Film Industry Views Open Source

Industrial Light & Magic and others in the film industry are developing apps on open-source platforms.
Three months into the project, Florian Kainz, computer graphics principal engineer at Industrial Light & Magic, is almost ready to put his color-management system into the open-source community. The system, a software library, will let companies that work with images integrate the code into viewing applications, 3-D systems, or apps that produce film negatives for digital data so they can manage and ensure color consistency.

Kainz's reason for turning his hard-won software over to the open-source world is somewhat selfish. Often, several companies work on movies. The files are shared and passed around. With the increasing number of files being exchanged as digital images instead of film negatives, it's even more important to ensure continuity as files are transmitted from one company to another. "The color-management system isn't far enough along to accept code yet," Kainz says. "It's not yet functional, but we hope to release it by October."

Kainz could have left the job to a software company, but application vendors just haven't caught up with demand for graphic apps that run on the Linux operating system to satisfy a thirsty industry moving from proprietary systems to open source. It's pushing special-effects rivals Industrial Light & Magic and Digital Domain Inc. to create shared applications through open-source communities.

The color-management project isn't the industry's first open-source endeavor. Developed in 2000, OpenEXR, a high-dynamic range image file format for use in computer-imaging applications, was made public in January 2003.

OpenEXR is similar to the image file formats JPEG or TIFF that allow you to represent a range of brightness from black to paper white, but not the range of dark or light details that actually exist in the real world. OpenEXR extends the contrast range a billion to one, so the brightest element in the image is 1,000 times brighter than the darkest.

What makes the problem complex is the issue of sharing expertise in graphics software across companies, says Daniel Maskit, senior software developer at Digital Domain. Maskit told a packed room at the Siggraph 2005 technology conference in Los Angeles last month that Digital Domain views "some graphic tools as a competitive advantage."

Maybe so, but Digital Domain released FLTK, a C++ graphical-user interface toolkit, into the public domain in October 2002. Besides, the efficiencies gained across companies by sharing should be good for the entertainment industry and its bottom line.

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