What Is a USD File: 3D Collaboration & Storage Format

Pixar developed Common Scene Description (USD) as a 3D file format and a collaborative framework for folks engaged on 3D scenes. Many creators use USD to construct animated 3D movies, video games, AR, simulators, and the metaverse.

Inside this text:

What’s a USD file?

A USD, or Common Scene Description, file is a 3D asset format and way more. USD offers a framework for artists to create 3D belongings. Artists, administrators, and others can prepare, animate, gentle, and edit 3D objects in USD to create complete 3D scenes and worlds collaboratively.

As “Common Scene Description” implies, USD is a option to assemble and direct an animated scene. Creators can work with 3D objects and apply attributes, layers, and opinions in a single central information set. USD options schemas equivalent to geometry, lighting, shading, and physics, enabling 3D instruments to “speak” to one another. USD is the primary open-source, public software program to compile and work with 3D belongings in numerous codecs.

USD information are sometimes reusable for effectivity and scaling. For instance, an artist can begin with an outlined object like a automotive. They could change its form or colour, increase it, or divide it into separate elements like wheels and headlights to offer them extra flexibility within the scene. This technique allows complicated 3D scenes to take form with out recreating the wheel every time, so to talk. A single USD object is a “prim,” or primitive, that means it’s the smallest helpful piece you’ll be able to outline and customise for a venture. Creators and administrators use the prims to play their half within the context of all the scene.

Along with USD information with the .usd extension, we even have USDZ (.usdz), USDA (.usda), and USDC (.usdc.) When somebody refers to a USD file, they normally imply .usd or .usdz. The remaining two extensions are a bit much less widespread. Beneath, we element these 4 file codecs and different USD-supported codecs within the USD File Formats section.

Key Takeaways

  • USD is a 3D file format and a collaborative platform for storing and sharing scene info.
  • 3D creators use USD when creating richly animated movies and video games, and 3D is taking up different makes use of – like serving to to construct the metaverse.
  • USD’s future relies on how the business standardizes amongst competing codecs.
  • Complicated tasks require an environment friendly 3D content material pipeline no matter file codecs, and USD offers that performance.

Why USD isn’t simply one other file format

USD differs from different 3D information as a result of it seamlessly shops and handles different codecs. Artists world wide create information in USD or different codecs. Then they collaborate inside USD to edit, increase, and create complicated scenes and fashions. USD, developed by Pixar, is now open supply, permitting for extra widespread use.

Creators can use USD to concurrently work on the identical scene or venture, dealing with their respective items and instantly seeing the outcomes. For instance, completely different departments like animation, results, format, and lighting can function collaboratively in USD to do their finest work. As well as, the USD API permits a easy alternate with the completely different 3D purposes.

Pixar developed USD to unravel the issue of working with unwieldy content material pipelines and workflows for ultra-detailed animated movies. These embody 1995’s “Toy Story,” the primary movie made totally with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Creators of the film used USD to encode information for interchanging and augmenting between digital creation apps. USD, additionally known as Pixar USD, stays the core of the corporate’s propriety Presto platform. In 2016, Pixar launched USD as an open-source project, making it accessible to be used with different software program applications.

USD received an enormous enhance when Apple adopted USDZ files, a zipped model of USD, as the first format for iOS purposes. Different applications that help USD embody Nvidia, Maya, 3DS Max, and Unreal Engine. You’ll be able to work nicely in USD utilizing file varieties like .glTF, .mb (Maya), .max (3DS Max), and .uasset (Unreal Engine).

Why do you have to use the USD file format?

You’ll use the USD file format for 3D visuals or results with exceptionally vivid element and realism. USD is useful for large-scale tasks the place many artists can work independently and collaboratively. Additionally, it brings 3D file codecs right into a single information set, offering a extra environment friendly content material pipeline.

Alan Smithson

Alan Smithson, CEO and Co-founder of MetaVRse

Alan Smithson, a CEO and Co-founder of the 3D creation platform MetaVRse, explains, “Common Scene Description USD(Z) is a format created by Pixar and championed by Nvidia and Apple as the following normal 3D format. In contrast to glTF, which has been adopted by many of the world of 3D and XR, USD is just being utilized by just a few, however very key gamers, together with full help from Epic Video games. USD permits for full scene compositions to be saved and shared, whereas glTF is all about particular person 3D belongings. Each permit for complicated geometries, superior textures, transparencies, and inflexible or skinned animations.”

The 3D file format and program you select depend upon particular corporations, tasks, and use instances. Extra persons are seeing why they may use USD, however extra generally, they’re utilizing glTF files, FBX files, OBJ files, GLB files, STEP files, and others. These codecs compete in sure instances however can be complementary. See our overview of 3D file formats to be taught which is perhaps proper to your venture.

How are USD information used?

