Thursday, October 06, 2011

Farewell Mr. Jobs

Today I learned of the passing of Steve Jobs. While I have not recently been a fan of Apple, the patent lawsuits between Apple and other companies has irritated me to no end, I do not think less of the man that helped bring about the PC industry, as well as bringing Pixar to the world.

When I was 16 I bought my first computer, a PowerMac, one of the first generation series even. At a blazing speed of 66 MHz, loaded with 8 MB of RAM and a huge 360 GB hard drive, I began to learn the art of 3D using the LogoMotion app by Specular Int. At the time I had no concept of real world 3D practices, however I managed to exceed the tool makers expectations of the software by creating character animation using this logo animation tool. I eventually ended up beta testing the next version, which I got for free upon release plus a tshirt!

Later on I learned about the obscure RenderMan software, developed by Pixar, in 2002. Prior to this I had no clue what was used to render out all of Pixar's films, quickly I learned that Pixar was instrumental in bringing about the visual effects industry via ILM in the early 90's. This is when I found that Steve Jobs bought Pixar from George Lucas in the mid 80's for a paltry $10 Million, Lucas was broke and needed money, something Jobs could afford and saw early on that this small division of LucasFilm could become great. I think Pixar as a company exceeded even Job's expectations, growing from a small software development company into a massive animation powerhouse that redefined feature film animation.

Steve Jobs brought the world many new technologies and new ways of thinking. He was a pioneer and a rebel.

He will be missed.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Point Cloud Indirect Lighting in 3Delight from Blender

Matt Ebb uploaded a video last month which shows off point based indirect lighting using Blender, his own RenderMan exporter and 3Delight. We all know 3Delight is a commercial renderer, we also all know that at everyone can get a single free license for non commercial work, which allows us to use a production grade renderer with Blender and take advantage of it's power. As such, this is why Matt Ebb has focused on creating the addon for 3Delight specifically, rather than a general RenderMan script.

In this post Ebb writes :

"After fixing some cross-platform issues that people were having with the last few versions, here’s a new release of 3Delight/Blender. As well as the fixes, I’ve included some new stuff that’s been on the backburner for a while – a new point cloud global illumination method. When enabled, the addon will automatically generate a point cloud, and then use it in the render for indirect lighting and environment lighting.
It’s just doing one bounce of indirect lighting, in the future it should be reasonably easy to add more bounces via photon mapping in the point cloud generation stage. Eventually I’d like to make this a bit more advanced, with a more modern design for the lighting/shading pipeline and more control over baking pre-passes, but for now (especially since I’m quite short on time ) I’d rather get it out and working in a simple, automatic way so people can use it.
I’ve tested this on my mac, and in both Linux and Windows XP VMs, but as always, if you have any problems on your system please let me know."

Download the new addon here:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Aqsis 1.8 Sneak Peek

The Aqsis developers have been quite busy trying to get all the features and changes ready for the 1.8 release, some of which has helped secure the future of the open source renderer. Since it's inception, Aqsis has always been a "old-fashioned" REYES rendering application, that is it had the functionality that complied with the requirements of the RiSpec, as well as additional features however it lacked the more modern rendering methods such as point based rendering. That is soon changing as reported earlier this summer and it was uncertain if these changes would appear in the next release, or in the 2.0 release, so it has been confirmed that the new point render branch will be merged with the main branch for the next release.

On July 31 the Aqsis team officially announced "Phase 1" for the next release, during which time will be focused on completing the new features.

Other additions include support for OpenImageIO, which was written by Larry Gritz, as well as Partio by Walt Disney Animation.

The main feature changes for 1.8 are as follows.

1. Point Based Global Illumination
  • bake3d()
  • occlusion()
  • indirectdiffuse()
  • texture3d()

2. Rewritten RIB parser
  • Inline archives are supported, using ArchiveBegin/ArchiveEnd
  • Frame dropping is reimplemented to allow a single frame to be selected.
  • Archive interpolation in miqser executes ReadArchive calls in place.
  • RiContext() / RiGetContext() now supported for the core renderer.
  • RiBegin("something.rib") can be used to produces RIB via the core renderer lib.
  • Validation of array lengths and parameter ranges for all RI procedures, used in both the core and in miqser.

3. Port all GUI tools to Qt.

4. Begin relicensing under BSD style license.

As some of you might know, Aqsis does have a couple of GUI based tools, Piqsl and Eqsl, both of which allow users to use Aqsis without having to resort to a command line to render a file or view an image. Piqsl is more commonly used as it is the primary framebuffer tool to watch the renderer at work, as well as use the tool to view multiple images, or to help with development of a render or shader as you can flip through the images. Eqsl allows users to render a RIB file, convert textures to a MIP map, or compile a shader. Both tools were an addition several years ago and have been evolving since and now they both have been ported over to QT, the GUI framework from Nokia, previously they relied on FLTK. While FLTK did provide an easy way to build a GUI app, QT has been chosen to replace it as the framework is proving to be more popular and many 3D tools and applications are using it as well, both commercial and open source.

