Richard Lewis Takes On the Pipeline
DS: Where do you see render and pipeline management headed in the next 2-5 years?
RL: I honestly think we are at the very beginning of computer graphics and render pipeline [management growth curve]. This whole “pipeline, pipeline, pipeline” you’re hearing is because everyone is now seriously thinking about it. Another barometer is when I started with AutoCAD; I started an AutoCAD user group. You go to the book store, there is not a book on AutoCAD, the command reference was all you got and it just said what the commands did. No idea how to do anything. There were no classes at high school or community college, we were on our own to talk to each other about how to use it. Well, go and look for all the books on Amazon on render pipelines.
DS: There's zero.
RL: Yeah we have a draft of something, but you know, there aren’t any. There are few books on pipeline, period! It’s just the Wild West. It’s still the very beginning. We just got computers in the 80’s for the first time with a floppy disk! This is all just brand new.
Almost all the computers in the world are not managed in terms of rendering. They’re not optimally managed, they’re not tied together, they’re not shared. In universities, we have some very smart clustering, which is priority based. So if I am an After Effects user on a Mac, but I’m not at school today, that NUKE user in the next room can actually render on my machine and nobody even knows it. It’s just because no one is logged into this machine yet and it’s a part of a cluster. Now if I walk in and send a job, I’m going to push that job out automatically and start my job just because of the way the management is set up. Just that base level of sharing resources in a school? Hardly anyone is doing that. Universities have hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of computers times the numbers of CPU cores doing nothing most of the time. No one is touching them. Now if a student got access to anywhere near that kind of capacity, their experience in that creative iterative loop of computer graphics can be multiplied ten to 100 times.
So I don’t think there is going to be some revolutionary thing in pipelines. It’s not like the cloud is going to come in and solve everybody’s problem, we’re going to do animated features on an expense account, dialed up over the internet or anything like that. What we are seeing with our partners like Shotgun, TACTIC, RV from Tweak, we are seeing small software companies like ours that start up to address the infrastructure of digital media.
The Foundry, Auto Desk and Adobe, they all make applications, but, they don’t make management systems between the applications. So we’ve made those and we are all talking to each other, we’re using Qt and Python and modern languages, making things portable, with plug-ins, all talking to each other. Now we are starting to see studios adopt commercial infrastructure and applications [technology] and start to have some IT discipline.
Customers are demanding it now. I was in Germany. Marvel uses some studios there and they did a whole IT audit, and they wanted to know the brand name of their [the German studios’] firewalls. Lots of these studios were like, “I use a Linux firewall that’s a .exe file,” or “there is no brand.” Marvel said, “That’s not good enough, we need a brand.” So a lot of that discipline is starting to be required by the customer. So for us, we think we have a good ten years of just helping people get to a baseline of efficiency within render pipelines. There are some leading studios trying to do these big distributed kinds of things, but I think 95% of the digital media market in the world needs to try to get their act together at home...
You know, it’s a niche business and we find it interesting. We like rendering in computer graphics, we like the work, and the companies. We do a lot of post-production and broadcast, fast turnaround. We have The Daily Show and Comedy Central, and The Dr. Phil Show and people like that. They just need a reliable, fast, easy to use system that works with every software they might need. And there are thousands and thousands of those. So it’s an enormous market, it’s very fragmented, people use stuff that’s free, they render on their desktop, they don’t share resources yet. It sounds very basic and it’s not really glamorous. But that’s the blocking and tackling of getting into the computer graphics market, which is just getting started.
Dan Sarto is publisher of AWN.com.