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back to article Pixar open sources production animation code, patents

Disney-owned Jobs-derived animation outfit Pixar has open-sourced some of its production software. Pixar started life as a software company and still operates a division selling its RenderMan wares, which have been pressed into service making innumerable films beyond the walls of Pixar itself. The code released as open source …

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SubDs are pretty important in the 3D world

The technique derives smoothly curved surfaces from simpler roughly curved (or not curved at all) ones. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subdivision_surface It's been pretty fundamental in 3D modeling and animation of organic objects and characters for the last few decades (although new more sculptey techniques have come to the forefront lately). Most commercial 3D apps provide with some form of SubDs.

Also, in this, Pixar is following this recent trend in the 3D and VFX industry of opensourcing code, formats specs and such. It's quite exciting, really.

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Pixar is a great group started by Lucas with some siggraph stars of the mid-seventies. They worked hard on Renderman but in the end they were a drag on Lucas operations and he sold them to the highest bidder Jobs.

Jobs bought Pixar, he did not create ANY software, think up any algorithms, or even work on any story lines. He did keep the money coming and insist on perfection in the product.

So this B.S. tag "Jobs -derived" means he owned Pixar and acted like a Producer or Chairman of the Board and nothing more.

Pixar will miss Jobs like a fish misses a suntan.

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Re: Pixar will miss Jobs like a fish misses a suntan

Now don't get me wrong-- I am by no means a Steve Jobs fan or apologist. In fact, I can't stand Apple products and have owned computers from just about every other company except Apple over the years because of it, including some from some of the more exotic companies such as Sun, SGI, and even DEC VAXstations. With that said, I don't think that you are giving Steve Jobs credit where credit is due. Did Steve Jobs found Pixar? I would argue against it. Did Steve Jobs create any of Pixar's software? No. Did Steve Jobs try to turn Pixar into a hardware business to sell Pixar Image Computers, almost to the detriment of the company? Yes. However, guess what Steve Jobs also didn't do-- he didn't run Pixar into the ground.

Now, at first this may not seem like all that big of a deal. A CEO of a company shouldn't be running their company into the ground after all. But now take a step back and look at the state of the technology industry today, where you have Steve Ballmer and his personal little "Wormtongue" Steven Sinofsky doing everything that they possibly can to run Microsoft into the ground, and how Léo Apotheker nearly ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground, and how Stephen Elop is trying to run Nokia into the ground, and how the last half-dozen or so CEO's of Yahoo! each brought Yahoo! a little closer to death, etc. Sadly, somewhere over the years the ability to not run a company into the ground has become an exceptional and rare skill for a corporate CEO.

As much as I hate to say it, sometimes knowing when to leave well enough alone at a company can be just as important as directing a company for a CEO, and Steve Jobs seemed to know when to leave well enough alone at Pixar. (Either that, or Steve Jobs was just so busy running NeXT, Inc. into the ground during the 90's that Pixar escaped his attention long enough to become successful despite him! LOL!). Either way, Pixar ended up flourishing while Steve Jobs was at the helm of the company, so you have to at least give him some credit for that. If it was another Steve (such as of the Ballmer, Sinofsky, or Elop variety) that ended up buying Pixar from George Lucas all of those years ago, Pixar might have ended up as nothing more than another little technical footnote in the history of the CG industry, such as Dave Poole's revolutionary company, Foonly, Inc., before it.

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Re: Pixar will miss Jobs like a fish misses a suntan

Sure, although reading the stories from around the time it seems like Steve Jobs only didn't run Pixar into the ground by accident and continual transfusions of cash - he even tried to sell it to Microsoft (who knows what would have happened there - might have been awful or might have led to real-time ray tracing x-boxes, though I think we can guess where the balance of probabilities lies).

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Without Jobs there would be no Pixar

You can't comment on Jobs without reading his biography by Walter Isaacson - which Jobs had no editorial input into and is a warts and all biography.

Jobs recognised excellence and backed Pixar to the hilt. He continued to back them financially even when he was running out of money. Even when Disney nearly borked Toy Story and then dropped the project Jobs put in his own money to keep it going. The release of Toy Story was a huge risk which turned into a massive success.

Lasseter readily admits that they needed someone with the balls of Jobs to sort out Disney when Disney tried to throw their weight around - the relationship between Pixar and Disney was very fractious at times. And it sounds like Jobs was fairly closely involved with the production of Toy Story.

In fact - Jobs maintained his commitment to Pixar even after he returned to Apple - and it is thought that the stress caused by his time at the helm of both Apple and Pixar lead directly to the illnesses from which he died.