The most exciting features of course is the Point Based Global Illumination stuff and many people all over the world are happy to see that Aqsis is evolving. This is the one of the most important things done to Aqsis since the renderer debuted on SourceForge in 2001, simply because the addition of the new GI code has changed it. Now it can work with GI much the same way as 3Delight and Pixar's RenderMan can, aside from the fact that ray tracing is still not possible yet. That is something to come about later on. Below is a very recent render with the latest Git source, which as of this week includes the point render branch added to the trunk.

Point Based Global Illumination with Aqsis

Aqsis 1.8 has a few more months of work before it officially is released.

This also comes shortly after a CGSociety article about the very subject, which ultimately led to another debate as to whether or not Renderman was dead, given the success of proprietary renderer's such as Arnold and CGStudio++. Regardless of who is sided with whatever software, Renderman still holds the title of being the one that brought CG to an affordable means of visual effects in film, has been for over 20 years now and not many other rendering software can match up to that record. That said the article in question relates to Point Based Global Illumination in Pixar's RenderMan, which is interesting to note that the Aqsis team was busy getting this very method of GI stable for release at the same time.

Another reason for the sudden shift in the Aqsis team to get more modern rendering methods into this now 10 year old project (missed that little bit of info until just now, Aqsis was registered on March 14, 2001), the decline of development with Pixie, the one time champion of open source Renderman with ray tracing and GI, which in some ways still is, however the development seems to have slowed to a halt with no new updates in years. So while the last working version of Pixie still works for this kind of thing, the Aqsis guys are taking a more pro-active approach and taking on the role as the open source Renderman of choice. Others are taking their ties to the team to help implement Aqsis into professional studios, others are developing plugins to work with Aqsis and providing technical support.

During SIGGRAPH the Blender team had a lot of interest by studios interested in placing Blender into their pipelines, something we have been dreaming about for years so now that the link between Blender and Renderman is getting tighter it is only a matter of time before these tools will be added as well. In certain places this has already happened. Once Aqsis is released fully in 1.8, this gives it a step up into the realm of professional use and give the renderer a massive step up in the world of open source visual effects.

Monday, August 22, 2011

SIGGRAPH 2011 opens up new avenues for Blender

This year's SIGGRAPH seems to be a solid turning point for Blender and it's developers. According to Ton, there was quite a bit of interest in Blender from the professional industry, which is amazing news to the entire Blender community since for years it has been bashed as a "hobby" app. Over the years Blender has been evolving and in such a fast rate that it is almost hard to keep up, however one of the most impressive changes is of course the interface, which on the surface level is pleasing to the eye and thus people are more inclined to explore more of Blender, from there they understand just how powerful this open source app really is. Shame it took them this long to figure this out, however Blender was a different beast even 5 years ago when the Blender to Renderman community was just a tiny speck compared to what it is now. Just in two years Blender evolved again into a very formidable piece of software. In turn other software that are commonly used in conjunction with Blender is evolving too, thus opening even more possibilities to the community at large. Then there is the community, of which had it not been for the large number of users that devote vast amount of time working with, or on, Blender, none of this would have happened in the first place. Blender truly is now making some serious headway into becoming a widely adopted tool for content creation and it all started as an internal tool for a game company. Amazing how events unfold over time.

From the Blender. org website.

Tradeshow booth
  • During three days, 9-11 August, Blender Foundation presented Blender + art showreel at 6x3m booth at the tradeshow floor. 
  • Link to showreel download & youtube coming soon! 
  • HP provided us 4 fast workstations and 30" displays. 
  • 100 Blender shirts and 1500 Blender DVDs were handed out (also thanks to sponsors Lumikuu & 
  • Demo DVD made for FMX by Francesco Siddi & Sebastian Koenig & Thomas Dinges, thanks! ISO download is free to spread and use. 
  • Booth attracted visitors from all over the world, all over the industry... including artists from Pixar getting personal demos. 
  • Our OpenCL (Cycles render, compositing) projects attracted visitors from all main Graphic cards vendors (Intel, NVidia, AMD/ATI). They are seriously committed to help out with Blender testing and advising us on best usage of of OpenGL and OpenCL features. 
  • Early demos of motion tracking did people's head turn too. It appears we're providing the first cross platform free/open tracking tool for film makers here. 
  • Met with author of MeshFlow, a Blender based research paper accepted for Siggraph. 
  • Had a good meeting with Khronos, discussing our COLLADA support and established tight connections to get further support. 
  • Talked to many journalists; including 3D World, 3D artist, Renderosity. 
  • Interest from new developers, among which Ari Shapiro of ILM/R&H fame 
  • Several film/vfx/animation studios interested in integrating Blender in pipeline, but they need consultants to help them. (will be via Blender Network) 
  • In general: so cool to see so many artists dropping by who already were using Blender professionally and with great results. 
You will note that one of them involves integrating Blender into pipelines at studios, a HUGE step forward and something that has been dreamed about by many Blender users, developers and of course Ton himself. THIS is what we have been looking forward to and now it looks like the professional industry is finally coming together and looking at Blender as a viable tool, not as a hobby toy. In the past few years many studios have released open source projects for visual effects and animation, which some of these in turn ended up in Blender, so it makes sense to look at Blender to do certain tasks which is compatible with said projects. Hence the purpose of open source.

