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Hollywood formalizes support for open source in filmmaking

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences teams with the Linux Foundation to launch the Academy Software Foundation.

It's an interesting world that we live in. On August 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences—the same organization responsible for the Academy Awards (also known as the Oscars), not exactly an industry that's renowned for its openness—teamed up with the Linux Foundation to form the Academy Software Foundation (ASWF). The purpose of this organization is "to increase the quality and quantity of contributions to the content creation industry's open source software base." That's right; the film industry has put together an organization in support of open source software.

According to the ASWF, over 80% of the film production industry uses and even produces open source software, especially for visual effects and animation. Some very critical libraries and interchange formats like OpenEXR, OpenColorIO, and Alembic have been born directly from companies like Industrial Light and Magic and Sony ImageWorks.

The difficulty, however, is that these companies are focused on content creation, not software development. Sure, they write a lot of in-house code, but they don't really have the experience or facilities for managing an open source project that gets used by lots of folks outside their organization. Historically, if someone wants to contribute code to one of these projects, it's often a matter of knowing exactly which people to go through to contact a core (in some cases, the only) developer and get that code reviewed. And there's not any kind of uniformity in how the code is stored and versioned. Of course, there are also the intellectual property concerns of each of these companies and the legal overhead of reviewing open source licenses and determining whether they're "safe" for use by the company.

The idea is that the ASWF will become the umbrella organization for fostering these open source projects, much like the Apache Foundation does. There will be infrastructure in place to allow for more clear governance, issue tracking, code review, and testing. Fortunately, the Academy has not chosen to do all of this on its own. By teaming up with the Linux Foundation, it's able to use known and accepted platforms and processes to be good stewards of any project the foundation takes under its wing.

According to a presentation shared during this year's SIGGRAPH conference, code repositories will be hosted on GitHub, use Jenkins and Nexus Repository Manager for automation and continuous integration, and have much clearer processes for people to submit bug reports and pull requests. Even more important, any project that's accepted for inclusion in the ASWF will still maintain its autonomy when it comes to development. Core developers still decide what patches to include and even what license to release under, so long as it's OSI-approved.

The foundation hasn't yet announced any official projects under its management, but it's still early days. Prime candidates to start, though, look to be the libraries that were born from the industry. I would expect projects like OpenEXR, OpenVDB, and OpenColorIO to be first in line. We could also see Alembic, OpenSubdiv, and the Open Shading Language as candidates for inclusion. An overly eager observer might notice that Autodesk has someone on the ASWF's governing board. Perhaps there's hope for a future with an open source release of the FBX API.

It's not likely we'll see the ASWF covering any of the popular open source applications that are used for content creation, such as Blender, GIMP, Krita, or Inkscape. Those projects have been around long enough to have their own management structures and foundations in place. They're not likely to need (or want) the same kind of support that the library projects do. However, becausethose tools are open source and make heavy use of these libraries, it is possible that they could be used as reference platforms for testing and verification. It just requires opening a few communication channels between the ASWF and these application developers. Hopefully, some of those conversations have already started.

However things turn out, this is a pretty big deal. We're not going to see Hollywood movies released under a Creative Commons license anytime soon, but it's promising to see that open source software continues to be taken seriously in all kinds of industries, even ones where you might not normally expect to see it.

About Jason van Gumster 

Jason van Gumster mostly makes stuff up. He writes, animates, and occasionally teaches, all using open source tools. He's run a small, independent animation studio, wrote Blender For Dummies and GIMP Bible, and continues to blurt out his experiences during a [sometimes] weekly podcast, the Open Source Creative Podcast. Adventures (and lies) at @monsterjavaguns.

This article originally appeared on and was published with permission from Jason. 

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Written by Jason van Gumster

Jason is a proponent of open source software and writes. In his own words, "I write, animate, teach, and usually find a way to make a fool of myself while doing all three."