Description of the Universal Scene: The Metaverse's HTML

Description of the Universal Scene: The Metaverse's HTML ...

Have you ever seen the film 'Finding Dory?'

A 2016 Pixar film about an anterograde amnesia blue tang fish might not be your thing, but it may be compared to CERN, the first-ever website that went live August 6, 1991.

What's the connection? The animated film was the first to be produced using Universal Scene Description (USD) — which many consider to be the metaverse's foundation.

USD is the HTML for 3D virtual worlds.

During a virtual panel discussion at Nvidia's GTC event this week, Steve May, vice president and CTO of Pixar, said, "We did not anticipate that USD would grow this rapidly and broadly."

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The metaverse is without a doubt one of the most popular topics of discussion in the tech world — how to structure it, govern it, and monetize it — and the USD is being lauded for playing a vital role in its rapid evolution.

And, in this, the USD is on a journey unlike any other in the world.

USD is a free-form, open-source tool for the exchange of 3D computer graphics data. It's designed to be collaborative, to allow for non-destructive editing, and to allow multiple opinions and viewpoints.

Many people like Unity Gaming Services' current version, which allows assets to be loaded and representation can be specified. Its next phase will be enhanced interactivity and portability, dubbed the CSS moment.

But first: the origins of Universal Screen Description

USD was created by Pixar to address workflow concerns around filmmaking. The studio's films contain complex and often whimsical worlds that must be believable. Many animators work on scenes at the same time, so Pixar needed a tool that was both expressive, performant, and fast.

USD essentially combined, distilled, and generalized many spread-out concepts and systems that had been around within Pixar for some time. The framework was fully leveraged for the first time in "Finding Dory," which was released in June 2016. The following month, Pixar made USD open source.

May referred to the platform as "old and new," which is still developing rapidly. And because it is so versatile and powerful, it is being widely adopted in many other areas beyond filming and gaming — design, robotics, manufacturing, and architecture.

Nvidia, for instance, was interested because the company had begun to develop content and apps internally for simulation and AI, particularly for simulating autonomous vehicles, according to Rev Lebaredian, Nvidia's vice president of simulation technology and Omniverse engineering.

According to Lebaredian, the company needed a common metaphor to describe and construct worlds, which were "extremely large ones," and USD "stripped down to the core of the problem."

Several file formats have evolved and dissipated over the years, but USD believes that "there was a lot of wisdom."

Bringing it home

Lowe's, a home supply store, had been using 3D and augmented reality to display goods to customers, and the company wanted to extend such 3D visualization to operations, store design, and the supply chain.

According to Mason Sheffield, Lowe's Innovation Labs' director of creative technology, the company was looking for a way to describe digital twins for its stores, which include 2,000 different layouts and unique features.

According to him, the company's current ad hoc system involved different departments, which included Autodesk Revit, 2D CAD, SketchUp, and others. It's understandable that this presented scaling difficulties.

Lowe's adopted an Omniverse platform that integrated its internal warehouse databases, shelf planning tools, and product library in early 2021, according to Sheffield. The company has gone from flat 3D models that had to be batch created to a hierarchical, shared file format (for example, a planogram that can be changed and propagated across all shops).

"USD feels like a 3D revolution unlike any other platform," he said.

The evolution of collaborative thinking

All that said, building blocks aren't perfect.

USD is a vehicle for interoperability, and standards must be refined in order to achieve portability, according to Tatarchuk. "It's going to take all of us to align on it," she said.

Guido Quaroni, Adobe's senior director of 3D and immersive engineering, said he wants to see the framework work with the web surface. This would enable authoring rather than just consumption; and there should also be greater interoperability between apps and surfaces.

Matt Sivertson, Autodesk's vice president and chief architect for media and entertainment, emphasized the importance of allowing artists to use any software they want. One longer-term benefit of USD is reducing the cost of switching between apps — from a workflow perspective.

"It's not just about the tools anymore," he said. "A distinguishing feature [will be] how well you support USD."

Sheffield believes that the ability to scale to different surfaces is also critical; he wants to see native solutions for USD deployment, and a gentler developer learning curve.

"I'm excited about this shift toward the true HTML of the metaverse," says Sheffield.

According to Volvo Cars' senior visualisation expert, it's recommended to go directly to HTML 5 and TypeScript.

Despite the fact that the concepts in USD have been "battle proven," there is a "risk of making USD too complex too quickly," says the author. We don't want to end up in a situation where there are all sorts of plugins for different companies.

"The building blocks are there, but it's just improving them and building on the solid foundation that's already in USD," Wikenmalm says.

Pixar is increasing its USD staff to continue to support the development of the tool it developed in the wild, according to May. This will allow the company to expand beyond filmmaking.

"There are a lot of things we still want to do, and a lot of functionality we don't yet have," he said.

It will be critical to engage with the community in the future: “What goes into USD? What doesn’t? How do we prevent USD from falling from its own weight?”

May said, "We need to make the correct decisions collectively."

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