The other factor is cost, as we all know the world economy is not exactly great and this does have a strain on the entertainment industry, since they are paid from the money we spend on their products, people are not spending as much so thus the industry is not making as much as before. A studio used to be able to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on software alone, during the early 90's this was no big deal since it was new and exciting, producers were willing to fork over millions to make the next blockbuster. Now visual effects are common in nearly every film made, so the luster is gone and the cost is rising each year to make even non visual effect heavy films, studios are looking to cut costs. One such measure was taken by replacing expensive SGI workstations with PC's, since hardware costs kept going down and computing power increased every couple months. 3D software in the early 90's were really a niche market and the internet was not as expansive or utilized then either, some software had to be purchased over the phone it was so specialized and expensive. The software that was affordable by the general public was not as powerful either. In the following decade studios have switched from expensive operating systems to Linux, an open source and cost free OS that functions exactly as the costly UNIX systems of the past. In general studios were forking over millions on hardware and software alone, something they can no longer afford to do. 3D software still costs a small fortune, even with recent price drops across the board so it only makes sense for these places to look at an open source and cost free software, one that can be modified at whim, one that can be installed on as many hard drives possible without licensing fees, one that is quickly becoming compatible with projects they developed, one that used by nearly every aspiring 3D artist world wide. THAT I think is the best cost solution, young talent cutting their teeth and all done without them having to spend anything on software, imagine the pool of talent in the upcoming years all trained on Blender.

Pixar artists looking at Blender is a certain glowing point for us on the Renderman area of Blender, as you can imagine, so even though it is no secret what we are doing in this corner of the internet, it feels good to know that certain people from Pixar have had a chance to see Blender itself and we just hope that this only adds to our cause.

Which comes down to our connection, the people involved with Blender and Renderman at least. In the post, there is mention of the "Blender Network", which is a proposed network of Blender professionals that would be contracted to provide support, or something to that degree. Some people have already been doing this in their own way, including some of us. Morpho Animation Studios is beginning to incorporate Aqsis into their pipeline, as they already use Blender and Pixar's RenderMan with RIBMosaic, this should be fairly simple, though risky since Aqsis has not been used in commercial work. Regardless they are taking that gamble and have requested our help. This in turn almost requires the assistance of the various developers themselves so even though they may not directly have contact, due to people's network of connections, they are all interconnected, they also help each other out since the publicity generated works out in favor of all involved.

Funny about the image at the top, with Ton and Co. standing in front of the AutoDesk booth, the slogan "don't blend in stand out" behind them, almost nearly seems that the company is afraid and in some ways, they should be.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Morpho Animation Studio at Siggraph 2011

My friend Christian Vargas sent me an email about Costa Rica being at this years SIGGRAPH. The booth monitors were showing clips of "Grampa's Robot" so viewers were watching what Blender and Renderman can do together, regardless if they know about the various projects involved or not. Just by sheer luck, the booth was right in front of the line that lead up to the Pixar gifts, so people like Renderman TD's, visual effect supervisors, software developers and CG enthusiasts alike where asking questions. Christian explained to them the various projects related to Blender to Renderman as well as what they were doing and a LOT of them responding with a "WOW". Not only are they impressed with what they saw at the booth, they are very interested to see what will come in the next year.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Morpho News and Blender for Dummies

Earlier in the week an email was sent to me from Christian Vargas, the Animation Director at Morpho Animation Studios. Included was a set of pictures that had been taken of the book "Blender for Dummies", which many of us Blenderheads know had been written by Jason van Gumster.

Jason had asked Morpho Animation Studios to render some images for him so that these could be included in the book, since the studio does use Blender of course, however the difference is that again the rendering was not done with Blender, instead Pixar's Renderman was used. While the book did in fact list Morpho as the creator of the images the caption did not reveal how the image was rendered, until now.

Another little known fact and example of how RIBMosaic and Renderman is creeping into media and professional content creation.

Earlier in the year I had the pleasure of viewing the images by Morpho and sadly I had not known about their inclusion into Jason's book, let alone the fact that Jason was in close contact with Morpho Animation Studio. Just goes to show us all that in the Blender community we are all linked together and you never know just who knows who, somehow little surprises like this pop up and make you smile. Good job guys!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Morpho Animation Studio

If there was ever proof that Blender and Renderman can produce real world imagery this would be it.

