Pune based startup AppSurfer, which allows Android app publishers to “publish” their apps on the web, so that buyers can try out the app in a browser before having to download it to their mobile phone, has just been covered by TechCrunch.
Amazon’s Appstore for Android has long allowed consumers to test apps in the browser before purchase, but a new startup debuting now wants to offer an alternative. AppSurfer, as the company is called, has a bigger vision: it wants to become the “YouTube of Android apps.” Whether or not the company can get there is still an unknown, but there’s something interesting about this idea of making apps browser experiences which can be tried, tested, shared, run and embedded anywhere.
AppSurfer was first covered by PuneTech last year, when it was one of the companies selected to be part of the PuneConnect 2011 event. (It was called DroidCloud in those days.) As a result of being one of the top companies of PuneConnect 2011, they were invited by Economic Times’ ET Now TV Channel on their Super Angel Show. AppSufer went on to win at Super Angels show, getting Rs. 1cr of Angel Funding.
App developers interested in using AppSurfer technology can sign up here.
Delhi Safari, a 3D Animation movie made by Pune startup Krayon Pictures, is seeing a worldwide release tomorrow (19th October). Attached to the move, are some big names from Bollywood (Director Nikhil Advani, voices by Govinda, Sunil Shetty, Boman Irani, Akshaye Khanna, Urmila Matondkar, music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) and Hollywood (Vanessa Williams, Christopher Lloyd, Jason Alexander, Cary Elwes), and one look at its preview will convince anyone that it is a quality product. Considering that it was conceived and fully executed by a company in Pune, PuneTech decided to have a chat with Anand Bhanushali, the Technical Director of Krayon Pictures, to talk about the technology that went into making Delhi Safari. The following article is based on our conversation with Anand.
About Krayon Pictures
Krayon Pictures was founded in 2007 by Kishor Patil, co-founder and CEO of KPIT Cummins, Nishith Takia, a Masters in CS from University of Maryland, USA, and Namrata Sharma, who had 14 years of experience in Animation and Software in Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Mumbai. Unlike other animation studios in India who were simply outsourcing animation work from studios abroad, Krayon Pictures was started with the intention of producing their own movies – i.e. creating their own IP. They got an idea for a movie, roped in Nikhil Advani, and Delhi Safari was born.
Anand is the Technical Director at Krayon. He has been with Krayon since day 1 of Delhi Safari. Before joining Krayon, he had worked national and international animation projects, including character effects in feature films like Hoodwinked, Fight Club Gaming Cinematic and Tinker Bell.
He was also responsible for implementing Krayon’s proprietary pipeline and asset management tool for workflow automation and enhanced artist efficiency.
About the Infrastructure Used by Krayon
Krayon has a data-center at their office in the center of Pune, behind Le Meridien Hotel. The movies are rendered using their render farm which is a densely packed cluster of 100 nodes, each of which has two Intel Xeon quad-core processors with 8GB or RAM, running the Red Hat Linux operating system.
The Storage is based on SOFS – scale out file system – a high availability file system with a total capacity of 48 TB, operating at Raid Level 5 and having a HDD Interface that’s a combination of SAS and SATA with a bandwidth throughput of 500 MBPS.
The network is two-tier architecture made up of Cisco 6509E switch with Dual Sup720 3C 10G as a Core Switch with 8 10G ports, 96 Fabric enabled 1GigE Copper ports and 48 1Gige normal ports and Cisco 3750-E 48 port switch connected to Core Switch by 4 GigE copper uplink.
Challenges Faced while settings up the Infrastructure
Krayon was initially based in Kothrud (in KPIT offices), but soon moved to Hinjewadi once they realized the scale of the infrastructure that would have to be set up. Unfortunately, Hinjewadi did not work out as a location for them. The basic infrastructure (e.g. electricity) was not entirely ready when they moved in, and in spite of having mammoth UPS backups, they kept running into huge problems with electricity fluctuations that the UPS was unable to handle. This led to blowouts, server shutdowns, and artists having to sit idle while the electricity problems were fixed. Finally, they moved to their current location near Pune Station.
