Geo Week News

September 22, 2023

USD can unlock the 3D ecosystem

How a Pixar creation is poised to become for the 3D ecosystem what HTML has been for the traditional internet.
Image of iconic OpenUSD scene “the Pixar kitchen” from clay render (left) to full-render (right). | Image via AOUSD

In 2016, Pixar released Finding Dory, the follow-up sequel to Finding Nemo. Now, I will admit that I’ve never actually seen the film, as I was pretty well aged out of the genre by that release and having no children didn’t really have a reason to seek it out. For whatever it may be worth, it was well-received with a 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with an 84 percent audience rating.

This isn’t really about the quality of the movie, though, but rather the place that Pixar film holds in the 3D technology space. Finding Dory was the first movie Pixar made using the Universal Scene Description (USD), a framework for the interchange of 3D computer graphics data. It was originally conceived of by Pixar, who first published the framework as open source software that same year in 2016. NVIDIA, who is one of the biggest proponents of USD, describes it as “more than just a file format,” saying “it’s an open and extensible ecosystem for describing, composing, simulating, and collaborating within 3D worlds.”

While Pixar was clearly thinking of their filmmaking when they originally created USD, its potential expands well beyond that, an idea that has only been strengthened throughout this year. Less than two months ago, for example, the aforementioned Pixar and NVIDIA, along with Adobe, Apple, and Autodesk, formed the Alliance for OpenUSD. The group, which was formed with the help of the Linux Foundation’s Joint Development Foundation, has only grown since then with companies like Cesium, Epic Games, and Hexagon, among others, joining. Not long after that, too, USD was a major theme at NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang’s keynote address at this year’s SIGGRAPH.

All of this is to say that, while it’s probably a bit too early to be looking at trends to watch for 2024, USD has to be on whatever theoretical shortlist for such a thing may exist. If you work at all within the 3D ecosystem and you’re not already familiarized with the framework, it’s time to be. NVIDIA has a lot of great information about USD here, and others have deep dives as well, but to me the most interesting way to think about it is as the HTML of the 3D ecosystem.

In the late 1980s, HTML completely changed the way the internet could be used, providing a way for different systems to reliably communicate with each other and allow people to use the internet as we know it today. Without HTML, for example, we could not use Microsoft software on a Mac computer while using Google’s web browser. The idea is for USD to be the key that unlocks communications for 3D experiences in a similar way, something that has long been missing for the oft-theorized but yet to be realized metaverse.

That’s not to say USD is going to solve all of the metaverse’s problems, of which there are plenty. Particularly for any sort of “social” metaverse, we’re first going to need to find some sort of hardware for people to access these 3D ecosystems that are not overly cumbersome, something that is certainly possible but still yet to be achieved. But even for an industrial metaverse, which is closer to existing – or already existing, depending on who you ask and how they define these terms — these tools to enable better communication will push the industry forward.

I’m still of the belief we’re multiple years away from the metaverse space gaining any sort of real traction, but this is among the biggest developments for making it a reality, and ensuring that 3D visualizations for industry will become the norm at some point relatively soon. There are many moving pieces to get to that point, but the same was true for the internet as we know it today. So expect to hear more about USD in the coming months and beyond, and familiarize yourself with it as quickly as possible because there will be real value in being able to utilize it sooner than the competition.

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