You should use USD information for a lot of capabilities. For instance, artists create and retailer 3D objects in USD for complicated, detailed 3D scenes and fashions. 3D execs use USD information and the USD framework to create or switch objects from numerous codecs, construct scenes, and collaborate on the ultimate product.

Listed below are some particulars on methods folks use USD:

  • A major use of USD is to create, entry, modify, and retailer 3D objects, fashions, animations, supplies, lighting, and different info wanted for 3D scenes and tasks.
  • USD is an efficient option to switch 3D belongings and information between software program applications whereas conserving standardized USD information.
  • Administrators and artists can use USD to work independently on various items of a posh venture or collaborate in actual time.
  • Useful departments, like animations, results (FX), format, and lighting, use USD for engaged on tasks.
  • You should use USD to regulate items primarily based on their look in an general scene or venture. For instance, the lighting layer might immediate enhancements in your object design.
  • USD offers choices for various items and the power for folks to share a hierarchy of “opinions” on these choices.
  • USD is helpful for streamlining and creating large-scale tasks like movies and video games.
  • You’ll be able to apply USD to different areas like 3D ecommerce, metaverse marketing, structure, product design, robotics, manufacturing, and to construct “digital twins” of bodily environments and belongings
  • USD offers a standard language for constructing worlds within the metaverse, and that may work together seamlessly.

Who makes use of USD information?

USD’s important customers are creators of animated movies and visible results. Sport and metaverse builders are more and more adopting it, however it’s nonetheless not embraced because the common format. Others starting to make use of USD embody architects, robotics builders, and manufacturing designers.

Right here’s a better take a look at who makes use of USD information:

  • Movie and Visible Results Artists: Creators and builders world wide use USD to supply main motion pictures and visible results. Groups of artists from a number of design homes in disparate areas collaborate to make as we speak’s gorgeous animated movies, like Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” and “Lightyear.”
  • Sport Builders: Epic Video games has adopted USD as one in every of its core instruments, and different gaming corporations might observe.
  • Metaverse Builders: Builders are constructing 3D worlds the place folks can expertise and work together with leisure, gaming, e-commerce, advertising, and way more.
  • Architects: Architectural CAD applications help USD information.
  • Robotics Builders: In robotics, builders are utilizing USD to simulate how autonomous robots, automobiles, and drones function in numerous environments, from a producing facility to a busy highway to the sky.
  • Manufacturing Designers: Autodesk Inventor makes use of USD to retailer manufacturing designs.
  • Product Designers: They use USD instruments to design and take a look at merchandise nearly.
  • “Digital Twin” Builders: These builders use USD to construct digital twins or digital replicas of bodily environments and occasions. Retailers, producers, and different companies use digital twins to simulate and take a look at options and enhancements. Corporations already creating digital twins embody BMW, Lockheed Martin, and Siemens Vitality.
  • 3D eCommerce: Builders can construct digital merchandise and experiences utilizing USD to offer clients a greater concept of how items will match into their lives.

What file codecs does USD help?

USD helps its 4 core codecs:

  • .usd – The principle format. It’s a plain textual content file and a binary file.
  • .usdz – The “Z” on this extension means it’s a zipped USD file, making it straightforward to distribute and convert.
  • .usda – It’s a plain textual content file.
  • .usdc – It’s a binary file.

As well as, these file codecs can work nicely with USD or USDZ, relying on the software program program:

  • .mb – That is the extension for Maya’s platform file format.
  • .max – That is the format for 3ds Max.
  • .uasset – Unreal Engine makes use of this extension for its file format.
  • .glTF – It is a generally used format in gaming.

File codecs that work nicely with USD





.usdz .max
.usda .uasset
.usdc .glTF

Typical USD workflow

USD workflow relies on the venture’s complexity, objectives, and software program. In a serious movie, many artists will create “prims,” or 3D objects. The animation, FX, format, and lighting departments collaborate to create the scene. At every step, creators make edits, produce choices, and vote with “opinions.” The director decides on what to make use of.

Right here’s a better take a look at Pixar’s USD workflow. Historically, it was linear, however not. With USD, creators can transfer into scenes with out ready for all of the items to be prepared. Artists can work independently and collaboratively, utilizing layers and opinions. This protects money and time, serving to them meet the deadline and finances. Creators can also use “early look” options that assist them envision all the chances for a scene, resulting in a greater closing product.

USD pre-production steps

  • Concept
  • Story improvement
  • Writing the script and storyboards
  • Artwork consists of design, characters, units, props
  • Modeling and shading

USD manufacturing steps

  • Structure
  • Animation
  • Simulation
  • Results
  • Lighting
  • Sweatbox (aka dailies or rushes)
  • Last render

Professionals and cons of utilizing USD

USD’s execs and cons revolve round your use case, technique, and objectives. USD’s execs embody creating 3D information and complete scenes, exchanging completely different file codecs, and managing a collaborative pipeline. USD’s cons embody its complexity, massive file sizes, and lack of backward compatibility with older codecs.

