Description of the universal scene: the HTML of the metaverse

Have you ever seen the movie “Finding Dory?”

The 2016 Pixar movie about a bluefish with anterograde amnesia may not be your genre, but it could be compared to CERN, the first ever website that was released on August 6, 1991.

What’s the connection? The animated film was the first to be constructed using the Universal Scene Description (USD), which, according to many, is a fundamental element of the metaverse.

In other words, USD is the HTML for 3D virtual worlds.

“We weren’t thinking about the metaverse when we made USD,” said Steve May, vice president and CTO of Pixar, during a virtual panel discussion at Nvidia’s GTC event this week. “We didn’t expect the USD to grow so fast and so broadly.”

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Without a doubt, the metaverse is one of the hottest topics of discussion in the tech world – how to build it, govern it, monetize it – and the USD is being praised for its pivotal role in accelerating its evolution.

And, in this, USD is on a journey that the world has already seen.

An easily extensible open source framework for 3D computer graphics data interchange, USD was created specifically to be collaborative, to allow for nondestructive editing, and to allow for multiple views and opinions.

Many compare its current iteration with HTML: you can load assets and specify representation. Its next phase will be greater interactivity and portability: CSS moment, so to speak. The general consensus is: “Let’s go to USD JavaScript,” said Natalya Tatarchuk, distinguished technical colleague and chief architect for professional art and graphic innovation at Unity Gaming Services.

But first: the description of the universal screen originates

As May explained, the USD was born because Pixar was trying to solve the workflow problems related to movie making. The studio’s films involve complex and often outlandish worlds that must be believed. Many animators work on the scenes at the same time, so Pixar needed a tool that fostered collaboration and was also expressive, performing and fast.

The USD has essentially merged, distilled and generalized numerous systems and concepts that have existed within Pixar for some time. The framework was fully exploited for the first time in “Finding Dory”, which was released in June 2016. The following month, Pixar made USD open source.

Ultimately, May described the platform as “old and new”; it is nascent and is evolving rapidly. And, because it’s so versatile and powerful, it’s widely adopted in many other areas besides shooting and gaming: design, robotics, manufacturing, architecture.

Nvidia, for example, saw this because the company had started developing content and apps for simulation and artificial intelligence in-house, specifically building worlds for simulating autonomous vehicles, explained Reverend Lebaredian, vice president. of Nvidia’s Omniverse simulation technology and engineering.

The company needed a common way to describe and build worlds, “really large, collaboratively in many spaces,” Lebaredian said, and USD “reduced the essence of the problem.”

Many file formats had come and gone over the decades, he said, but USD seemed like “there was a lot of wisdom embedded in it.”

Taking it home

Similarly, Lowe’s home improvement store had leveraged 3D and augmented reality to present items to consumers, and the company wanted to expand that 3D visualization to operations, store design and supply chain.

Additionally, the company was looking for a way to describe digital twins for its stores, of which it has 2,000 with 20 different layouts and unique features for each, explained Mason Sheffield, director of creative technology at Lowe’s Innovation Labs.

The company’s existing ad hoc system had several departments using Autodesk Revit, 2D CAD, SketchUp and others, he said. Understandably, this has provided scaling challenges.

But, in early 2021, Lowe’s adopted an Omniverse platform using USD that linked internal warehouse databases, shelf planning, store layout tools, and product library. The company moved from flat 3D models that needed to be batch generated to a shared, hierarchical file format (for example, a planogram that can be edited and propagated across stores), Sheffield said.

“The USD looks like a democratization of 3D that we haven’t seen on other platforms,” ​​he said.

Collaborative evolution

That said, the bricks aren’t perfect.

As Tatarchuk pointed out, the USD is a vehicle for interoperability and standards need to evolve to achieve portability. “It will take all of us to line up on it,” she said.

Guido Quaroni, senior director of engineering of 3D and immersive at Adobe, said he would like to see the framework move closer to the web surface. This would allow creation and not just consumption; also, there should be greater interoperability between apps and surfaces.

Matt Sivertson, Autodesk Vice President and Chief Architect for Media and Entertainment, stressed the importance of enabling artists to use whatever tools they want. A long-term USD potential is reducing the workflow cost of switching between apps.

“It’s not just about the tools anymore,” he said. “A differentiating feature [will be] how well you support USD. “

The ability to scale on different surfaces is also important, Sheffield said; she would also like to see native USD implementation solutions and a gentler developer learning curve.

“I’m thrilled with this evolution to true metaverse HTML,” said Sheffield.

Ideally, go straight to HTML 5 and TypeScript, said Mattias Wikenmalm, senior visualization expert at Volvo Cars.

That said, while the USD concepts have been “proven in battle”, there is the “risk of making the USD too complex and too fast,” he said. We don’t want to end up in a situation where there are all kinds of plugins for different companies.

“The building blocks are there, it’s just a matter of refining and building on a solid foundation that is already in USD,” Wikenmalm said.

To continuously support the evolution of the tool it released in-kind, Pixar is increasing hires for its USD team. This will help the company explore USD applications beyond cinema, May said.

“There are a lot of things we still want to do, a lot of features we don’t have yet,” he said.

Going forward, it will be crucial to fully engage with the community: “What’s going on in USD? What’s wrong with USD? How can we prevent the USD from collapsing due to its own weight? “

“We have to make the right decisions, collectively,” May said.

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