VES Reference Platform

Last October, the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee and the VFX Reference Platform Working Group launched a major survey with the goal of creating a better understanding of the collective platform and software needs of the VFX and Animation studio community.

Nick Cannon, Co-author

“With 88 studios responding to the survey representing around 60,000 artist workstations, we believe this is the biggest survey of its kind and is a representative slice of the studio community as a whole, ” commented co-lead of the VFX Reference Platform and one of the report’s authors, Nick Cannon. The detail provided by the studios and the enthusiasm to see the survey results illustrates how important this platform issue is to our VFX community. “This report will help us improve the health and sustainability of the infrastructure that we depend on while providing a path to a better foundation to innovate and further improve the artist experience. It all comes down to providing artists with the environment that will empower them to do their best work.”

Building software products for a common platform means they are easier to install and integrate into pipelines so may result in quicker adoption of new software releases at a studio. Having a clear understanding of the target or reference platform used for VFX also made it easier for the industry to adopt new technologies more rapidly. For example, the VES has long worked on this in the hope that by making it simpler for vendors to support Linux we will see more applications available on Linux in the future. The work is done by a neutral, independent volunteer effort governed by the VES Tech Committee, and run for the benefit of the VFX community, which also consults with the ASWF technical Advisory Council. The Committee has created a transparent process, fairly representing the interests of both software vendors and end-user studios, so that everyone has a realistic picture of our industries needs.

This new report is based on the SIGGRAPH 2021 conference,  VFX Reference Platform Birds of a Feather session. This meeting focused on operating systems due to some major shifts that happened in the end of 2020. On the agenda that day was a combination of changes including the impending end of support for CentOS Linux 7 in 2024, the replacement of CentOS Linux 8 by CentOS Stream at the end of 2021, the increase in Windows adoption driven by growing game engine use, especially UE4 and VR support, and Apple’s migration from Intel to ARM. This lead in October 2021 to the first annual studio survey by the VES Technology Committee and the VFX Reference Platform Working Group. 88 studios responded representing 59,319 artist workstations. About half of those studios were companies with multiple locations or studio offices, spread around the world.

This report is really important as neither individual artists nor large studios want to invest in the wrong technology or become incompatible with the tools the majority of studios and freelancers are using.

The full report can be found here. Key takeouts from the report include:

  • Of all the major operating systems, Linux is the preferred option on the majority of artist workstations across VFX and animation studios. That dominance does not seem to be changing, and the survey results indicate that most studios expect Linux workstation numbers to increase in the future at a higher rate than Windows or MacOS.
  • However, Linux has been becoming less important to many software vendors that are seeing their customer base grow significantly in other areas.
  • Across those Linux workstations, CentOS Linux currently has the majority market share which is why its end of life in 2024 presents such a challenge for the community.
  • The most impacted studios have yet to decide what Linux distribution to move to next, but most plan to decide before the end of 2022, so there is an urgency to find some agreement.
  • The risk of further distribution fragmentation is very real and clearly demonstrated in the survey results.
  • Security remains an issue especially with the need for a studio to oftentimes run multiple operating systems, sometimes with legacy applications.
  • There remain problems with using Linux due to the lack of support from Adobe (After Effects/ Creative Cloud) and real-time support specifically NVIDIA and Unreal Engine. Especially given the importance and growth of real-time and virtual production applications.
  • There does seem to be an acknowledgment that something needs to be done at a broader industry level, with some studios directly asking the VES for help in deciding which distribution to move to next. The survey results highlight that coordination is needed.
  • The VES committee strongly recommends that studios running CentOS Linux 7 move to CentOS Linux 7.9 to improve security and sustainability while the community decides on a longer-term strategy.

The VES Technology Committee works on multiple initiatives in parallel, some of which end up with published reports. Others include collaboration with other industry groups or ongoing governance of initiatives overseen by the committee such as the VFX Reference Platform. For example, the VES Transfer Spec was in development for some time but version 1.0 was published broadly in November 2019. In 2020, we published the VES Technology Committee ‘Work from Home’ (WFH) best practices and tips & tricks document as a place to gather knowledge for studios dealing with the pivot to working from home. There are several other initiatives in progress that the Committee hopes to be able to share more about in the coming months.

The committee is chaired by Sebastian Sylan and has 12 members, all of which contributed to the report in some way but some were more directly involved in the work, in addition to Nick Cannon, these include Francois Chardavoine (who co-hosted the 2021 Birds of a Feather), Ray Feeney, Steve May, JF Panisset, and Sam Richards.

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