Softwares and hardware are definitely important and form the core of the studio pipeline. You have to be extremely careful and have all the statistics, data , research ready before you choose any software and hardware as its going to be with you for quite sometime. If you do a mistake, then its a very expensive mistake, and can take the studio and the project down. Stability, flexibility and support form the basis of choosing softwares and hardware for a studio. We knew with the kind of quality, we are aiming with Delhi Safari, we would need robust hardware, definitely a huge Renderfarm of our own. Mr Parag Patil – our technology director , all the credit goes to him as he is the brains behind all the hardware in Krayon. Parag and me along with the IT and R&D team worked non stop for 4 months, sketching, workflow diagrams, network diagrams, configuration of workstations, to servers.. Everything.. We partnered with IBM and took their expertise and they did the set up of the entire backend infrastructure of our studio.
About the team at Krayon Pictures
They have a team of about 120 people, most of whom are artists. The artists are divided up into various departments, including about 40 people working on the animation, another 30 on asset creation (i.e. creating the building blocks and characters that will be used by the other departments), 10 on lighting, and 10 on compositing.
Most of the work is done using Autodesk’s Maya Software, and the scripting is done using Maya’s MEL, or Python.
We started Delhi Safari with 8 artist including me and a small management team. So we had to build the entire studio, lay down the pipeline and parallely start pre-production, recruit a team, and train them. It was the most challenging task i had ever done, my approach was simple, i was very clear right from the start that the way pre production, characters, backgrounds were being designed with lot of detail and vast extensive sets, there had to be a pipeline which artist could very quickly adapt to and not worry about file management.
So we formed a small research and development team , basically MEL and Python programmers and we started brain storming, bouncing ideas, discussion about what was the most disliked part in our jobs earlier, and since we all came from various departments like fur, animation, lighting etc., atlas most of us knew what we didn’t want in the workflow. We spent almost a year making a simple workflow for every department. Basically ‘clean in and clean out’ , it means whatever comes in the department needs to be a clean file and whatever goes out needs to be a clean file, so every department needs to optimize file and remove unwanted data.
Challenges Faced with Building a World-Class Animation Team in Pune
India is not known for producing high quality animation movies, but from the beginning the Krayon Pictures team was sure that they wanted to build something that was not just “good enough for Indian audiences”, but was truly world class. In doing this, they faced an uphill battle, because it was not easy to get people who have experience of working on that kind of projects.
In addition, things were difficult because Pune did not have too many experienced animation artists. Except for BIG Animation, there are no other big animation production houses in Pune, which meant that hiring was a challenge. Thus, they had to go all over the country, including Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad, to find good animators.
One thing they never compromised on, was the quality of the people they hired. Thus, their hiring took longer than expected, but they decided that delays were preferable, but having the right kind of team was more important. They focused on trying to find people who were truly passionate about animation – because the other things can be taught via in-house training programs, but passion cannot.
Advice for Pune based entrepreneurs
Delhi Safari has proved that truly world-class intellectual property can be built out of Pune. However, the whole process was not easy. In addition to all the problems they had to solve in getting the movie made, there were a further set of issues to be faced after the movie was complete. Initially the movie was made in 2D, and then ran into some issues with the international distributors. At this late stage it was decided that the movie needed to be in stereoscopic 3D, so a lot of work had to be done to re-do the movie in 3D.
As a result of this experience, Anand has this important piece of advice for entrepreneurs: Do not start work on developing your IP, before you have sold the product. What he means is that you should validate the market, figure out your distribution channels, and only then develop your product. This is advice for any product entrepreneur, not just movies and animation. It’s interesting to note that this is exactly the same advice that serial entrepreneur Anand Soman gave Pune’s technology entrepreneurs 3 years ago. See “Don’t develop any software until you have a customer” for more details.
Specifically for those interested in building their own animation IP, Anand suggests that they should not start with a movie – that is difficult. Start with smaller things and slowly work you way up to a movie.
Delhi Safari is releasing in movie theatres tomorrow and we wish them the best.
Should all Programmers Learn Functional Programming? The pros and cons of this question that will be tackled in a panel discussion this Saturday. This panel discussion is a part of the Turing Awards lecture series that happens at Persistent’s Dewang Mehta Auditorium at 2pm on the first Saturday of every month this year. The panel discussion will follow the Turing Awards Talk on the life and work of Robin Milner.
