Lucasfilm, Sony Pictures Imageworks launch VFX development

MUMBAI: Alembic 1.0, the open source project jointly developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks and Lucasfilm Ltd. has been released to the public.
Alembic is the computer graphics interchange format developed by the two entertainment giants last year and focused on efficiently storing and sharing animation and visual effects scenes across multiple software applications. It was designed to handle massive animation data sets often required in high-end visual effects and animation, which are routinely developed and produced by companies such as Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm Animation Ltd and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studios each saw the need for a tool like Alembic, something that would fit within existing pipelines and allow for customization at the facility level without impeding the ability to share work.

In addition to the features announced at last year’s SIGGRAPH, Alembic 1.0 includes automatic data de-duplication. The software automatically recognizes repeated shapes in complicated geometry and only writes a single instance to disk. This makes Alembic 1.0 use dramatically less disk space than promised without requiring any extra steps on the part of the user and can improve both write and read performance as well. In the case of hero deforming humanoid characters, including hair, shot caches have been reduced by more than 70%. For complex, deeply hierarchical and mostly rigid assets like the Transformers characters, tests have shown cache reduction in the order of 98%.
The code base for Alembic is available for download on the project’s Google Code site and more information can be found online at:
Joint development of Alembic was first announced at last year’s Siggraph by Lucasfilm’s visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The companies joined forces when it became apparent that they were independently developing software designed to solve a problem universally faced by the visual effects and animation production community: how to easily share complex animated scenes across a variety of disciplines and facilities regardless of what software was being used.
Alembic includes tools that allow collaboration while working with a generic, extensible, data representation scheme. In essence, it distills complex and often proprietary, animated scenes into application-independent files with baked geometric results. These baked results can be fully re-importable across the range of supporting software.
“Alembic addresses a fundamental issue in a world where assets are shared across many companies. Alembic’s production-ready ability to seamlessly translate shapes across a wide variety of applications saves time and resources. By releasing Alembic as an Open Source project, users have the opportunity to improve the software based on their needs and experience. We’re really starting to feel the positive effects of Open Source, as a community of visual effects and animation professionals come together to solve problems more effectively today than ever before,” said Sony Pictures Imageworks CTO Rob Bredow.
“Alembic is giving us space efficiencies beyond our most optimistic expectations and at effectively the same time cost as before. This is sure to have a significant impact for anyone who uses the format and we are excited to be able to share this with the Open Source community. Previously each facility had to produce their own unique solutions to the problem of efficient caching and scene handoff, but the beauty of Open Source is that with strong collaborative efforts we can effectively provide solutions for everyone,” said Lucasfilm Ltd head of global pipeline Tommy Burnette.