Lucasfilm, Imageworks Release Alembic 1.0

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The public release of Alembic 1.0, the open source project developed jointly by Sony Pictures Imageworks and Lucasfilm Ltd., was announced at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver, BC yesterday. Alembic is a computer graphics interchange format 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.

Version 1.0 includes automatic data de-duplication. The software automatically recognizes repeated shapes in complicated geometry and only writes a single instance to disk, using dramatically less disk space than promised without requiring any extra steps on the part of the user and improving 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%.

“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,” said Rob Bredow, CTO of Sony Pictures Imageworks. “By releasing Alembic as an Open Source project, users have the opportunity to improve the software based on their needs and experience.” “Alembic is giving us space efficiencies beyond our most optimistic expectations and at effectively the same time cost as before,” added Lucafilm’s head of global pipeline Tommy Burnette, “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.”

Alembic’s code base is available for download on the project’s Google Code site (http://code.google.com/p/alembic/); more info can be found at www.alembic.io.

In related news, it’s been reported that ILM is planning to launch a project-based facility in Vancouver next spring. Healthy tax incentives have made Vancouver an ideal spot for visual effects and animation studios planning to build a new hub up north and following in the footsteps of Digital Domain, Pixar, MPC and Sony Pictures Imageworks.