Why Pixar open sourced its 3D graphics technology

Runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and CentOS.

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Credit: Kirill Proskurin/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Pixar Animation Studios has open sourced its Universal Scene Description (USD) technology. USD is an extremely powerful toolset that helps filmmakers in reading, writing, editing, and rapidly previewing 3D scene data.

“USD is the core of Pixar's 3D graphics pipeline, used in every 3D authoring and rendering application, including Pixar's proprietary Presto animation system,” according to Pixar. 

USD is aimed at performance and large-scale collaboration among many artists that makes it ideal for the complex modern pipeline, allowing dozens of creative people working on the same project.

One of the most notable features of USD is Hydra, a high-performance preview renderer capable of interactively displaying large data sets.

Pixar engineers gave a live demo of USD at SIGGRAPH 2016, International Conference and exhibition on Computer Graphics & Interactive Techniques. The demo shows real time rendering capabilities of USD technologies.

The demo was produced on a System76 laptop running Red Hat Enterprise Linux with Gnome desktop environment. System76 is one of the few companies that sell Ubuntu pre-installed machines.

Why open source USD?

Open source is becoming a norm for software development. There is a growing trend among companies to open source their technologies. Open Source allows companies to attract outside talent; they can benefit from the work of engineers who work for direct competitors. At the same time open source helps in creating a kind of industry standard where different companies collaborate on and adopt the same technology.

Disney, the owner of Pixar says on its open source website:

Open Source Software has a special meaning for Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS). Allowing Open Source Software to become a common foundation for many technologies, WDAS has championed the use of and now contributes to such software. In short, we want to contribute back to the community; therefore, we have established this platform. We encourage you to investigate and use the technologies we are sharing. We also very much welcome your collaboration and contribution in these areas.

"We believe that being open with our technology and sharing it with our peers in the industry is how we can best continue to drive innovation,” said Ed Catmull, President, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. “It's in that spirit that we're happy to be opening up USD.”

Commenting on the larger benefit of open source to the community, Damien Fagnou, Global Head of VFX Operations for MPC Film said, “USD is an amazing opportunity for both software vendors and VFX companies; this type of common open standard drives the industry to greater innovation by focusing development and leveraging a wide community of artists and developers.”

Where is the code?

Pixar has published the source code of USD on its GitHub page. Linux is the only supported platform at the moment. USD has been built and tested on CentOS 7 and RHEL 7. If you are running either of the two platforms, you can easily build and test USD. Pixar is also inviting contributors to the project.

That’s the whole point of open source: collaboration and contribution.

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