Professionals of the USD format

  • Create each 3D information and whole scenes with intensive element.
  • Retailer and alternate information in numerous 3D codecs and USD-supported software program applications.
  • Collaborate with groups of artists utilizing completely different file codecs on a large-scale venture, even on the similar time in real-time.
  • Higher handle a big venture’s workflow, equivalent to a movie, recreation, or metaverse expertise.
  • Entry or recreate reusable 3D objects for scaling a venture or initiative.
  • It helps non-destructive modifying, so work doesn’t disappear throughout modifying.
  • The “opinion” operate permits customers to vote on completely different choices, making a collaborative workspace.
  • Edit or increase a file object in USD or one other 3D file format.
  • Connect worthwhile static and dynamic information to outline the scene.
  • Fulfill the excessive expectations of as we speak’s customers for realism and motion.

Cons of the USD format

  • Whereas USD is tailored for complicated tasks like CGI movies and gaming, it could be too concerned and sophisticated for smaller 3D tasks utilizing different non-compatible file varieties.
  • Many 3D creators are extra accustomed to utilizing different codecs like glTF, although using USD is rising.
  • It’s not backward appropriate with older file codecs like OBJ and FDX. OBJ is the default format for most simple 3D modeling. Though OBJ is extra fundamental and fewer detailed than USD and USDZ, it would work higher for a lot of one-time 3D tasks.
  • If you happen to’re utilizing Apple’s model of USDZ, bear in mind that not all native USD options can be found.
  • Information and scenes can change into massive, making them slower to load and manipulate, though USD mitigates this with lazy loading.
  • USD lacks Draco geometry compression, which glTF helps.

Professionals and cons of USD information

USD Pros and Cons

What instruments can you employ to view USD information?

Pixar has a USD toolset that you need to use to carry out completely different actions. View a whole checklist of the USD toolset and how to use each. Moreover, corporations that help USD present instruments to view and work with USD information.

  • Pixar’s USDView: This open-source instrument means that you can load, view, and introspect USD information and scenes
  • Nvidia: The corporate has USDView constructed into its Omniverse Launcher you can obtain and begin utilizing to discover working with USD.
  • Apple’s Preview: You’ll be able to view and export a USD/USDZ file within the Preview app on a Mac.
  • USD Supervisor: This light-weight, open-source platform allows USD viewing, modifying, and managing USD information.
  • Activision Free USD Shell Extension: This Home windows extension permits you to view and examine USD information in File Explorer.
  • 3D USD Viewer: A free drag-and-drop internet app that renders USD information for viewing.
  • Autodesk Maya: This 3D platform has an open-source USD plug-in that enables viewing, creating, and modifying USD information in a Maya workflow.
  • Autodesk 3ds Max: Autodesk additionally owns 3ds Max, an easier modeling platform that helps the format by way of the USD for Autodesk 3ds Max extension.
  • Unreal Engine: This software program offers USD help with its USD Stage and bi-directional Python workflows.
  • Houdini Solaris: This 3D software program presents native USD help for viewing and modifying USD information.
  • Foundry Katana: Helps USD in its software program for look improvement and lighting in CG tasks.
  • Blender USD Exporter: This 3D platform helps some USD items however not but layers, variants, and skeletal animation.

What Software program Can You Use to Create and Edit USD information?

  • Pixar’s USD instruments: Pixar’s full set of USD tools can be found as open supply on GitHub.
  • Nvidia Omniverse: Nvidia has designed its platform on the USD framework.
  • Apple USD/USDZ instruments: Apple developed USDZ in cooperation with Pixar as a distribution format to deal with USD and different codecs.
  • USD Supervisor: This light-weight, open-source platform allows viewing, creating, modifying, and managing USD information.
  • Autodesk Maya: This 3D platform includes a USD plug-in that enables the viewing, creating and modifying USD information.
  • Autodesk 3ds Max: Autodesk additionally owns 3ds Max, an easier modeling platform that helps USD.
  • Unreal Engine: This software program offers USD help with its USD Stage and Python workflows so you’ll be able to import USD information, see its unique construction, and edit it.
  • Houdini Solaris: This platform presents native USD help for viewing and modifying USD information.
  • Foundry Katana: Helps USD in its software program for look improvement and lighting.
  • Blender: This 3D platform helps some USD items however not but layers or references

Examples of USD information

Pixar Lightyear USD Example

A scene from Pixar’s 2022 movie Lightyear, produced with USD. (Pixar press kit)

For different USD examples, see these references:

Additionally, see these examples and types of metaverse content.

USD information varieties

USD helps many information varieties, from belongings and bools to timecodes and tokens. They compose the USD language, defining every thing about 3D objects and scenes. In impact, creators use the information varieties to assist “forged” and “shoot” a scene.