Topic of Discussion
Most programmers in the industry learn procedural programming (e.g. C), or object-oriented programming (Java, C++). However, functional programming (Haskell, Scala, F# all of which are influenced by Robin Milner’s ML) is considered by many to be a significantly more powerful method of writing good programs. Functional programming is a different way of doing programming, much different from procedural or object oriented programming, it is significantly more powerful, especially in terms of the abstractions that can be built into the programs, and generally they lead to programs that are shorter, safer, and often faster than comparable procedural programs. And finally pure functional programming disallows side-effects, which means that there is no global state, functions always return the same values for the same input parameters, and data-structures are immutable. Due to this property, functional programs are easier to parallelize, and hence this is gaining increasing importance in as we move to multi-core architectures.
The flip side is that functional programming has a significantly harder learning curve, and many programmers find it difficult to learn and become proficient in functional languages. Functional programming languages are not widely used in the industry, since it is difficult to hire programmers. Thus, some people in the industry argue that adoption of functional programming does not make economic sense and will this always remain a niche area for academia and hobbyists.
The panel consists of the following people from industry and academia who have spent many years studying and using functional programming languages as well as more conventional languages for many years:
Prof. Raju Pandey: is an associate professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis. He has been working on functional programming for 15+ years. His other areas of interest include sensor networks, distributed computing, programming language design and implementation, operating systems, and system security.
Kedar Swadi: is the CTO and Co-Founder of Pune based AlgoAnalytics, before which he has worked in various senior roles at Avaya, Persistent, and Rice University. He has a PhD in the area of Programming Languages from Princeton University.
Rustom Mody: has designed and taught a wide variety of new courses in the University of Pune, and has been one of the early adopters of functional programming in India. He is also a founding partner in The Magus a firm which specializes in providing training in functional programming languages like Haskell, and other similar technologies.
Robin Milner received the Turing award in 1991 for three major contributions to computer science:
In the area of automated theorem proving – He developed LCF, the first theoretically sound yet practical tool for machine assisted proof construction
In the area of programming language design – He developed ML, the first language to use polymorphic type inference along with a type-safe execution handling mechanism, something that underlies some of the most interesting new programming languages that are being developed today, and
In the area of concurrency – He developed CCS, a general theory of concurrency.
On 6th October, Navin Kabra (yes, that’s me), will give a talk about Robin Milner’s work. This talk is a part of the Turing Awards lecture series that happens at Persistent’s Dewang Mehta Auditorium at 2pm on the first Saturday of every month this year.
This will be followed by a panel discussion on “Should every programmer learn functional programming”. The panelists include Dhananjay Nene, Chief Architect at Vayana Software, Prof. Raju Pandey, of University of California-Davis, Rustom Modi, who has been teaching functional programming at the University of Pune for over 15 years, and who is a founder if i-Magus which delivers training in functional programming and other related technologies, and Kedar Swadi, CTO at AlgoAnalytics, and others. For more details of the panel discussion see this article
In this talk, I will give a brief overview of Robin Milner’s career, following by a technical dive into his work. I will briefly cover his work on automated theorem proving and LCF, which served as the motivation for the development of ML, the programming language intended to be used for automated theorem proving. ML ended up having a huge impact on the design of modern programming languages and its influence can be seen in important modern languages like Microsoft’s F#, Haskell, and the JVM based Scala. The bulk of my talk will cover the design of ML, with a specific focus on the polymorphic type inference system used in ML. Type inference is an important aspect of a lot of modern programming languages, and can be found, for example, in Google’s Go Language, Perl6, Visual Basic 9.0 onwards, C# version 3.0 onwards.
About the Turing Awards
The Turing awards, named after Alan Turing, given every year, are the highest achievement that a computer scientist can earn. And the contributions of each Turing award winner are then, arguably, the most important topics in computer science.
About Turing 100 @ Persistent Lecture Series
This year, the Turing 100 @ Persistent lecture series will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth by having a monthly lecture series. Each lecture will be presented by an eminent personality from the computer science / technology community in India, and will cover the work done by one Turing award winner.
The lecture series will feature talks on Ted Codd (Relational Databases), Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn (Internet), Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (Unix), Jim Gray, Barbara Liskov, and others. Full schedule is here
This is a lecture series that any one in the field of computer science must attend. These lectures will cover the fundamentals of computer science, and all of them are very relevant today.
Fees and Registration
This is a free event. Anyone can attend.
The event will be at Dewang Mehta Auditorium, Persistent Systems, SB Road, from 2pm to 5pm on Saturday 6th October. This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here