Open source release of USDMaya plugin: AL_USDMaya by Animal Logic

Animal Logic (AL) at SIGGRAPH announced the open source release of its USDMaya plugin AL_USDMaya. The announcement event was so full that there was a queue outside the room at the LA Convention Center.

There is good reason for the attention, Animal Logic is on a creative roll, with a stack of projects booked, and their decision to roll out a USDMaya plugin has been seen as a welcome contribution to the Open Source community, from both other houses and equipment manufacturers. Universal Scene Description (USD) itself has formed a critical part of Pixar’s current pipeline.

Animal Logic has been using the USDMaya plugin internally for about a year, according to Eoin Murphy, Lead R&D Software Engineer at Animal Logic since 2006. “Currently it is being rolled out to the Animation and Layout departments on Peter Rabbit, which is our target for this year. We’ll then look at moving into Environment, Lighting etc”, he explained.

Animal Logic is bringing the childhood story, Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, to life in a live-action/CG major motion picture. The film, which is currently in production in Sydney, is directed by Will Gluck (Annie, Friends with Benefits). The film stars James Corden in the lead role of Peter, with Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki and Margot Robbie voicing some of Beatrix Potter’s timeless characters. Rose Byrne is starring as the live-action female lead, Bea, with Domhnall Gleeson as Mr. McGregor. The film is due for worldwide release in April 2018. With a slate of other projects locked in after that (see below).

The USDMaya plugin enables powerful and efficient authoring and editing of 3D graphics data using Pixar’s USD in Autodesk’s Maya. AL_USDMaya builds upon Pixar’s USD technology, which was released as open source in 2016 . USD supports the interchange of 3D graphics data through various Digital Content Creation (DCC) tools, providing an effective and scalable solution for the complex workflows of CG film and game companies.

AL is not the only company using it, “MPC are in the ‘trying it out’ stage” commented Murphy further and Luma Pictures is also believed to be evaluating it.

PIXAR took USD open source in 2016 (Pixar imagery).

After Pixar confirmed early in 2016 that it would open source USD, AL became an early adopter of the technology and decided to use it as the backbone of its new Animation Pipeline. As Autodesk’s Maya is used extensively in the AL pipeline, it was important to have a sophisticated integration of USD into Maya. During this time, AL was developing its own common scene description format based on technology from its in-house Renderer, Glimpse and since then, the AL_USDMaya plugin has been in development within Animal Logic’s Research & Development team.

The goal of the plugin is to leverage the strengths of both Maya and USD and use each one to represent the data that it is most suited to. Animal Logic uses AL_USDMaya to allow native Maya entities such as complex Maya Rigs loaded as references, and other assets not easily represented in USD, to be embedded in USD scenes and imported into Maya in their native form. The plugin maintains a “live” connection between the USD and Maya scene, and can respond to various events, keeping the Maya and USD scenes in sync.

This affords a user experience that allows artists to swap in and out different representations of objects in their scene, including Rigs for geometry caches and different levels of detail. Additionally, heavyweight scene elements such as sets and crowds can be represented in OpenGL in the Maya viewport, and manipulated either with USD or Maya tools and UI components. AL_USDMaya complements Pixar’s USD Maya plugin, and both can operate side by side.

“Pixar is very excited by the release of Animal Logic’s USDMaya plugin,” said Sebastian Grassia, Lead Engineer for the USD project. “This plugin offers the deepest-yet integration of USD editing into a third-party DCC, and provides well-considered layout and animation workflows that are beyond the scope of Pixar’s Maya plugins. Animal Logic’s decision to open-source the plugin is also wonderful validation of the spirit in which USD itself was open-sourced.”

Chris Vienneau, Senior Director, Autodesk said “Autodesk is fully committed to making Maya the best authoring tool for USD based pipelines and are extremely excited that Animal Logic has made their USDMaya plugin available through open source. We are looking forward to working closely with Animal Logic, Pixar and other industry partners to make a tight USD and Maya integration a reality.”

Animal Logic is based at Fox Studios in Sydney and Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles. It was established in 1991, AL has produced visual effects and animation for feature films such as The Great GatsbyWalking with Dinosaurs 3DThe Matrix300, the Academy Award-winning Happy FeetMoulin Rouge! and The Lego Movie, and most recently The Lego Batman Movie.

In 2017, Animal Logic has signed a deal to produces films for Imagine Entertainment. Imagine will develop, finance, and produce 6 animated/hybrid films over the next five years. Equity financing is currently being raised to fund 50% of the production and development during the five-year term. Target production budgets are between $75 and $85 million, according to Variety. The first of these is slated for the year after Peter Rabbit.

“Animal Logic’s work in the animation space is groundbreaking. Our partnership expands our mutually shared vision to create visually stunning, inventive, and heart-warming stories that appeal to families,” commented Imagine chairman and director Ron Howard. “Their technical capabilities for animation are impressive and distinctive, and the possibilities for new material are limitless in this highly coveted space.”

Hopefully such long term project funding and commitments will allow AL even more opportunity to invest in R&D such as the tight USD and Maya integration.

One of AL’s very successful Animation films: The Lego Batman Film, (pre USD).

The source code will be available via