Right here’s an in depth checklist of information varieties supported in USD:

  • asset: a resolvable path to a different asset
  • bool: a boolean worth (true or false)
  • double: a 64-bit floating level worth
  • double2: a vector of two doubles
  • double3: a vector of three doubles
  • double4: a vector of 4 doubles
  • float: a 32-bit floating level worth
  • float2: a vector of two floats
  • float3: a vector of three floats
  • float4: a vector of 4 floats
  • half: a 16-bit floating level worth
  • half2: a vector of two half’s
  • half3: a vector of three half’s
  • half4: a vector of 4 half’s
  • int: a 32-bit signed integer
  • int2: a vector of two ints
  • int3: a vector of three ints
  • int4: a vector of 4 ints
  • int64: a 64-bit signed integer
  • matrix2d: a 2×2 matrix of doubles
  • matrix3d: a 3×3 matrix of doubles
  • matrix4d: a 4×4 matrix of doubles
  • opaque: represents a worth you can’t serialize
  • quatd: a double-precision quaternion
  • quatf: a single-precision quaternion
  • quath: a half-precision quaternion
  • string: an STL string
  • timecode: a double representing a resolvable time
  • token: an interned string with quick comparability and hashing
  • uchar: an 8-bit unsigned integer
  • uint: a 32-bit unsigned integer
  • uint64: a 64-bit unsigned integer

The way forward for USD information

USD’s future relies on choices made within the coming months and years. USD has grown in recognition with its adoption by Apple and Nvidia. Nonetheless, glTF stays extra widespread. USD offers an ordinary language missing in different codecs, however it’s not essentially the ultimate phrase. Standardization particularly impacts metaverse improvement.

“Someplace between glTF and USD is the candy spot that may permit for common interoperability between 3D worlds and platforms,” says MetaVRse Co-founder Alan Smithson. “The Metaverse Requirements Discussion board, with over 2,000 members, is working diligently to create open, accessible requirements from which the world can construct.”

The Metaverse Standards Forum website states: “The Discussion board has initiated a pipeline of member-driven Exploratory and Working Teams that meet often to create Charters and execute the tasks they outline. The teams presently embody the Metaverse Requirements Register Working Group, which is mapping the panorama of metaverse-related standardization actions and open requirements, plus exploratory teams which are  3D Asset Interoperability utilizing USD and glTF, Digital Asset Administration, Actual/Digital World Integration and Privateness, Cybersecurity & Id.”

The Significance of 3D Asset Administration

Beck Besecker - Marxent CEOThe 3D business is aware of it’s important to supply requirements and allow 3D worlds and platforms to function in unison. Likewise, extra corporations acknowledge that environment friendly 3D asset administration is significant to creating 3D experiences and feeding into 3D worlds. Creation is one factor. Managing content material pipelines is one other.

“Builders and creators are doing unbelievable work with present 3D instruments, however enterprise retailers with massive catalogs want a 3D platform to handle their 3D content material pipeline and workflow,” says Beck Besecker, Co-founder and CEO of 3D Cloud by Marxent. “Whether or not creating 3D content material for in-store experiences or experimenting with metaverse marketing, a confirmed 3D asset administration system is crucial.”

Tips on how to determine when you want 3D asset administration

Not everybody wants 3D asset administration. It relies on the dimensions, complexity, and objectives of your tasks. Ask your self or your staff these six key questions when deciding on adopting 3D asset administration:

  • Does our present manner of dealing with 3D information ever fail to satisfy the wants of the staff, shoppers, or clients?
  • Have any staff members ever duplicated work or by accident stepped on one another’s work?
  • Have we run into issues with sharing or accessing 3D information?
  • Can we typically lose monitor of the varied shifting items in a venture?
  • Can we precisely assess and report on progress?
  • Does our lack of a digital asset administration system restrict the tasks we’d love to do?

Share and scale your 3D content material with 3D Cloud

You’ll be able to create spectacular 3D content material in numerous codecs for various functions. ­If you happen to’re doing one-off tasks, perhaps that’s sufficient. However if you wish to create reusable content material at scale, alternate belongings in numerous codecs, and publish to buyer purposes, you want a 3D CMS. It’s the one option to handle massive volumes of 3D content material, apply enterprise guidelines for workflow, management your prices, and guarantee belongings are reusable.

Retailers, producers, and different industries are turning to 3D Cloud by Marxent, a digital asset administration platform that shops 3D belongings generically. It offers a 3D content material pipeline and workflow system to ship belongings to WebAR purposes, 3D product configurators, and way more.

3D Cloud by Marxent can also be trying to the long run as a member of the Metaverse Standards Forum. If you’re a enterprise investing in 3D and its prospects, discover 3D Cloud.

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