps the patent monster at bay is the fact that everybody does work secretly. That, and the fact that Hammerhead is so small that it's not worth suing. Note well that studios are sued over almost every successful movie they make by people alleging the most tenuous copyright infrigement. A typical example is here. [groklaw.net]

    Publishing open source software does have a tremendous advantage, though, in that it is a perfect vector for publishing information that could be used as prior art when trying to defend against other patents -- so open-source is a two-edged sword (or maybe a sword that is honed sharp at both ends.)

    Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a solution. It might not be impossible to have anonymous open-source, with guaranteed anonymity provided much the same way the Cypherpunks' MixMaster remailer network works. That way, one could contribute to open-source projects, and share the benefits of your work with others, without exposing yourself to patent suits.

    I'm not sure how one would do this, and the network of visual effects studios might be too small -- and the coding styles of the few hundred programmers might be too distinctive -- to have this work, but it could be interesting.

    Thad Beier

    • Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a solution. It might not be impossible to have anonymous open-source, with guaranteed anonymity provided much the same way the Cypherpunks' MixMaster remailer network works. That way, one could contribute to open-source projects, and share the benefits of your work with others, without exposing yourself to patent suits.

      This protects the authors of the code, but if I understand correctly, a user could still be sued for using a product that infringes someone's patents. The r

  • Hm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by captaineo (87164) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @07:15PM (#10039995)
    I highly doubt Pixar would just throw away the $10 million they make annually from PRMan..

    I think there is room in the market for a lower-cost or open-source drop-in replacement, but it's a chicken-and-egg problem. Studios cannot use a renderer that is not "production-quality" (by which I mean all the tiny little corner cases and rarely-used code paths have been fully debugged). But it takes years for software to mature to that point. (when you get PRMan you aren't paying for the renderer itself as much as you are paying for ~20 years of bug-fixing). I have tried every alternative RenderMan-compatible renderer I could get my hands on, and while some show a lot of promise, I always find a couple of show-stopper problems that make it impossible to switch.

    Again I must emphasize that a production renderer is 10% features and 90% "polish." Many of the alternative renderers have more buzzword features than PRMan (e.g. automatic ambient occlusion baking, automatic network texture caching), but turn out to be completely unusable when you hit an untested corner case (e.g. stuff breaks when you turn on depth of field, or you get pathological memory usage with large motion blur, or the shader compiler has bugs, etc).

    The question is, can you convince 3D studios to invest tens of millions of dollars in labor over several years in the hope of replacing something that already exists? I think the time horizon and cost of that investment make it a difficult business case.
    • by Lumpy (12016)
      Studios cannot use a renderer that is not "production-quality"

      really??

      then explain why Pixar used a last minute change to the hair system in Monsters Inc.

      or the fact they started nemo BEFORE they even started development on the water system they wanted...

      studios, espically Pixar, work on beta and alpha level software all the time, that is the only WAY to do what they do. you can not make a cutting edge animation film by sitting there going "nope cant make that film, nobody has tested their snow animat
  • by labratuk (204918) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @07:17PM (#10040009)
    Studios are not going to just open source and give out all their code. Even if they did, they'd be huge and confusing to the open source world and nobody would know how to use it. We'd have another Netscape/Gecko/Mozilla thing.

    If you want to have open source 3d tools (which there are already), you've got to work from the other end. Creating your own. Taking on the studios at their own game. Growing up between their toes.

    If you're a graphics nerd, don't sit around pining like this, start using/hacking on blender [blender.org] and yafray [yafray.org]. They are already seriously good and getting better by the day. If they don't meet your requirements yet, start using them and they soon will with all the extra attention. Besides, half the "really cool" stuff done/needed by 'professional' 3d artists are implemented in custom scripted things. Blender's fully python scriptable. Has been for a long time.
  • does this not count anymore? the gallery on their website is filled with feature films that use them, many of which I didn't realize had CG in it at all. I know that many of the software packages mentioned on other platforms are awesome, but aren't many for cartoon 3d animations? I'm not a 3d guru by any means and would like to hear what you all think about 3d studio max.

    as a side note, I work in a tv studio in a high school and need to work 3d into the curriculum. I know a school that some students w
    • Re:3d studio max (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MrAndrews (456547) * <mcm@NOspaM.1889.ca> on Sunday August 22, 2004 @09:01PM (#10040654) Homepage
      I can relate what I learned from my experiences: there are a great many 3D artists that know 3DS Max inside out, and they can produce the most amazing things you've ever seen... but once you get to big renderfarms and big studios, they see it more as a kiddie program than a real 3D app...

      Also, as for the gallery on the website... as a friend of mine said, if the animators used 3DS Max for adding a lens flare to a single scene in a movie, they'd be able to claim 3DS Max was used for the movie. Which is why virtually every single major 3D app can claim ownership of every major VFX movie in the past decade :)

      In short: learn 3DS Max, because it has a great community for learning... if you want a proper job, learn Lightwave or Maya.
      • In short: learn 3DS Max, because it has a great community for learning... if you want a proper job, learn Lightwave or Maya.
        Bullcrap. Learn whatever works for you. Once you learn the basic concepts of working with 3d programs, you find that they're mostly just different ways of doing the same thing. When you have one down, it's basically just a matter of learning new hotkeys.
        • Bullcrap. Learn whatever works for you.

          I'd say we're saying the same thing here. If you've got a copy of 3DS Max sitting around, then go down that route now. You'll get the fundamentals, and probably have an easier time getting support on the web for your common problems.

