Apple plays nice with others for an OpenUSD metaverse

Meta matters less with the news that Apple, Adobe, Pixar, Autodesk, NVIDIA, and the Joint Development Foundation have joined forces to promote and develop a standard to empower mixed and virtual reality experiences.

Apple, Adobe, AR, MR, Apple Vision, Pixar, Nvidia, OpenUSD

Apple, Adobe, Pixar, Autodesk, NVIDIA, and the Joint Development Foundation have joined forces to develop a standard that can be used to underpin mixed- and virtual-reality experiences — a move that also undermine Meta's efforts in the AR/VR arena.

Opening up the 3D universe

The companies formed the Alliance for OpenUSD (AOUSD) to promote the standardization, development, evolution, and growth of Pixar’s Universal Scene Description technology. They plan to share more information about their plans at both the Academy Software Foundation’s Open Source Days on Aug. 6 and Siggraph on Aug 8.

The idea behind the group is to standardize the creation of 3D creativity with interoperable tools and data. That’s significant, as it means the moats between creative assets in the 3D space will be bridged and experiences made available across multiple channels.

It also means creatives will be able to build 3D projects, products, and services to work across all compatible systems. “Standardizing OpenUSD will accelerate its adoption, creating a foundational technology that will help today’s 2D internet evolve into a 3D web,” wrote NVIDIA in a statement.

What is OpenUSD?

OpenUSD was originally created in 2012 by Pixar Animation Studios as a 3D foundation for its feature films and made open source four years later. Subsequently, Apple at WWDC 2018 announced work with Pixar to develop USDZ Universal, a file format used to create 3D models for augmented reality.

At that time, Louis Jonckheere, chief product officer at Showpad, told me, “AR is starting to become more mainstream for both consumer and enterprise applications, but still doesn’t have a file format that people agree on. If a critical mass of people adopt a single file format, such as USDZ, we could see augmented reality applications become even more prevalent.”

That format now seems to have arrived.

In truth, the high-performance 3D scene description technology is already widely used in 3D content production and delivery. The AOUSD site also observes the standard is being used across enterprises, including the architecture, engineering, construction, and manufacturing industries.

What happens next?

The alliance now plans to develop and standardize the specification to help boost its use. It helps that once OpenUSD does become standardized, other standards bodies will be able to include it within their specifications.

Khronos Group Vice President Neil Trevett has already confirmed interest in ensuring that his company’s standards, such as gITF, can “support and synergize” with AOUSD. Unity, Epic, Foundry, SideFX, and other big industry names have also offered up statements of support. The one missing element to all this is, of course, Meta, implying a tough struggle ahead for the corporation which has apparently bet its future on AR.

The Linux Foundation's JDF was selected to house the project for several reasons. In part, it will enable open, efficient, and effective development of OpenUSD specifications. It also offers a path to recognition of the standard via the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

What they said

Cherry picking through the boiler plate statements that accompanied the announcement, we learn more concerning the motivations of the partnership.

“Universal Scene Description was invented at Pixar and is the technological foundation of our state-of-the-art animation pipeline,” said Steve May, Pixar CTO and chairperson of AOUSD. “OpenUSD is based on years of research and application in Pixar filmmaking. We open-sourced the project in 2016, and the influence of OpenUSD now expands beyond film, visual effects, and animation and into other industries that increasingly rely on 3D data for media interchange.

"With the announcement of AOUSD, we signal the exciting next step: the continued evolution of OpenUSD as a technology and its position as an international standard.”

Guido Quaroni, senior director of engineering for 3D&I at Adobe stressed that by providing a common 3D standard the partners will make 3D creative applications better and more interoperable.

“Whether you’re building CG worlds or digital twins or looking ahead to the 3D web, content creators need a cohesive way to collaborate and share data across tools, services, and platforms,” said Gordon Bradley, fellow for media and entertainment at Autodesk.

What Apple said

Of course, to some extent Apple’s interest in 3D assets and Augmented/Mixed reality is now widely known — it sees this as part of a future for computing it has begun to extemporize within the Apple Vision series.

Mike Rockwell, Apple’s vice president of the vision products group, explained: “OpenUSD will help accelerate the next generation of AR experiences, from artistic creation to content delivery, and produce an ever-widening array of spatial computing applications. Apple has been an active contributor to the development of USD, and it is an essential technology for the ground-breaking visionOS platform, as well as the new Reality Composer Pro developer tool.

"We look forward to fostering its growth into a broadly adopted standard.”

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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