Yesterday afternoon The Foundry announced the release of KATANA 1.0, the much anticipated look development and lighting tool. In addition to this, The Foundry also shared the news that Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a Lucasfilm Company, have purchased a licence of this latest version with the hope to boost their production pipeline across their ILM and Lucasfilm companies.
In light of this exciting news, we caught up with Andy Lomas, KATANA Product Manager, to find out more about this product and what it has in store for the future.
Can you describe KATANA in a nutshell for people who have never heard of it?
KATANA is a tool for Look Development and Lighting designed to allow users to light scenes of potentially unlimited complexity while still allowing the flexibility to inspect and modify anything in a 3D scene, and providing the tools so that the artists are still in control.
It was originally created at Sony Pictures Imageworks for the needs of their CG feature animation and VFX projects, but what the guys at Sony created is a general framework that solves real production problems in a very elegant way. You can see KATANA as being the equivalent for 3D that NUKE is for 2D: it gives the user a node based interface that they use to specify what assets they want to bring in, and any filters and overrides they want to apply to modify the assets before they are renderered.
On a technology level there are lots of really cool things in KATANA. In particular it's a renderer agnostic approach that is capable of working with any shader based renderer. It's also designed to allow data to be delivered on demand as the renderer asks for it, so it works particularly well with modern production renderers that support render time procedurals. Initially we will be supporting Pixar's RenderMan and Arnold, but we are already working on integrating new renderers into KATANA, and if you have your own renderer there is a full API for plugging new renderers in.
KATANA was originally developed by Sony Imageworks, have The Foundry made many changes to the product since acquiring it?
KATANA from The Foundry will be very familiar to anyone who has used it at Sony. Most of the changes we have been making so far have been to open it up with a set of rich APIs so that it can be integrated into the pipelines at new studios. We’ve also been working on updating the RenderMan support so that KATANA now supports co-shaders and other features of RSL 2.0.
Is this product integrating well with the other Foundry products?
Very much so. So far integration has mostly been on the technology level,where we’re making use of KATANA libraries in other products such as NUKE and MARI. Most of this won’t be obvious from a user’s point of view so far, but features such as NUKE’s support for RenderMan and forthcoming support for Alembic in our products will all make use of KATANA technology.
We are actively talking about a number of ways that KATANA, NUKE and MARI could play together very well, in similar ways to the recently released NUKE <> MARI bridge for digital environment and projection work. We think they are going to be a very natural suite of complementary tools.
What advantages can users look forward to when working with KATANA?
The big advantages that KATANA offers users are it’s flexibility (at Sony they have a saying that whatever the problem ‘there’s always a way to do it in KATANA’) and how well it naturally supports an asset based way of working.
Does KATANA have any product rivals?
I think KATANA is unique in many ways. In particular it’s a very renderer-agnostic approach, while most other lighting solutions are based around the features of one particular renderer. It’s also born from real production needs on some of the most complex CG feature and VFX shows, such as SpiderMan 3 and Beowulf. It has already been used as the core tool for look development and lighting on over 20 films at Sony Imageworks, and has earned an extremely good reputation with existing users.
Is KATANA available for trial?
Katana 1.0 is principally aimed at larger studios with existing pipelines. In essence Katana 1.0 is going to be a ‘solution’ rather than a ‘package’, and initially it will be for Linux 64bit only. One other assumption in KATANA 1.0 is that you will be using your own shader library, which is exactly what most of the big studios want.
So far we have been working with a small select group of studios, largely helped by a number of studios having ex-Sony experienced KATANA users. It’s going very well, with KATANA now already being used in production at some studios other than Sony. Indeed, Digital Domain and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) have already bought site licenses for KATANA.
As we progress to Katana 2.0 and beyond the focus is going to be on supporting other operating systems and providing a more complete out of the box package.
Which KATANA tools will be most beneficial to the NUKE user?
It’s mostly going to be a complement to NUKE users. Using KATANA lighters will be able to work efficiently to turn around changes on shots fast, and deliver renders in standard formats such as OpenEXR’s with multiple channels and depth data.
What other Foundry products if any will adopt the KATANA technology do you think?
NUKE is already making use of KATANA technology, and MARI will be soon.
Are The Foundry still working with Sony Imageworks in the further development of KATANA and its tools?
Absolutely. We’re actively working together with the team at Sony under our joint technology sharing agreement. The plan is that together we can really push KATANA forward, and we have big ambitions!