I'm no Jobs apologist - basically he couldn't bear fools - but it sounds like if you knew your stuff and had the guts to tell him so then he respected that.

Jobs recognised there is more to life than money - and the world would be a poorer place without Pixar's films. He should be praised for what he did at Pixar.

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Re: Without Jobs there would be no Pixar

Well said. I'm no fan of Jobs for a variety of reasons, but credit where it's due.

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Re: Pixar will miss Jobs like a fish misses a suntan

"Did Steve Jobs found Pixar? I would argue against it.”

And you’d be dead right to do so.

Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith founded the company as a ‘spin-off’ of Lucasfilm – they paid Lucas $5 million for the right to use the technology that the team that would became Pixar, had developed for him. So rather than buying a company, they were buying a technology for a company.

Jobs invested $10 million into Pixar, which gave him a 70% stake – the other 30% was owned by the workers. Although Jobs continued to invest, this was in return for company equity, which left him as 100% owner of the company.

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WTF?

Re: Without Jobs there would be no Pixar

"In fact - Jobs maintained his commitment to Pixar even after he returned to Apple - and it is thought that the stress caused by his time at the helm of both Apple and Pixar lead directly to the illnesses from which he died."

oO.....=O

"I'm no Jobs apologist - basically he couldn't bear fools - but it sounds like if you knew your stuff and had the guts to tell him so then he respected that."

Nope, you rather sound like a really clueless Jobs-lover who is willing to spread such utterly lunatic crap like Pixar-related stress caused his neuroendocrine tumor...

...pleahhhse - stop with the Jobsian BS, for once.

FYI to put it bluntly Jobs died because he was a stupid, arrogant idiot, plain and simple, who - instead of listening to the best medical advice one can get on this planet - decided he will 'study this tumor thing' and know it better than anyone, pissing away the critical first 8-9 months drinking carrot juice while the tumor was still isolated and removable but slowly growing and metastasizing.

In short he committed the classic stupid mistake of a self-taught, arrogant egomaniac CEO who believes medical science is just another hard problem to tackle... the rest is history.

WTF because WTF?

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Re: Without Jobs there would be no Pixar

"Jobs recognised there is more to life than money "

Ah yes, that's why he first even denied to contact his daughter from his first marriage (he completely abandoned her) then, after his second wife finally managed to straighten him out and the girl moved in, he refused to pay her tuition fees (she ended up borrowing money from one of Jobs' founding colleagues at Apple.)

Jobs NEVER gave a SINGLE CENT to CHARITY, money was EVERYTHING to him as far as the world goes - he clearly stated many times they (Apple) are in this business only to make money, nothing else, he does not care about artist tools or anything that's not about making a profit.

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He was the CEO, attoman, so of course he wasn't doing the grunt work. Perhaps you don't understand how business work (maybe you're only a child) but it's not the CEO's job to be writing software.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Without Jobs there would be no Pixar

Not only that, but one of my pet Mordors in the CEO menagerie was Disney's Michael Eisner. This guy was the first to break the $100M/year remuneration barrier, in the early 90s, IIRC.

While Eisner initially did hugely boost Disney's stock, he then proceeded to hang on, and get huge payouts for years, while presiding over lackluster performance. Eisner, IMHO, was the original prototype bloodsucker CEO (and an employee, not a founder, unlike our current star bloodsucker, Larry).

Apparently, Job's hissy fits about Eisner were instrumental in Eisner finally being put to pasture (not without a handsome golden parachute).

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Re: Without Jobs there would be no Pixar

"FYI to put it bluntly Jobs died because he was a stupid, arrogant idiot, plain and simple, who - instead of listening to the best medical advice one can get on this planet - decided he will 'study this tumor thing' and know it better than anyone, pissing away the critical first 8-9 months drinking carrot juice while the tumor was still isolated and removable but slowly growing and metastasizing."

Ah, cheers for that. I thought this story was about Pixar, rather than about Jobs' approach to health.

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Re: Without Jobs there would be no Pixar

But that's just you, more precisely your apparent inability to follow the flow of comments eg reading my post without reading the comment I was replying to...

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Still...

...as attoman summarized it very well above Jobs had NOTHING to do either with technology (thanks God) or artistic direction (how about boring flat, shiny-boxy unified-looking characters? :D) at Pixar, he was merely a management figurehead (mainly to fight off Disney's utterly clueless idiots) and keep the money flowing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Still...

Jobs's critics sometimes seem to be his biggest fans by implication.

So what if he had nothing to do with Pixar's technology or artistic direction? That describes 99% of the CEOs in the world. Do you think Ballmer has anything to say about how Windows is designed or how it should look? Do you think Ellison writes database code? Please.

