The open libraries of Hollywood

At this year’s FMX there was a talk „Open Source Software in the Motion Picture Industry – An Investigation by the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences”. In a full room David Morin presented the results of a survey about Open Source libraries in use in the Motion Picture Industry right now, from a survey done with big studios, software vendors, developers and CTOs – including a live Q&A with the FMX audience.
FMX 2017 „Open Source Software in the Motion Picture Industry – An Investigation by the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences”
FMX 2017 „Open Source Software in the Motion Picture Industry – An Investigation by the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences”

David Morin is chairman of the Joint Technology Subcommittee on Virtual Production, past co-chair of the ASC-ADG-VES Joint Technology Subcommittee on Previsualization and he organized the first Academy Summit on Open Source Software on behalf of the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
David earned a B.Sc.A. in computer science from Laval University (Quebec City, Canada) and has participated in the deve­lopment of motion capture and 3D software at companies such as Softimage, Microsoft, Avid Technology and Autodesk. Today he is president of David Morin, LLC, a consultancy specialising in immersive production, wor­king with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He works from Los Ange­les, California.

DP: When you did the survey for Academy of Motion Picture Arts, what was its goal?
David Morin: This survey was initiated by the Science and Technology Council, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences under the leadership of Rob Bredow, an Academy member who is also CTO of LucasFim. It was – basically – as a survey on Open Source Software (OSS) libraries. The reason we felt that this has become necessary was that
Libraries such as OpenEXR and Alembic and OpenSubDiv are used a lot in the production of movies, either inside products like Maya and Nuke or directly by production facilities in their various pipelines and in-house tools. The number of libraries has been growing, as well as the number of versions that are in use for each of the libraries. There have been some problems in production with OSS libraries, and the Academy wants to see if it could and should help – therefore the survey. As we did that, we discovered more about the vibrant OSS Community, the large number of libraries used in today’s pipelines, and it has been very helpful to gather information and to inform the decision how the Academy should react to it. This decision hasn’t been made, we are just gathering data so far.

DP: What could the Academy do?
David Morin: The range of possible actions after the survey is basically running the gamut between „Do nothing, open source is fine“ at one extreme and the other extreme is „There are problems the Academy can solve, and it should put together an organization that will solve those problems“.
Other suggestions were that the Academy could host a forum for all VFX- and Movie-People to exchange information, links, and resources. Or we should work together with an outside Foundation that has experience and a community that can help with the day-to-day challenges of Open Source Software.

DP: If you would work together with foundations for open source software, would the „special requirements“ of the VFX- and Studio-Industry be compatible with general IT-Solutions?
David Morin: I think so. For one, the VFX-Studios already use a lot of „general” IT Open Source Systems – databases, file hand­ling, Programming Languages and so forth. What we are talking about are the libraries that are developed specifically for the Motion Picture Business. And there is a number of examples of big foundations – such as the Linux foundation, the Apache Foundation and the Eclipse Foundation – that are providing customised environments for certain markets. For example, the Linux foundation has a big initiative around the car industry – they provide an open source environment for developments in that industry, called the Automotive Grade Linux (AGL).

DP: One big problem with the Motion Picture industry is constant change – but Open Source Libraries often „die“ – in the sense that they are no longer maintained, the owner or developer abandons the project and the last update is a decade
ago. How could the Academy handle something like that?
David Morin: That is one thing to be solved – some of the most important libraries could be transferred to an organization that would own them and have the responsibility to manage them. This problem of ownership – either of losing an owner, or having an owner who is busy with other projects is one of the many problems we are facing. Thankfully so far, with the most important libra­ries the departing owner has been replaced by someone else – but we could do better. One solution for that could be a “Badge of Honour“ System, to incentivize companies to support OSS libraries. But I think, the better incentive is money. It is important to get an understanding of the unique challenges of “free” Open Source Software: The cost of development – the work hours of your programmers, user testing, Q&A and so forth – makes time the currency – in regards to fixing problems or enhancing libra­ries or upgrading – all this requires time. Any solution for those problems will require an investment from somewhere. When a company assigns someone to use or develop an OSS library, they take this person’s time away from something closer to the revenue stream of the company. So, often we found that shining a light on the value of Open Source Software, and positive reinforcement gets the company to say „Ok, we are very busy, but we will do something about the update of this library“. And with this process of the Academy doing a survey, it has in fact revived some OSS libraries that might have been lagging behind a bit – the simple fact of asking questions about it raised the priority of the work. We don‘t know where this will lead, but having a discussion was a great first step to rally everyone and share the understanding – and the value – of Open Source Software.

DP: In your talk, you showed the preliminary data about the most used libraries – in fifth place came an open standard that the Academy developed itself: ACES, the Academy Color Enco­ding System. Do you think that the Academy Logo and name in the title could help promote libraries, and therefore guide further development?
David Morin: Great question. ACES was developed by the Science and Technology Council of the Academy because there is a need for a standard to manage colour through the life cycle of movie and tv production. The goal was to develop a standard for the industry to use – and to see ACES coming up in this survey was interesting. If you think about it: Aces Version 1.0 was released just a couple of years ago, and it is already almost in mainstream use. People and companies use ACES because it is useful, but the attached label does not hurt – As for mentioning or endorsing other libraries through the Academy: That is a possibility, but we are far from any decision.

DP: Obviously during the survey, you talked – both in the forms and in person – to a lot of different studios, vendors, producers, CTOs and freelancers all over the industry. With that in mind, could you give us some tips for implementing OSS libraries?
David Morin: Glad too! Firstly: Make sure you consult those two important resources and keep them close at hand: – it is an excellent place to see what already exists – and the great VFX Reference Platform from the Visual Effects Society at, which lists most of the OSS libraries used in movie production today, and which versions are recommended to use right now.
Secondly: Read the license agreement in its entirety. Don‘t skip it or just skim over it – every software, commercial or open source, has a license agreement, and make sure you understand what you are signing. If you are only starting out, do your research – that invested time will help you down the line.
Thirdly: If you are a vendor who is relea­sing an application, a studio who is buil­ding a pipeline or anything else in between: make sure that you have a well-defined and structured development process – when you commit to an open source library, approach it is a living project, and plan to stay on top of future developments, upgrades, and changes. Adhere to good software develop­ment practice, and make sure that you are not limiting your future developments by using too many workarounds and getting locked into any particular version. If you are in charge of software development, make it easy for your engineers to use OSS libraries so that they don‘t do that in secret – if you are developing software, you probably are using OSS libraries already, so getting acquainted with the process and the licensing system isn’t that big of a stretch.
And a fourth tip: If you are developing with OSS, embrace the spirit – pretty much all libraries are on Github and have dedicated forums and message boards, where you can find answers to most of your questions – the community helping itself and each other is one of the major benefits of OSS.

DP: And with the survey itself: What will happen next?
David Morin: There was an Academy summit on Open Source Software in February, where some of the people who answered the survey got together and discussed the results and the potential actions to come. And during Siggraph 2017 we will hold a second meeting, where the state of the data – including the answers we gathered here at FMX – are going to be discussed. We are hoping to hear from existing Foundations about the type of service they could provide to help with Open Source in the Motion Pictures. The investigation continues.

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