Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Coco and the Flow

So what exactly have I been doing Coco? Not much I can specifically point at. I mean, our work is everywhere. That's the thing about working in Tools: we enable others to do amazing work, and that is incredibly rewarding.


Among the other things, my fantastic team and I have embarked on a mission to make shading fun again, working really hard on a shading tool, which we now imaginatively call Flow.

Last year at Siggraph, Pixar was hosted at the NVidia booth, and Danny Nahmias and I gave a preview of what was coming. Check it out! Other videos at the booth are hosted here. We also presented it again at Pixar's Renderman Technology Fair.

When we made Finding Dory and Cars 3, we pushed Katana for Shading as much as we could, given time and resources. The challenge was great, because we really started from scratch: we switched to the new Renderman RIS renderer, losing with it our well seasoned Renderman Shading Language and our existing tools. The results were great too, because we were able to create new workflows that were impossible before. 

Not all was perfect though. With the risk of oversimplifying things, the iteration of look development is often as simple as bind a shader, move a slider, see the result, and keep tweaking until it looks good. With our software, hard things became possible, but these simple things took a long time. In an effort to address this, the Coco environment artists and Tools teamed up to build something different. 

Flow puts together some of our best technologies. It uses a real time GPU viewport, that is a full path tracer developed at Pixar, built on NVidia's Optix framework. The application framework is using parts of our very own Presto animation system. Our shaders are kept in sync with the Renderman ones via a OSL to RTP (cuda) translator. Kees - you might know him for being the author of ShaderFX - built a shading specific node graph that enables some of the coolest workflows. We have a cross platform media browser for finding and publishing textures and materials. And last but not least, Flow is the first tool to load and save USD (including USD Shading) as a native format.

There are a lot of people to credit for this work. But the biggest shout outs go to Peter, Brandon and Florian, who fearlessly carried this project so far.

Would you like to see it? We'll be presenting it again this year at Siggraph, probably both with NVidia and RenderMan. Once again, stay tuned!
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