Pixar, open-source, and the future of animation

DeRose and the research team at Pixar continue to publish papers and apply new techniques to their software engines, but the studio doesn’t have the same lead in R&D and proprietary software it once had. Controlling lighting and shading or defining the parameters for a character marionette used to be huge challenges to mathematically define and then engineer code. Now, says DeRose, open-source software like Blender can do almost everything Pixar’s software can do. Last summer, Pixar even open-sourced its subdivision surface code library. “We had a competitive advantage for ten years,” DeRose says, “but now we get more value by letting everyone contribute.”

Pixar’s biggest competitive advantage now is its ability to use this math-driven technology not to make better shapes but to tell better stories. DeRose and Pixar aren’t sitting on their laurels. “Somewhere out there, a brilliant kid and their friends are working in their garage” using and improving on tools like Blender, DeRose tells the assembled children and adults at MoMath. “They will be the next Pixar.”


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