One little known studio in Costa Rica is making cartoons using Blender, which in the entire spectrum of small animation houses is not a big deal considering they would not be the first to do so. However the first they do have is that they are not using the internal renderer, instead they have opted to use Pixar's Renderman and are using RIBMosaic to do this. It is not a new thing either, they have been using these tools for well over a year and I have been in contact with them for some time. My relationship with this studio started with Daniel Salazar, also known as ZanQdo to the Blender community. He knows one of their employees, Christian Vargas, and told me about them during the middle of 2010, so I emailed him with an expressed interest in what they are doing. Since then some of us associated with Blender to Renderman have helped them out whenever they needed it and thus I decided to shed some light on this studio and what they are up to.

One thing to note though is that this studio is not just some small studio that is trying to break into the industry. While people in the USA or elsewhere may not be familiar with them, their work in the Central America region has been seen by millions. They have done TV ads in addition to other services and one commercial in particular is for Cartoon Network, which features 3D versions of Dexter, the PowderPuff girls and other CN icons. Other clients include Sony, Microsoft, Kraft and Subway. Are they established? I would say so.

Their first work in TV series using these tools is titled "Grandpa's Robot" which was directed by Christian. Due to NDA's I am not at the liberty to disclose anything sent to me, however from what I have seen has blown my mind, including stills from their next series in development.

"We have been working a lot lately. Right now we are really busy working for a videogame company in LA. We have been hired to develop 3d animated assets for a facebook flash based game. It includes creatures, cities, military units. Pretty fun stuff.

On the other hand we keep working on our properties "Grandpa's Robot" and "Poison Squad" We have been working a lot on this TV series with some writers from NY to polish the stories. This year we presented Grandpa's Robots at Kidscreen and it received good reviews from the audience. This year Gustavo is going to MipTv in France to present the TV series. Hopefully we will find somebody interested." Christian says.

Morpho does have a Vimeo account and here everyone can look and see exactly what it is I am talking about, such as a preview of "Grandpa's Robot" as well as other demo videos they have done.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Aqsis update leak : Point based GI ???

As some of you may know, Aqsis has been undergoing some serious work and has been overshadowed at times by news about Blender, RIBMosaic and other open source projects. In a recent IRC developer meeting it has been revealed that the developmental and experimental branch of Aqsis has point based microbuffer rendering, which allows for ambient occlusion, radiosity and subsurface scattering. It was incorrectly assumed this was ray tracing, until that was cleared up. The catch is that since it is a new code update, it is slow and not meant for public consumption and won't be for some time. Chris Foster is the one that has been rebuilding Aqsis and adding the new core, as well as other major overhauls and graced the IRC chat with an image of Aqsis rendering a Cornell Box with point based indirect illumination.

Pretty sweet eh? Again this is NOT ready for any type of release yet, this is all experimental code that is subject to change at a moments notice, not to mention if pairing with production assets might just make Aqsis explode and create a black hole in the universe, you get the idea. The capability is there though which is a huge moment as this is a feature that many people have been asking the Aqsis team to add, so exciting times are in store as more is revealed.

As a side note, it truly is a very special time to be involved with the Blender to Renderman movement and community. In 2005 all the recent software upgrades that have happened were a dream.

Literally we are at that moment in time that most of us only dreamed of achieving. With Blender and RIBMosaic at a more stable state, we can safely say that this is the start of that breath of air, the awakening, that moment in time where things that where only a dream a few years ago, are now in front of us. Now Aqsis has kicked it up a notch, revealing an image that inspires us to continue. There have been many times that a few of us really had no idea if this was going to catch on, the whole Blender and Renderman pairing. The whole concept of it is hard to grasp since the workflow alone is alien to most Blender users, and Renderman users were a bit frustrated with the lack of this or that, things that are nearly built into Maya and Houdini. Over the past 2 years much of that time was spent rebuilding code from the ground up, making advances in pipeline construction and flow, getting involved with the Blender community as well as the professional Renderman community so communication could be established, the thousands of hours testing scene after scene.

Now here we are. Blender is more powerful than ever, RIBMosaic has evolved and Aqsis is capable of modern illumination methods at an embryonic state. Welcome to the new way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pixar announces ProServer 16, Weta adds Deep Image Compositing to OpenEXR

Pixar released a press item on Monday May 9th, 2011 that Pro Server 16.0 is now available. What makes this version so important is because of the competition Renderman has faced in recent years, primarily the Arnold renderer and the fact that ray tracing in films is actually quite affordable now, in fact in some cases needed in order to really achieve the photo real look. Ray tracing in film is not new, in fact Pixar and ILM were the first houses that were able to do so, however these shots were few and far between. One of the first uses of ray tracing by Pixar was during a couple of shots in "A Bug's Life", then full use of ray tracing and global illumination in "Cars".