          However, if you're looking to hop into a job that involves 3D, or you don't have a particular app already, then go with Lightwave or Maya. Because it's what you'll be using down the road (or at least, closer to it).

          It's not that 3D

          • So what if you learn Maya but end up working in a Lightwave house? It doesn't matter what you learn, you will have to learn something different at some point anyways. I don't know of ANY CG artists who have gone their entire career on one package.
            • I don't know of ANY CG artists who have gone their entire career on one package.

              I would agree, but I don't how how we're actually disagreeing with each other. My point was that picking the first app you learn is a question of where you want to go. If you want to do heavy CG for a big house, your safer bet is to learn Maya or Lightwave. If you're unsure, then anything works. You will have to learn more than one package sometime during your career, but being an inexperienced CG artist who will require l

              • Companies don't give a damn what package you learned on. What matters is your output. If you have the talent, they will hire you.
                • Companies always give a damn what package you know well, especially if there are other candidates that produce great output and know the package the company has invested in. It's not a great idea to apply for a Linux server admin job with only Windows experience, even though you could pick up Linux with only a little effort. Unless you're a genius at 3D, you should make an effort to learn the industry standards.

                  Thank you for this little back-and-forth. It's making the jet lag so much more enjoyable.

                  • It is all about skill. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you can do the job and do it better than someone else, you will get the job. This doesn't even begin to call up a Linux/Windows argument because those are two entirely separate worlds that behave completely different. As much as 3d software differs, it is still the same underlying principles in each one just with a different implementation. A better example would be Win2k/Longhorn or even Gentoo/Fedora. If you have the skills on one, it's a simple transi
    • 3ds Max is HORRIFYINGLY bad at handling large scenes. It is rarely used directly for effects work, but it's probably the most popular tool for pre-visualization. This is probably why it was used in a lot of movies where there was no CG at all. It is also used for title sequences quite a bit.
  • While it's a nice idea, it doesn't work that way: if someone has hair rendering NOW, then they have an advantage for the months that they've had it and the others don't... and if they have it now, they can keep refining it and making it better while the other guys are just finishing their first versions.

    Even if you said that they should release it when someone else creates their own (since they lose the competitive advantage), it's still in their best interests to keep until most of the big production hous
  • by Stalus (646102) on Sunday August 22, 2004 @10:05PM (#10040989)
    So, I think you went to a different siggraph than I did, because a lot of your facts are bogus. First off, a lot of the sessions I went to had majority Windows users. I sure did see a lot of powerbooks around though. Frankly, most stuff that uses new architectures for real-time rendering only works well on windows. We have some algorithms in our lab for the new nVidia cards that can only be run in a Windows environment.

    And most of it is all the same stuff. Dozens of topics -- and every studio pretty much has pretty similar, rather redundant code to do 'em all.

    Not exactly. If you listened to a lot of these talks, they said that they based there system on X paper. They all added their own elements to get what they wanted. They are NOT the same algorithms, it is NOT the same code. The LOTR guys said something like "Well, we call it this because that's what it started as, but it's not really that." The systems differ depending on artistic qualities desired, infrastructure, workflow differences, resolution required, speed... This stuff isn't redundant code. These differences are a great competitive advantage.

    Why should you get the studio that did the effects for the Matrix or Day After Tomorrow when everyone has the same abilities? It would be really stupid for them to give up this advantage. Yes, great for random Joe that wants to make great looking graphics, but stupid for people that do this for a living and rely on these advantages to feed their families. And don't expect university researchers to write this stuff for you, because their code generally isn't commercially usable.

    OpenEXR is *the* format for high-dynamic-range images

    The entire point of one of the later talks on HDR was that there isn't an agreed upon, good format for HDR images. So, no, it's isn't *the* format for HDR images. It is *a* format.

    Well, it could begin with open source projects becoming valuable to studios, as started happening with Gimp

    People in the graphics community still complain that gimp doesn't measure up. I don't know why open source zealots seem to think everyone loves it.

    • People in the graphics community still complain that gimp doesn't measure up. I don't know why open source zealots seem to think everyone loves it.

      That's an easy one. Because most of them have never used Photoshop. Look at all the work Disney put into making Photoshop run under Wine. There's a reason for that. Gimp sucks for anything more than making a new background or a couple of banner ads. I *HIGHLY* doubt that any company is using plain Gimp for ANYTHING. Like the Cinepaint site says, R&H uses

      • I'm a graphics lay person (proof on my website -- no graphics), but even I knew the moment I openned GIMP that it was useless for most everything I'd wanted Photoshop for.

        I still get a graphics pro friend of mine to do all my graphics work for me, in Photoshop et. al.
  • The article seems a little off in what it says. First of all, I would imagine the ability to create new techniques quckly and with the best results is one of the main selling points for CG companies. For instance, with Perfect Storm, ILM had to write the water effects program from stratch. A lot of research and development had to go into this program. I don't think this is something that ILM really wants to give away for free and it certainly wasn't something that was simple to create. Also, I think th
  • OpenSceneGraph (http://www.openscenegraph.org [openscenegraph.org]) had a pretty good showing at SIGGraph. I attended the BOF (Birds of a Feather) meeting, and presented what my company [3dnature.com] has done [3dnature.com] with it.

    OSG as it is known is a modified LGPL -- modified to allow code to be included in commercial projects via C++ inline functions, which technically would violate the pure-LGPL stipulation of dynamic-linking only.

    OSG is an excellent example of the marriage of commercial/proprietary software and Open Source. Tons of people [sourceforge.net] use OSG

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