Avatar, reuse and model driven software development

Last week my daughter Sam (13), her friend Joey and I went to see the movie Avatar in 3D at the IMAX theatre in Rotterdam. Following up on the hype and reading reviews I just got curious. Especially after reading an interview with director James Cameron, who previously directed Aliens and Titanic.

Being more than interested in model driven software development, this interview cracked me up. James Cameron states that there’s a model for every rock, every straw, every tree on the planet Pandora, and for every piece of skin and body of the inhabitants. That’s something for you.  On the one hand you might say: hey, this Avatar project took over 7 years to build, and it costs around 400 million dollar. No way should we do software development projects like that.

James Cameron: “Use the models for sequels”

But it gets more interesting. In the interview James Cameron also says that the argument that sold Avatar to studio 20 Century Fox is that these expensive and extensive models could be used for any number of sequels. To sum up why the studio put up with the length and price of the project in one simple word: it’s reuse.

Seeing is believing

I have to admit, seeing is believeing. This movie has the most incredible visual appearance I ever witnessed. And it’s all generated from the model. And that’s where I got jealous, or even a bit depressed.

There we are: enthusiastic software engineers building business software from our BPMN or UML models or our textual or visual DSL’s. Whatever abbreviation you follow, be it MDA, MDD, FMDD, or MDSD, we think we’re doing great jobs raising the level of abstraction just a little bit from hand-written code. But even this very little step  forward seems to be highly complex. The technology is hard, the meta-level thinking is harder, and convincing management and customers (the studios) that this is the way to go with software development is even more challenging.

Kindergarten stuff

But in comparison to the complexity and size of producing Avatar our whole MDx venue is kindergarten stuff. We’re not creating a highly detailed blasting 3D movie experience. We are only implementing a simple business process to change your address at your local bank. Pfff. Is that all?

Jake Sully: “Ha ha, changing your address at your local bank is difficult?“

Don’t get me wrong. We will simply have to move from hand-writing applications to modeling and generating applications. Raising the level of abstraction is the only way to deal with the rapidly increasing level of complexity of technology vendors present us with, and the ever increasing demand for new software, presented on new devices. There’s just no way we can keep with this demand just by hand-writing all the code, not with all the developers in the world, not with the best-of-class frameworks at hand, not with the best agile processes and techniques in place (let alone waterfall).

Even though model driven techniques are no silver bullet either it will play an increasingly important role in software development . Our work will be around simplifying customer demand, standardizing techniques and raising our levels of abstraction, writing less code and generating more code. And for those of you not yet convinced: go see Avatar or preferably one of its likely many sequels.

3 thoughts on “Avatar, reuse and model driven software development

  1. And the inspiration continues… the plants movement is governed by a piece of software that in the past had been use d to render an army of realistic soldiers (for LOTR in fact). Cameron also developed (with Vincent Pace) the 3D camera system that in part make the movie what is. Not many architect I know that could do the same feat for their trade…

  2. I totally agree with your post. We have to move to a higher-level of abstraction. And we need to tackle the challenges of meta-thinking and suspicion towards MDSD. I've been working on a novel MDSD approach to tackle those challenges. It's called ABSE (Atom-Based Software Engineering) and you can find more info at http://www.abse.info . It's a very simple approach. It may not be as elaborate as other approaches like EMF or MDA, but it makes it very easy for a regular developer to jump from hand-written code into model-driven development.

    No software is available at the moment. An IDE is being developed and a beta version should be available during Q1 2010.

  3. What were the reactions on Avatar from your daughter Sam and her friend Joey ? Different from yours?

Comments are closed.