The problem is that while it is possible, ray tracing and global illumination is horribly expensive, long render times, huge load on the CPU and memory, requires baking the illumination similar to traditional shadow maps and in general slow to work with. Pixar's flagship product and grandfather of the REYES family tree has been considered slow compared to other renderer's like Arnold, VRay and MentalRay when it comes to ray tracing. This coincidently helped these competing products establishing a foothold on the VFX and animation industry as viable production renderers because of that very fact.

From the press release :

"This latest release features a large number of innovative advancements in RenderMan's ray tracing technology, including a new ray tracing hider, a radiosity cache, and physically plausible shading. These milestones allow RenderMan to take full advantage of the ever-increasing processing power of multi-core architectures, while also delivering the tools to implement these new features with efficiency and elegance. Moreover, RenderMan's new progressive ray tracing provides interactive re-rendering for production shading and lighting."

While nobody can prove otherwise, it remains a bit suspicious that Pixar added a new interactive re-rendering method, possibly similar to the Aqsis interactive re-rendering that was announced last year, possibly it is just great timing. It is still cool none the less. Aqsis still holds the title of being the first REYES renderer that can re-render at near real time on the CPU.

"RenderMan Pro Server 16.0 fulfills every need on our feature request list. It lets us focus on the customizations we really care about for ray tracing physically-correct lighting in the cleanest way possible," said Dan Evans, Head of Shaders at Framestore, London. "The speed of the new radiosity cache makes ray-traced global illumination practical in a single render pass, and we can now refine our test frames live using the new progressive ray tracing. Multi-bounce glossy specular, importance sampling, area shadows, and direct lighting are now a breeze thanks to the renderer supporting them all directly. Better still, regular ray tracing is staggeringly faster at 8X on some of our more complex stereo renders.”

Of course the products are commercial with ProServer 16.0 at $2,000 a seat, so this is beyond the price range of most of the population. A full price list can be found here if you want to check them out. This is one reason for this website's existence, much of the population that would be interested in Renderman simply cannot afford the software that these houses use, at best we get to use free limited use versions, so the importance of open source Renderman is very valid. While Aqsis still is not up to the level of features that PRMan does, it is far beyond just a hobbyist tool and as seen over the past couple of years, capable of producing film quality imagery.

Pixar always seems to kick it up a notch when it matters.

Weta also made recent news when it announced that it will be adding deep image compositing to OpenEXR, while at FMX 2011. More can be explained here at Colin Doncaster's website. Colin was the original developer of the Liquid plugin, a Maya to Renderman exporter that first saw use at Weta (see a pattern??). The Lord of The Ring's trilogy's visual effects were primarily accomplished via this tool for instance.

Animal Logic first produced a paper that described what deep image compositing is and what it is for, it was supposed to be at SIGGRAPH 2010 but was rejected. Why, nobody knows, SIGGRAPH paper judges are not known for their generosity. Since then several applications have had this added, such as Side FX's Houdini. Now OpenEXR will get another very useful addition that will allow other applications to take advantage of deep image compositing, so one could expect to see this in Blender as well as Aqsis in time, when this happens is uncertain and certainly not planned officially anywhere.

"The concept of a deep image isn’t brand new; ultimately it’s just the technique of encoding more than just the RGBA value in a pixel. Many applications and systems already store multiple channels of data to enhance the compositing workflow as well as re-using calculations already performed by the rendering engine. Side FX software’s Houdini is an example of one of the more recent applications to utilize this workflow via it’s custom camera image format.", from Colin's site.

Exciting times in all areas of visual effects and animation!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

100 K Hits on BlenderToRenderman!

Well sometime this weekend this website has finally broke the 100,000 visitor mark, somewhat of a surprise considering this is a niche market of the Blender community. Seems that over time we have gathered quite a following, honestly there was no expectation that this site would get that many visits at all, let alone in 3 years. While the number pales in comparison to other websites like the official Blender site, it is a great achievement for this site.

The site began as an idea in 2005, the whole concept of developing some kind of "community" for Blender and Renderman users. At the time I was involved with an indie film that was to use Blender as the animation package of choice, however at that time the scope of the film required some sophisticated rendering that Blender was just not capable of at that time in history. So the idea to use Renderman was introduced, the project began there simply because the ONLY script available was the Blenderman script. Ultimately my involvement with the film stopped, I started to go to school and working 40 hours a week really limited my time for other things.

Then I started a forum that was intended to be a community for this idea, it was hosted on some free forum site and started the movement that exists today. Temujin, the co-founder of this site, had gone from user to moderator and we developed a friendship. Sadly that forum was shut down, with no explanation as to why, we STILL have no idea why the forum was removed despite several emails to the company. So Temujin started to build the beginnings of what you see here.