The fact that everybody assumes Jobs did everything, made everything, designed everything, had every idea, made every decision, etc. and delight in every case where he might have NOT been 100% responsible for something's success speaks very highly of his legacy.

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Re: Still...

"... he was merely a management figurehead (mainly to fight off Disney's utterly clueless idiots) and keep the money flowing."

<InigoMontoya>"I Do not believe that that word means what you think it means." </InigoMontoya>

A figurehead literally just sits there looking impressive. Keeping clueless clients from bollixing up the job and keeping money coming in is hardly the mark of a figurehead. A CEO who does those things may not be as technically savvy as his employees in the trenches, but he's no figurehead. Colonel Sanders was a figurehead, Steve Jobs, in this case at least, was a leader.

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Holmes

Re: Still...

Bad Example... Col Sanders spent almost TWO years! that Two whole years living out of the back of his car trying to get restaurants to license his recipe in exchange for a share of the additional profits they would make. He really worked his ass off to start and run that corporation to the giant it was... After he sold the chain to investors he was maybe more like a figurehead, but at this point he was not in charge and no control over the company.... more of a mascot if anything. I agree with your original point, and love the Inigo quote to call it out, but bad choice of figurehead, Sanders was a very hardworking shrewd business man who cared very much about his employees and company and was VERY involved with the creation and running of the entire enterprise, from the original recipe to the menu items etc.

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Why and Why Now?

What would prompt Pixar to give their secret sauce away?

I fail to see how this helps Pixar at all.

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Re: Why and Why Now?

More than likley they have a better software package and are doing this to promote the fact,just like some firms do on the CD/DVD on the Dennis computermags(PC Pro&Computer Shopper)

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Re: Why and Why Now?

It's not really a secret sauce but an iteration of existing technology. SubDivision surfaces have been a vital part of modelling for years. What this software allows is for the modellers to see the effects of the SubDivs whilst editing. Usually they have to wait for a render, which depending on the complexity of the scene can take quite some time.

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Happy

Re: Why and Why Now?

Simple: Pixar sells Renderman. They make lots of money doing that. Since one of the features of Renderman that can give you really really nice output is subdivision surfaces and not very many tools support them, then giving away code and data structures and patents to allow other tools to add support for this, will make people better able to use Renderman which means people will be more likely to buy Renderman to take advantage of its ability to render subdivision surfaces rather than some other rendering tool.

After all if you can work faster and better and create better detail using tools that use subdivision surfaces, then you would want to do that right? Then after you choose to do so, Renderman becomes the obvious tool to use for actually rendering your output in the end, so you give your money to Pixar.

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Re: Why and Why Now?

Well, perhaps because it'll allow others to better interoperate with Renderman, which ought to help Renderman sales. Perhaps its clientele demanded such a move. Or perhaps, simply, they felt like it, as subDs are kind of old news, no longer that significant in a feature list.

Also, this kind of thing is happening fairly often lately: see Alembic, EXR, Ptex and other 3D tech that have been opensourced and embraced by the industry.

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Facepalm

He's dead already, let him lie

Everyone has jumped in with their favourite Jobs bashing hominem and missed the glaring error in the article, Pixar didn't start as a software company they started as a _hardware_ company. That's why Lucas let them go. He didn't want the hassle of hardware support and maintenance so let them buy themselves out - with friendly cross-licensing for the "frame-buffer" George originally started the group for. PRman was only successful after the hardware (Pixar Image Computer) failed to sell.

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Lucas wanted them to build him some tools for audio and video editing (didn't they sell their tech to Avid later?), film scanning and printing. Once done, their goals didn't align too well, and I believe Lucas needed the cash at the time, so…

Arguably, NeXT and Pixar were the school where Steve Jobs learned to let go his most idiotic business practices and hone his kung-fu. Also, by then the universe finally aligned with his vision: the internet and AV turned computers into true consumer electronics, which is where his instincts excelled.

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Cool

Thanks Pixar! I have never been able to write up a decent code to do this, now I don't have to.

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NASA, too, has open sourced

NASA just three months ago made its next generation mission operations software, MCT, open source! It's the real thing, certified for ISS (International Space Station) operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It will be used by the IRIS solar mission, and by some upcoming small satellite missions. It is a general purpose platform that can be used outside of the space operations domain. The demo version is trivial to install and run; be sure to add the plugins to see examples of how it can be extended. Search the internet for "open Mission Control Technologies." We post a new version every three weeks, and update our blog twice a week.

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Linux

Funny that they choose a MicroSoft "Public License" to "Open Source" their code. I'm not sure what that exactly means. I just read it and it seems harmless enough, I just have to wonder why they wouldn't use the GPL.

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