Lucasfilm, Sony Pictures Imageworks and VFX Development

This is just something I came across when looking at the sort of software that the industry uses today within more of the big budget films, studios and companies. It’s particularly interesting for people like us as we’re moving into the industry because it’s challenging a problem that has come up a lot within looking at how people use to work traditionally when working with VFX or animations. When you look at trying to get a lot of different people on one piece of work it’s difficult to get it to everyone within a certain time frame and of high quality.
Here they speak about a software and method in development in order to improve this issue as well as sort out a lot of issues. What’s most important to us is that with this being so well-developed, there’s a possibility that we’ll one day be able to get much more impressive work out there as well as the ability to work on more things as it’ll be much easier to pass assets, data and information from place to place globally.

Alembic is in use on The Avengers, Men in Black 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man.

VANCOUVER — Lucasfilm and Sony Pictures Imageworks released an open source system aimed at helping VFX companies easily store and share complex animated scenes across facilities, regardless of what software is being used. The launch occurred Tuesday at annual CG confab Siggraph.
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Development of Alembic, a computer graphics interchange format, was first announced a year ago at Siggraph. The version 1.0 software-now available for download–includes newly announced features aimed at efficiencies, including automatic data de-duplication, which the companies said can result in the use of less disk space.

“If you compare Alembic performance to the best performance we had available to us at Sony Pictures Imageworks, we are seeing a 48 percent saving-48 percent faster and less disc space-and just a 48 percent faster experience for our artists. If you compare it to the best the rest of the industry had as a standard … we are actually 99.8 percent faster,” Rob Bredow, chief technology officer at Imageworks, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Imageworks used Alembic on recent projects including The Smurfs, and is using it on currently projects Men in Black 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man. “The most compelling part of the Alembic story is you can get more done in a day of work. [Artists] can get right to the artistic part.” Bredow said, adding that the use of Alembic would be incorporated into upcoming projects. “That changes what you can put on the screen.”

Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light + Magic is currently using Alembic for their work on The Avengers. “There’s a lot of shots. There’s lots of characters, and we really needed something like this to make it feasible — not just in San Francisco, but the Lucasfilm Singapore studio is doing a sizable portion of the work as well,” Tommy Burnette, head of global pipeline at Lucasfilm, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Leading software suppliers have started to work on Alembic support. This week at Siggraph, Autodesk is showing Alembic support in its Maya software and intends to include support in its 2012 Subscription Advantage Pack; Luxology is offering a technical preview of support in its Modo; The Foundry is planning native support in its Katana, which enters its beta test stage in September; and Side Effects is releasing its Houdini 11.1 release this week with Alembic support.

Additional suppliers that have been talking with Imageworks and Lucasfilm about the Alembic initiative include NVIDIA and Pixar Animation Studio’s Renderman.

So what is Alembic?

Alembic is an open computer graphics interchange framework. Alembic distills complex, animated scenes into a non-procedural, application-independent set of baked geometric results. This ‘distillation’ of scenes into baked geometry is exactly analogous to the distillation of lighting and rendering scenes into rendered image data.

Alembic is focused on efficiently storing the computed results of complex procedural geometric constructions. It is very specifically NOT concerned with storing the complex dependency graph of procedural tools used to create the computed results. For example, Alembic will efficiently store the animated vertex positions and animated transforms that result from an arbitrarily complex animation and simulation process which could involve enveloping, corrective shapes, volume-preserving simulations, cloth and flesh simulations, and so on. Alembic will not attempt to store a representation of the network of computations (rigs, basically) which are required to produce the final, animated vertex positions and animated transforms.

The production ready version of Alembic 1.0 was announced at Siggraph 2011 and released on August 9th, 2011 by Lucasfilm and Sony Pictures Imageworks with support from major vendors including Autodesk, Side Effects Software, The Foundry, Luxology, Pixar’s Renderman and NVidia.

Home Page: http://alembic.io/
Project Page: http://code.google.com/p/alembic/
Language: C++, Python
Platform: Linux, OSX, Windows
License: New BSD License
Sponsor: Sony Pictures Imageworks, Lucasfilm”

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