In Jan of 2007 the site went live, as a sub domain of Blogger, the first post was on Jan 31, by Temujin. Since then the site has evolved, has changed designs, added things, removed things and eventually on October of 2007 bought the domain name. While this site is still hosted on Google's Blogger, the domain has changed things, made the site more official sounding and easier to remember than a long URL. At times people have purchased renewals of the domain, so each year someone else is the "co-owner", currently my girlfriend is that person, previous co-owners included Eric Back (Whiterabbit, the original developer of RIBMosaic).

So here we are nearly 4 years later, with over 100K hits under our belt, an average of over 300 hits per day, from people and companies all over the world. Some of the biggest names in the vfx and animation industry have visited this site, including Pixar, ILM, LucasArts, Disney, Blizzard and more. Countless colleges and universities have made hits. Even some companies from areas where we never imagined interest have come by, such as GM, Ford, Lucent, AT&T and even government agencies, like NSA, FBI and CIA have peeked a look. We even had a couple Echelon hits.

So today, on Mothers Day, this post goes out to MY mother, who had she not given birth to me, would have never given rise to this website, nor Project Widow and in all honesty you would not be reading this post at all. So thank you Mom, for bringing me into this world and changing even a small section of it forever.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Disney releases expression editor SeExpr as open source

The studios just keep surprising us with more and more goodies. Just a day after LAIKA released SLIM templates, Disney releases an expression editor called SeExpr, a tool that can have uses in many areas of production.

"Arithmetic expressions appear in almost every animation system ever created. Being able to embed an expression language in a piece of custom software allows an amazing degree of artistic freedom. At Disney artists have enjoyed using expressions because they allow just enough flexibility without being overwhelming to non-programmer users. Developers have enjoyed them too for quick prototyping and deployment of fixes to production needs. SeExpr started as a language for our procedural geometry instancing tool, XGen. Work was done to generalize it into something that could be used in other contexts. Later it was integrated into paint3d, our texture painting facility, which opened the door to procedural synthesis. More recently, we have integrated it as a way of defining procedural controls to physical dynamical simulations and render time particle instancing."

"Expressions can be seen as a way of allowing customization of inner loops. This is contrast to scripting which is mostly aimed at glueing large parts of code base together. So in this sense, C++ forms the center of your application, python could be used to put pieces of it together, and SeExpr is used to customize tight inner loop."

As stated on the website the in house GUI at Disney is not being released, maybe it involves code that needs to be evaluated to be released under an open source license, it could be proprietary. Or they could just enjoy watching us squirm with anticipation, it is doubtful that it will ever be seen outside Disney though, either way Disney is understanding the power and reasoning for releasing production code to the public, adoption into other packages only helps spread it, just look at how fast Ptex was added to software, not to mention the other projects like PartIO, Munki and Resprado have quickly begun to collect followers and watchers. Who knows how many studios have adopted these projects into their own pipelines? While some of these projects may not be directly related to 3D production, their use in a pipeline can be invaluable.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

LAIKA releases SLIM templates to the public

LAIKA, the Portland, Oregon based animation studio, has released production SLIM templates on the Pixar website in an effort to help boost the Renderman Studio community. For those of you who do not know what SLIM is for, it is an application that is developed by Pixar to develop shaders, similar to how RIBMosaic makes "shader fragments" for Blender based off of RSL shaders made in a shader editor such as Shrimp, SLer and Shaderman. However SLIM is far more advanced and has been a staple in any pipeline that uses Maya and Pixar's Renderman.

SLIM templates are readily available on the internet, mainly released for free by Renderman users, however visual effects and animation studios keep these hidden away, just like any other asset in a production, so for LAIKA to release them to the public is a big deal.

You can grab these templates and example files at the Pixar Support Forum (free registration is required)

LAIKA, Inc. is an animation company specializing in feature films, commercials, music videos, broadcast series, interactive content, broadcast graphics and short films. Owned by Nike co-founder and Chairman Philip H. Knight, the company is located in Portland, Oregon.

LAIKA has a 30-year animation history presenting the artistry of award-winning filmmakers, designers and animators. In addition to numerous international honors, the company has won two Academy Awards, 11 Emmy Awards, 11 Clio Awards, three London International Advertising and Design Awards, five Mobius Advertising Awards and two Cannes Lion International Advertising Festival awards.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

New Blender to Renderman Wiki and other site news

Just a short update on the site. The new wiki is in place, though much work has to be done in order for it to be viewed as somewhat complete.
The previous wiki was hosted on Wikidot, which provided a decent working environment, it was just not visually pleasing as the new one, which is hosted by Google's Sites now. Why Wikidot was chosen first before the Google Sites is still a mystery, this is changed now.

Other sites related to Blender have also undergone some visual changes, such as, a site started by Daniel Salazar, a friend of Blender to Renderman community actually.

