Tuesday, August 1st, 2023 Posted by Jim Thacker

Pixar and partners launch Alliance for OpenUSD

Five key players in the technology industry have launched the Alliance for OpenUSD (AOUSD), a new organisation to guide future development of Pixar’s open-source Universal Scene Description technology.

As well as Pixar itself, the founder members of the AOUSD are Adobe, Apple, Autodesk and Nvidia, with Epic Games, Foundry, SideFX and Unity all due to join as general members.

The project will be housed online by Linux Foundation affiliate the Joint Development Foundation.

The aims for the alliance include laying the groundwork for OpenUSD to become an international standard, and to expand it from an entertainment-industry technology to “embrace the needs of new industries”.

A standard for VFX and animation now being adopted outside the entertainment industry
Developed in-house at Pixar, and open-sourced in 2016, the Universal Scene Description has become a key part of current visual effects, feature animation and game development pipelines.

Now supported by nearly every major DCC software application, USD – officially renamed OpenUSD earlier this year – is also now being adopted outside the entertainment industry.

A key factor in this expansion has been Omniverse, AOUSD founder member Nvidia’s USD-based online 3D design and collaboration platform.

Last year, the firm announced an initiative to “expand USD’s capabilities beyond visual effects” to markets that Nvidia is targeting with Omniverse, including architecture, manufacturing and industrial digital twins.

Backed by many of the major players in CG software development
The founder members of the AOUSD are largely the same as the partners listed for that original initiative: Pixar, Autodesk, Adobe and Nvidia itself, plus Apple.

Incoming general members include Cesium, Epic Games, Foundry, SideFX and Unity.

Other technology firms can join the alliance, providing they are members of the Linux Foundation, and pay the $10,000/year general membership fee.

The AOUSD aims to evolve OpenUSD towards an international standard, and to broaden it out beyond its roots in VFX and animation, describing it as suitable for “large scale, industrial workflows”.

Overseeing OpenUSD’s development towards an international standard
The initial objectives for the AOUSD include developing written specifications for OpenUSD’s core features.

The work will enable “inclusion by other standards bodies into their specifications” – the first step towards making OpenUSD an international standard recognised by the ISO.

The alliance will also provide a forum for “collaborative definition of enhancements to the technology”.

Those enhancements seem likely to expand OpenUSD’s focus, with the AOUSD’s press release describing OpenUSD as an ideal platform to “embrace the needs of new industries”.

But is this actually a good thing for entertainment artists?
So how should entertainment artists view these changes? Will broadening OpenUSD to meet the needs of new industries benefit them directly, or simply bloat the format with features unnecessary for VFX work?

It’s a question that we put to AOUSD chair, Pixar CTO Steve May, at a press briefing ahead of today’s launch.

He acknowledged that the adoption of OpenUSD by other industries could be a “double-edged sword”, commenting: “It’s very exciting for us at Pixar, but it’s also a little bit scary.”

However, he argued that “the point of having the Alliance … is not to [let OpenUSD become unwieldy], and instead reap benefits from drawing in other industries”.

“The history of computer graphics, computer animation and visual effects is all about drawing from other industries,” he said. “I think if done properly, [this] will have great benefits.”

Read more about the new Alliance for Open USD on the organisation’s website