Post Magazine

January/February 2024

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WORKFLOW n the ever-evolving realm of visual e©ects and animation, innova- tion is the key to staying ahead of the curve. Universal Scene Description (USD) stands out as the next great shift in technology, promising a transformative impact on pipelines across the industry. However, its widespread adoption is yet to unfold. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of USD, exploring its history, functionality and why it represents the future of animation and VFX pipelines. Developed by Pixar Animation Studios, Universal Scene Description is an open- source file format designed to streamline the exchange of 3D graphics data among di©erent applications. Originally created as an internal tool for Pixar's animated feature films, USD has evolved into a versatile solution applicable to a broad spectrum of visual content creation. Some background USD traces its roots back to Pixar's need for a more e¬cient pipeline that could handle the vast amount of data it saw during the production of complex animated films, like Brave and Monsters University. Pixar's initial implementation addressed the challenge of managing massive datasets and facilitating collabo- ration among artists working on diverse aspects of a project. As the demand for richer, more intricate visual e©ects grew industry-wide, Pixar recognized the poten- tial for USD to become a standard in the broader VFX and animation community. In 2016, Pixar released USD as open source code with the hopes that it would become the gold standard for VFX pipe- lines. USD's core functionality revolves around providing a robust framework for representing, storing and exchanging 3D scene information. Unlike traditional pipelines that rely on proprietary file for- mats, USD uses a layer-based approach, allowing multiple layers of data to coexist in a single scene. This enables artists to work simultaneously on di©erent aspects of a project without conflicts. The traditional pipeline approach often involves dealing with multiple incompat- ible file formats, leading to data trans- fer challenges and ine¬ciencies. USD eliminates these bottlenecks by provid- ing a unified format that can be easily shared across di©erent applications, removing the need to re-make content or characters in di©erent file formats to serve di©erent tools and instead creates one file that any program can open and work with. Its versatility empowers artists to seamlessly integrate assets, whether they are working on modeling, texturing, lighting or animation. USD is the future One of USD's most significant advantag- es lies in its ability to facilitate collabora- tion among artists and departments. By breaking down the silos that often exist in traditional pipelines, USD encourages a more interconnected and collaborative creative process. This not only enhances e¬ciency, but also promotes a holistic approach to content creation. Its open architecture allows for seamless integra- tion with various software applications, making it a flexible and adaptive solution. Its compatibility with industry-standard software ensures that studios can transi- tion to USD without a complete overhaul of their existing infrastructure. USD's integration with popular game engines, including Unreal Engine, so- lidifies its role in the future of content creation, as the lines between games and feature films becomes increasingly blurred. Unreal Engine's support for USD enables studios to leverage realtime rendering and interactive experiences, pushing the boundaries of traditional filmmaking and opening up new possibil- ities for storytelling. Why isn't it everywhere already? The classic "chicken and egg" problem persists: studios are hesitant to adopt USD because it's not yet an indus- try standard, and it won't become a standard until more studios adopt it. Breaking this cycle requires collaboration across studios and a collective commit- ment to embrace new technologies. It's also down to the sheer amount of funding required to establish a ful- ly-fledged USD pipeline. Transitioning to USD involves an investment in software, training and infrastructure upgrades. Studios may be reluctant to make these investments without a clear guarantee of USD's universal adoption. The same is true of upskilling engineers and artists: implementing USD requires a certain level of technical expertise.´ But the shift to USD — or something like it — is inevitable. Companies need to invest in research, explore pilot projects, provide training programs and gradually integrating USD into existing workflows. In August 2023, Pixar helped to estab- lish the Alliance for Open USD to support and encourage wider adoption. And with partners like Adobe, Autodesk and Nvidia among the founding members, it's easy to see a quantum leap forward. And yet, a phased transition is the only way that we're going to move from the old-world way of doing things to the bright new future of interoperable scenes. By preparing for this transformation, studios can position themselves at the forefront of the next era in VFX and animation technology, ensuring a competitive edge in the rapidly evolving landscape of digital content creation. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT USD BY ROSS DELCONTE MANAGING DIRECTOR & CO-FOUNDER HERO NEXT DOOR WWW.WEAREHERO NEXTDOOR.COM IF THE SHIFT IS INEVITABLE, WHY IT IS TAKING SO LONG? I

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