BlenderStorm also has undergone the same visual design treatment, as well as being an OpenID provider.

BlendSwap also has undergone some updates!

The Blender community is getting connected! Now the next step is for this site is to follow suit, see what happens.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Blender 2.57 Released! Fourth Generation of BtoR is near!

At long last the first official stable Blender has been released since the refactoring began over two years ago. Many changes have been done to get to where Blender is now and of course more is yet to come, however this marks a milestone in the development of the next generation Blender to Renderman tool set. RIBMosaic has been worked on some more, with Jeff Doyle picking up the project and so far doing some fantastic work in getting the code to work with the new API, since the last version released by Eric was built before the recent API modification. I have not tried it myself yet but I would assume that as of right now a functional modern pipeline with Blender, RIBMosaic and Aqsis has been laid down, now it's just working on beefing up the features and the long road of bug fixes. Do not quote me on that though.

So this means that Blender to Renderman has evolved. This is not the first such occurrence though, in fact it would be in it's fourth generation now, at least since the turn of the century when Aqsis and Pixie were first released to the open source world. The first such generation was the Blenderman script, which functioned at a basic level but was not so useful for animation and was bug prone, however it did find use in film visual effects over in Spain, which so far has been the only known such instance of professional work using these tools. The next generation was the Neqsus script, which I still have a copy of and was so unique in it's design that it deserves to be respected to this day. It is the only known Blender to Renderman plugin that allowed Renderman previews of shaders to be displayed inside Blender itself. Neqsus had it's own GUI system seperate of Blender, which is how this was able to be accomplished. As with the previous generation this tool did not allow for animated exports, only still frames and after Blender 2.44 came out the plugin failed to work anymore. Bobby Parker, who wrote the Neqsus script, stopped working on it and pursued ventures elsewhere but remains active in the BtoR community. Of course the third generation was the first version of RIBMosaic, a huge milestone in the history of BtoR as it offered the most complete solution to get Blender data to Renderman format. This tool changed the playing field of the community, now we had a valid production worthy tool that was everything we could want, well almost. To achieve the level of intergration of Houdini or Renderman Studio for Maya was not possible, due to the restrictive PythonAPI at the time. It did however do everything else we wanted it to, we owe our entire existance on the web to this tool. I think without this tool Blender to Renderman would have died out years ago.

So now this is the fourth generation, Blender and RIBMosaic as well as Aqsis. Aqsis has become the strongest ally in this community, they are a devoted bunch of developers that have been very supportive of the whole Blender to Renderman idea, in fact the whole reason Project Widow started was because of them. Pixie has kind become stagnant in the area, where Aqsis has taken the role of leading the pack. While the feature set of Aqsis is not as complete as Pixie, 3Delight or even Pixar's Renderman, the developers have been working hard at getting there. On the other hand Aqsis has things going for it that none other can touch, for instance the Interactive Viewer of the prototype Aqsis 2.0 core, something not seen by any other RiSpec renderer so far. GPU relighting tools exist yes but the video demos done last year show just how fast Aqsis will be running on the CPU, which of course is where rendering for film takes place. GPU relighting tools emulate RSL code with GLSL code, they also use GPU rendering methods which are not the same as CPU rendering methods. Things like this make GPU relighting tools very handy but the Aqsis demos were rendered on the CPU in near real time, something the original engineers at Pixar had imagined possible long ago but knew it would be decades before it happened. Strange twist of fate though when it was an open source program that achieved this first rather than the inventors of Renderman.

Project Widow opened the doors to other areas of Blender to Renderman that had not been in the original equation. Areas like compositing, project management, collaboration tools, software development and pipeline design. In the beginning of BtoR it was all about how to translate Blender data to Renderman data. Step by step this was figured out. Then it was how to animate it, that too was figured out in the third generation. Technical direction found the need to get AOV in OpenEXR, only multilayered so that it could be imported back into Blender for post processing in the same manner that it does with it's own rendered frames. This lead to the development of shader tools that would generate complex shaders that literally would plug into the pipeline without problem, which in turn would lead to the capability of AOV rendering and compositing. Project Widow really opened up the need to see the pipeline as a whole rather than a section of it, simply because a lot of it really depends on each other. These are the things the animation and visual effects studios don't tell you, the little details like that which make production easier to maintain, instead they just say "We have these set of tools that are custom built to make our jobs easier"... but they don't go into detail as to WHY, much less HOW. These are known as "trade secrets". Project Widow is not professional by any means but the production is an open one, in fact tools and tutorials on how to do everything else BUT export Blender to Renderman data has been written. As mentioned before that was figured out long ago.

