Friday, June 18, 2010

A directory of Open-Source projects for the VFX community

I was checking Render Mania and I found a post about  (QUOTE) " website opened recently. This is intended to be a central portal of open source VFX projects (...) their goals include listing and presenting valuable open-source projects for the VFX community and giving a voice to OS project leaders and VFX pros to promote their work and keep us updated."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Interesting softwares for 3D distributed production (updated)

Scroll down for a brief update on online video-editing tools.

Over the years I have coordinated several projects in which a number of artists work separately.
Although very far from a perfect solution, I have found different useful tools that can help anyone in a similar situation.
These are the tasks I have found more overwhelming, and the corresponding tools that might be to manage them:

DEVELOPMENT. A lot of work has to be redone every time if writers, designers, etc. don´t use an adequate system. Celtx seems a very interesting tool to start properly with your projects.

COORDINATION. Simply knowing who is doing what and how much is already done can be a nightmare, specially when you are not working full time on a project.
  • The tool I find myself using more often is Google Docs & Spreadsheets. It allows several users to edit a shared spreadsheet simultaneously. It has some limitations compared to a full-featured spreadsheet (or even compared to Excel) namely conditional formatting and graphics, but overall it is a quite valid solution, and is very easy to set up. Of course you still have to create the spreadsheet, but once you have one done, it is easy to adapt it to new projects.
  • "Ares" pointed me to Interactive Story Board for Maya, which is a bit difficult to classify. It offers many tools to facilitate the collaboration among artists, centered around an evolving story board. The idea seems super-powerful, and the price is quite affordable (aprox 150€ for a company license)
VERSION CONTROL. If you can afford propietary systems there are several options available that do "asset management", the most known is Alienbrain.
  • Sometime ago I attended a demo of Alienbrain Studio , and I think it is very good at what it does. It offers "Version, manage and share every kind of file in an intuitive visual environment that combines digital asset management (DAM) and software configuration management (SCM) into one powerful package." ... at $695 (aprox €525) per artist seat, I guess more for a managers seat.
  • Miguel Ángel Sánchez Cogolludo introduced me to another software, Gdi|Explorer , that looks very promising and somewhat cheaper "A production proven, afforable and scalable system that provides digital entertainment projects with unprecedented organization, communication and workflow tools. GDI|Explorer is designed for creative individuals, workgroups collaborating on-site or via the internet as well as large studios operating worldwide."
  • Integral "Pipeline-in-a-box"™ is (will be) a fully-integrated production pipeline and workflow system.
  • Feel free to suggest other programs you might know about.
In the case of this project, I´d rather use free software development tools (subversion and alike).
If you want to have a look at available open source systems, this list might be helpful. Also this wikipedia page with a comparison table, including propietary systems.

I still haven´t found the perfect solution, based on the needs for a 3D project:
  • Handling binary files (opposed to text files, in which source code is written)
  • Using a pre-existing file and folder estructure (an existing 3D project) instead of a database or a mandatory distribution of files.
  • Allowing files to be created and edited on any program, instead of requiring a special interface to create or save files.
These are some promising links I haven´t yet checked out:

I am still looking and comparing, of course suggestions are always welcome!

FILE SHARING. You need some way to publish the files as they proceed along the pipeline. There are many ways you could achieve this, considering:
  • The amount of data to be exchanged. A 3D project can be quite big, but if properly organized you could deply the preproduction on a CD/DVD and then you only need to transfer animation clips, which are very small.
  • The number of users. Users can either be isolated individuals, or groups that work together, and also every user can decide to take is tasks with him (ie in a USB flash disk) to do some work at the office, laptop, etc.
  • The available bandwith. In the case of ADSL connections there is a severe handicap in uploading (serving files to others).
  • Networking limitations: You have to consider the problem of proxies and firewalls, which sometimes limit the use of specific protocols and ports. FTP and HTTP are your safer bets.
  • OSs involved: Not all computers suffer Windows. And even if all animators use Windows, along the pipeline you might want to use a linux rendering farm or server for hosting, or a Mac OS X (Final Cut, Shake) or even IRIS (Inferno) editing workstation, so is better to be prepared. Besides, the best way to be ready for a change in technology (ie when Vista arrives) is to be as OS-agnostic as possible.
Right now my colleagues and I are using my home ftp server: A LaCie Ethernet Disk mini 250GB connected by ADSL (about 50% uptime) which is far from ideal but quite affordable, and serves well as a general backup and repository.
We also have a web site with 40 GB of space and 900 GB monthly transfer, which is smaller but more reliable.
As we mainly use Windows, we are using a tiny app : "netdrive" that is proving extremely helpful, as it maps a FTP or HTTP (webdav) server to a windows disk (letter). UPDATE: NetDrive now has its own site: and is free for home use.
Other possible options are iFolder or MediaMax.

I guess something like Vombato´s mail drive or gmailfs that was cross-platform and GPL (maybe Drive my pop or MailFS?) could be a great tool to work with a bigger team.

Rendering is a big issue, and a render manager is almost mandatory.
I am checking a couple of free ones:
On the propietary side of life, Computepool looks somewhat different. Anybody has used it?

Once rendered, an online editing suite would be ideal.
mid-2010 update: 

I have been checking again and now the top-looking online video editors seem to be:
- Jaycut,with an almost professional-looking interface.
- Moviemasher,with allows to install the app in your own site!
- Motion Box, seemingly less powerful, but easier to us.
- StashSpace, even simpler.

(In 2007,  I wrote: Forscene looks quite good, but it is not free. This blog lists many other solutions, both free and paid for, jumpcut seems the most promising free one, far better than eyespot in my opinion.)

Other multiplatform GPL editing suites are: Blender (has a video editing module) Jahshaka and Avidemux