Last year, when the Walt Disney Co.s feature animation unit, in Burbank, Calif., announced that it was using Linux for digital animation work, speculation grew that Adobe Systems Inc. would finally port its products to Linux. To this day, however, Adobe has done no such thing. Rather than wait, Disney, along with two other motion picture animation studios (which declined to be named for this article), decided to jointly fund the development of a Windows-to-Linux porting solution. The idea: develop technology using the Wine emulator to run Adobe Photoshop on Linux.
While animation studios compete fiercely for ticket sales and are not known as team players, all three agreed that a project that would benefit the entire open-source community—while delivering a technology they needed—was worth their cooperation, said Jack Brooks, director of technology at Walt Disney Feature Animation.
The project has paid off tremendously for Disney this year alone. Development of the porting solution, including site licenses, cost Disney less than $15,000. Had he opted to run Photoshop on Windows machines, it would have cost upward of $50,000 just in annual licensing fees, said Brooks. He estimates support would have been an additional $40,000 a year.
“Its been a win-win model to have someone else provide added value to an open-source product,” Brooks said. “I didnt have the resources to chase that project internally. This way, the open-source community got the product, and we got what we needed cheaper than we could have done it ourselves.”
Although Linux has proven success on servers, it is just beginning to gain ground on enterprise desktops, experts said. Much of this has to do with emulators such as Wine, which enable companies to run Windows-only applications on Linux, said Chad Robinson, an analyst at Robert Frances Group Inc., a research company in Westport, Conn.
“Wine has always been an important element in considering Linux deployment on the desktop in corporate environments because desktop product vendors have simply not kept pace with server product vendors in porting their products,” Robinson said. “Although there are a few methods of emulation available, Wine is one of the most complete and effective; and while not every application runs perfectly, enough do that many companies end up using it at some point.”
Disneys foray with Linux began in 2000 when Brooks and his team came to the realization that they could no longer afford to rely completely on their animation platform, which was based on Silicon Graphics Inc. technology. They began benchmarking Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X, FreeBSD, Windows and Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux.
Disney needed support for leading commercial animation and special effects applications such as Maya, from Alias Systems (a division of SGI); Side Effects Software Inc.s Houdini; and Pixar Animation Studios RenderMan. When those applications were ported to Linux in 2001, Disney deployed Red Hat Linux 7.2 on more than 600 desktops. All the desktops run CodeWeavers Inc.s CrossOver Office 2.0.1, which enables non-Linux applications to run on Linux.
Brooks and his team also moved all their GUIs to Qt, a multiplatform kit from Trolltech Inc., and ported more than 4 million lines of code to Linux.
“It was a pretty daunting proposition because we use a large number of third-party software packages as well as internally developed software,” Brooks said. “But we came to the conclusion that the right solution was going to be Linux, and weve been pleased with the results.”
By 2002, Disney had standardized its digital animation platform on Linux running on Hewlett-Packard Co. hardware. The company also uses Mac OS X, Solaris and Windows operating systems in its computing environment.
The studio isnt the only one that has taken advantage of open-source software. DreamWorks SKG, Pixar Animation Studios and Lucas Digital Ltd. LLCs Industrial Light and Magic, among others, have moved their animation platforms to Linux during the last few years. DreamWorks latest animation feature, “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” was the first movie ever created entirely on Linux.
Although CrossOver Office and CrossOver PlugIn enabled Brooks to run Windows-based and non-Linux applications such as Apples QuickTime and Microsoft Corp.s Office on his desktops, he had no way to run Photoshop for the 200 employees who use it on a regular basis. CrossOver Office did not support the illustration application, and Adobe made no commitments to porting its product to Linux.
Although Brooks considered and even tried to use several open-source alternatives, including GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program (see related story), and Cinepaint (formerly FilmGimp), he said he ran into performance issues with the two programs. Artists also found the open-source programs less intuitive to use than Photoshop.
And while Photoshop is the program of choice among Disneys artist base, Disney is keeping an eye on Cinepaint and is even using the program in a few cases, Brooks said.
“Theres this whole artistic community built around Photoshop, and we couldnt easily move these people to free alternatives,” Brooks said. “[But] we hope [Cinepaint] will get to the point where we can use it for more tasks.”
Brooks considered dual-booting the workstations with Windows and Linux but found the management to be too expensive and labor-intensive for his four system administrators. He also looked into using VMware Inc.s VMWorkstation but decided against it because it would require purchasing a Windows license and would create performance limitations.
Today, Brooks runs Photoshop 7.0 on CrossOver Office on more than 200 workstations. CrossWeavers, in turn, has added support of Photoshop 7.0 to its CrossOver Office product.
Experts say the use of Wine by a corporation such as Disney to solve a technology problem gives legitimacy to the idea of running Linux on the desktop.
“Corporations [are] in a quandary—they are dissatisfied with Microsofts product line and licensing/pricing policies, but they have blocking factors preventing them from making a move,” said Robert Frances Groups Robinson. “CodeWeavers efforts could be the deciding factor in resolving this issue. … I can definitely see enterprise deployments taking advantage of this in the future.”
Photoshop has performed well on Red Hat, Brooks said. Saving files is faster on Linux than on Mac OS machines also running Photoshop, he said.
Brooks said it took some time to convince Disney attorneys that he wanted to pay for the development of the porting solution but did not want to own it. However, Disneys legal department has developed a policy that enables Disney to protect its intellectual property while keeping within the statutes of the GNU General Public License, he said.
Last month, production of animated films that started on SGIs Irix was complete, enabling Brooks to deploy Linux on those machines. He is now planning a migration from Red Hat 7.2 to Red Hat 9.0 for his workstations and rendering farm.
“For a lot of years, a lot of the industry was focused on SGI, and only one player was involved,” Brooks said. “By and large, weve made a huge transition.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at [email protected].