Behind the Screens: Sean McDuffee, Intel

By September 20, 2019 Behind the Screens, Blog

In this series, we talk to developers and software engineers from across the motion picture and media industries to learn more about their work in visual effects and animation, how they use open source software, and their involvement in the Academy Software Foundation.

Sean McDuffee
Graphics Software Engineer, Intel
TAC Member, Academy Software Foundation

Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get your start in visual effects and/or animation?

I studied Physics in college and towards the end of school, I met some guys that were modifying the original Quake source (this is like 2003) and implementing their own rendering algorithms. I thought it was just so neat. I got a job at MIT working in nuclear fusion research, but I didn’t forget about the rendering world. So, after three years, I left physics to go study computer science at Columbia University. There I met researchers from the nearby Blue Sky Studios, which is where I started working when I received my Masters. I spent the next 10 years in the RnD department working on rendering and simulation software. And now I’m with Intel working on their open source rendering software libraries.

What was the first film or show you ever worked on? What was your role?

The first film was Rio from Blue Sky Studios. I was a software engineer working on the renderer. I think the first thing was materials filtering.

What has been your favorite film or show to work on and why?

Probably Peanuts – we really nailed the look and feel of the source material.

What do you work on currently?

Currently I work on Intel’s Rendering Framework projects such as Embree, OpenVKL, OSPRay, and OpenImageDenoise, which are all open source.

What do you like about open source software? What do you dislike?

I like that it allows engineers around the world to work together even though they are not employed by the same people. If it’s not secret sauce directly tied to the bottom line of a company, then it’s more efficient to pool resources. For dislikes, if I never heard the term CI again, I’d be fine. That’s not really an open source issue though.

What is your involvement within the Academy Software Foundation? Can you sum up your experience so far?

I am the Technical Advisory Council (TAC) representative for Intel. It’s a great experience with very dedicated people working with a great mandate.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing open source developers/projects across the industry?

Legal. But really any kind of code reuse is always tough in software. At the end of the day, every show has its own problems and solutions. Crafting and maintaining solutions that are useful long term in a heterogeneous world is difficult.

How do you think the Academy Software Foundation can help solve that challenge?

Facilitating conversation and organizational capacity.

Where do you hope to see the Foundation in five years?

I hope to see people working together, and that it’s helped the industry to grow faster than if everybody was separated.

What advice would you offer other developers or software engineers interested in getting started with the Foundation?

“Just do it.”

If you could pick one open source project to join the Foundation, which would it be?

USD.

Calling all developers! If you are currently involved in the Academy Software Foundation or one of our projects and would like to be featured in “Behind the Screens,” please email us