Siggraph: Visual Effects Community Needs Funding to Develop Open Standards, SciTech Exec Says

At annual VFX confab, participants say standardization will save time and money.

VANCOUVER -- The global visual effects industry needs a set of open standards, but developing standards will require both funding and a mechanism through which decisions can be made.

That was the message that Ray Feeney -- co-chair of AMPAS’ Science and Technology Council and one of the SciTech industry leaders who has earned the Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award, an Oscar statuette – brought to Siggraph, the CG confab on Monday.

 “Those two things have to exist,” he warned. “It requires more than just volunteers.”

As Rob Bredow, chief technology officer at Sony Pictures Imageworks, explained, from its work on Green Lantern to The Smurfs, most every project that goes through Sony’s VFX studio involves collaboration with additional VFX houses.

Photos: Pixar's La Luna, Sony's Arthur Christmas Preview: Siggraph Animation Festival

While that sort of collaboration is common these days, so too is the problem that software, workflows and even naming conventions vary between facilities. That adds to both time and costs on a project.

During the panel session devoted to the need for standardization, Feeney provided an overview of the Image Interchange Framework (IIF), a SciTech Council open source initiative aimed at improving color management within pipelines and between facilities. The IIF effort is led by the SciTech Council and is supported by funding from AMPAS’ Board of Governors.

Also discussed during the panel was an open source initiative, dubbed Alembic, which aims to help VFX companies easily share complex animated scenes regardless of what software is being used. Imageworks and ILM co-developed and launched that initiative in 2010.

Both projects aim to break down barriers and in turn direct more production dollars toward the creative work itself.

“But these (open source development) projects always take longer than you think,” warned Feeney, admitting that the IIF initiative is approaching its seventh year.

IIF is currently going through the standardization process through global standards setting body Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).

To take off “it will require studios deciding this is the way they want their shows done,” Feeney said. “We are working with the studios and talking to their suppliers.”

For example, the last season of the series Justified used an IIF workflow. Feeney reported that 16 pilots have been made using IIF, and a couple of movie projects are underway that incorporate the Framework.

SPI and ILM are scheduled to discuss Alembic—which they are already using on projects at their facilities—at a joint press conference Tuesday at Siggraph, which runs through Thursday.