So now in the fourth generation, everything has been rewritten from the ground up; Blender, RIBMosaic and soon Aqsis. This website will also undergo that process. As things change so do we and plans are in the works to change this site again. When this will happen is uncertain, though in some areas it already has begun. Facebook has replaced Myspace in the "social networking" area of, Myspace seems to be lacking in areas such as point of existance but whatever Facebook certainly has proven to be worth the effort. The Project Widow Twitter account has been slightly useful, sending out impromptu screenshots or WIP renders for the sake of doing it with no regard to the fact if anyone would be interested, however it seems to be doing a decent job since it attracts more and more followers. There is no cohesion though between areas, such as the outdated and incomplete wiki, the groups... so on and so forth. Project Widow has taken up a considerable amount of time to complete which means in other areas, such as this site, things are not as complete as I want them. It happens. I just keep looking at the stats though, we are nearing the 100,000 visit and that is impressive for something that started as a small idea in 2005 after one ambitious young man had a movie idea and asked me to try to use Blender as the vfx tool of choice. Now several animation studios have made visits, motor companies, computer companies and countless universities worldwide. We have passed the point of crawling but we are only just beginning to stand. There is much more to do.

Friday, April 01, 2011

ILM open sources GPU based relighting tool

An industry insider has reported to certain people that ILM is putting a GPU based re-lighting tool into the open source world, a tool that has been used on many films by ILM technical directors and has been kept a secret for the better half of the decade. However ILM has already built a new engine that is based on REYES and GPU re-lighting code that had been part open source and part science research, so this leads to wonder if they are borrowing existing open source code and heavily modifying it.

This old engine is based off of technology that existed around the turn of the century and while it still functions very well in modern pipelines, the code is old and ported from old SGI libraries. The new tools currently in development are built from modern libraries for Linux, thus removing the chains of legacy obsolete code. ILM is presenting this code to the world mainly for the hell of it, they no longer feel that there are any secrets worth keeping. While the code may be functional, the fact remains is that it is obsolete and much of the pipeline is lightyears ahead of what had been created even a decade ago.

More information as to the location of this tool will be revealed soon.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

RIBMosaic Updates

As mentioned in November last year, RIBMosaic has been placed into the Aqsis repository after Eric stopped his development on the addon. The intent was to allow anyone else to join the project and continue working on it. Several hands went up into the air on this one, including myself until I actually tried to dissect the code and realized that my programming skills do not match up. To complicate things the Blender API has been changing quite often which caused RIBMosaic to break and cease functioning after a certain revision, which of course has not been a recent one. At the same time the work done on Project Widow reverted back to Blender 2.49b until a time when it is possible to use the new software, we really wanted to stress test the newer code, however the stability of RIBMosaic prevented this from happening.

Recently there has been some work done to RIBMosaic, not by the Aqsis development team but by someone who has been a user of RIBMosaic since the early days, he simply wanted to see it live on. NFZ (Jeff Doyle) has provided some patches to the Aqsis git repository that will make RIBMosaic function in recent Blender 2.5x revisions.

"So does the patched RibMosic work with the latest official Beta release of Blender 2.56a?  No.  A recent Build with svn rev 35000 or greater is needed.  Blender svn trunk revision number is around 35100 as of 22 Feb 2011.  The Blender python API is still going through a lot of changes so its easier to keep up with the changes rather than focus on a previous release.  Not good for users since they would have to get an up to date build of Blender every few days but until the API stabilizes that is the way its going to be :).  has daily builds for most OS so for those that want to play that is a good route."

The link to the patch itself.

This certainly is good news to hear!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Matt Ebb improves Blender to 3Delight

Matt Ebb has continued to work on his 3Delight export script, which had been mentioned before last year as one of the newest Renderman addons that has popped into the Blender community.

Since RIBMosaic is in the process of being developed under a new team and is intended to be used for Aqsis, Matt's addon is geared more for 3Delight, a commercial Renderman compliant renderer that has been used in several big budget films and one of the most popular RiSpec renderers next to Pixar's commercial products.

From his site :

Supported Features

  • 3D motion blur with sub-frame samples
  • 3D depth of field blur
  • Integrated render result (appears in Blender compositor)
  • Polygon/subd mesh geometry, linked group instances, parametric primitives, particles as points or hair strand curves
  • Adjust shader parameters in Blender UI
  • Write and compile shaders in Blender text editor
  • Automatically converts texture maps to 3delight’s optimised tiled TIFF format
  • Simple global illumination light shaders built in
  • Automatically generated shadow maps, raytraced shadows
Download v0.5
Requires a Blender svn build > r34664


Unpack and move the render_3delight folder into your blender addons folder. You can then enable the addon in the Addons tab of blender user preferences.
08 Feb: Due to a change in recent versions of 3Delight installation, this only works if you start Blender from the command line. I’m investigating a fix now.


This software is free software and licensed under the MIT license – basically you can do what you want with it, though credit would be nice. If you’d like to show appreciation, please consider donating to a secular charity of your choice.
This exporter is not endorsed by or affiliated with DNA Research.