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Hollywood Goes Open Source: Academy Teams Up With Linux Foundation to Launch Academy Software Foundation

Hollywood now has its very own open source organization: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has teamed up with the Linux Foundation to launch the Academy Software Foundation, which is dedicated to advance the use of open source in film making and beyond.

The association’s founding members include Animal Logic, Autodesk, Blue Sky Studios, Cisco, DNEG, DreamWorks, Epic Games, Foundry, Google Cloud, Intel, SideFX, Walt Disney Studios and Weta Digital. Together, they want to promote open source, help studios and others in Hollywood with open source licensing issues and manage open source projects under the helm of the Software Foundation.

The cooperation between the Academy and the Linux Foundation began a little over two years ago, when the Academy’s Science and Technology Council began to look into Hollywood’s use of open source software. “It’s the culmination of a couple of years of work,” said Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) head Rob Bredow in an interview with Variety this week.

One of the findings of that investigation: Almost everyone in Hollywood is using open source software in one way or another. An internal survey found that 80 percent of all companies were using open source. “It’s a really big component of the motion picture industry,” Bredow said.

Academy Software Foundation
CREDIT: Courtesy of the Academy Software Foundation

Open source in Hollywood, visualized by the Academy Software Foundation.

David Morin, who has been working with Epic Games on its involvement in the Foundation, agreed, arguing that the growth in animation and visual effects led to an open source boom. “The role of the engineer has been growing,” he said.

However, Hollywood’s open source use “wasn’t nearly as healthy as we wanted it to be,” said Bredow. In many cases, companies were advancing open source software on their own without cooperating with the rest of the industry. Licensing could also be challenging, in part because studios didn’t know which of the countless licenses to choose from.

The Academy Software Foundation now wants to solve those problems through the development of shared licensing templates, and also take over the management of relevant open source projects. One example: ILM has been developing a HDR file format called OpenEXR as an open source project. Now, the Disney subsidiary is getting ready to submit the project to the Academy Software Foundation to further its development and deployment.

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin argued that this kind of cooperation could be transformative for Hollywood. “I’ve seen this movie before in other industries,” he punned, explaining that automotive companies had seen huge benefits from working together on open source projects.

Zemlin acknowledged that open source advocates and Hollywood studios haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, especially on issues like digital rights management. However, he argued that there was room for a variety of viewpoints. “Open source is a diverse community,” he said, adding: “Companies need to be able to share what they want to share and keep what they want to keep.”

Academy Science and Technology Council managing director Andy Maltz pointed out that this was the first time that the Academy was lending its name to an entity that wasn’t entirely under its control. “This is really a big deal for us,” he said.

Maltz explained that the name of the Academy Software Foundation was deliberately chosen to be inclusive and also attract the developers of video games and other forms of media. “There is a whole world out there of other art forms,” he said.

The Academy Software Foundation will have a kind of public coming-out at Siggraph, where Bredow will talk about it during his keynote speech Monday.

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