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Lucasfilm, Sony Pictures Imageworks Launch VFX Development

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.

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.