Sreenivas Alapati: My Linux Story

I'm an artist who loves Linux

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My father got me a computer for graduation with 512MB RAM and a Pentium processor. It came with Windows XP, and I used it to do 2D animation with Adobe Flash. Back in those days, I was looking for my dream job as a 3D artist, and I'd often see job listings that said: "Linux knowledge required." I had heard of Linux, but had never used it, so I decided to learn more. I didn't have the time or energy to take a class, so I started exploring on my own.

The technical jargon was overwhelming at first (GNU, distros, flavors, UNIX, windows managers, GNOME, KDE, Bash, C shell...), but I kept reading articles, e-books, and forums. Finally, one day I bit the bullet and decided to install Linux.

Ok, what to install? And, how do I install it? For a beginner, too much choice was a problem. I downloaded each and every flavor of Linux I could get my hands on and created bootable disks out of them. For the next month, my daily routine was something like this:

  • Come home from work
  • Format my machine
  • Install a new flavor
  • Read about it online
  • Pull my hair trying to understand it
  • Burn my fingers trying to do something
  • Pat my back when something worked

I kept exploring this way and got a basic understanding that only the GUI, availability of software, and the packaging changes, but all the internal workings remain almost the same in each flavor of Linux. I kept "basic understanding of Linux" as a skill on my resume and got hired at this amazing place called Rhythm and Hues Studios. There I worked on awesome movies like Life of Pi and Seventh Son. At work we use Linux completely, and I slowly started admiring the philosophy and culture of open source development and came to understand the power of it.

One day I got a new fancy machine and booted CentOS on it. Then, instead of going for commercial software, I started using open source applications to make art. I started using Blender for all my 3D animation work, and GIMP and Krita for my painting needs. Recently I've started using MyPaint and love it. In short, once I found out about all the open source alternatives to the commercial applications, I never looked back.

When I was starting out, it wasn't all roses. There were days and nights I spent banging my head trying to figure out how to connect my new WiFi dongle to the Internet, only to find that there were no Linux drivers available for that particular model. Sometimes I couldn't install software because a library was missing, and I'd have to go on a wild goose chase trying to find it. And don't get me started on the Nvidia and Wacom drivers. (Support for Nvidia is way better now, and CentOS 7 has out-of-the-box support for Wacom devices.)

But actually, what I'm doing is a lot of problem solving. In my view, problem solving skills are one of the best things I learned from experimenting with Linux. Yes, learning Linux was a bit daunting. But I kept with it, and the more I learned, the more clear Linux became. I learned a lot about computers, how an operating system works, how devices work, how to search and ask for help on forums and IRC, and how to file bug reports. I got into the habit of reading manuals and figuring things out, which is a basic yet essential skill. I started reading Bash scripts, wrote my own, and got the taste of automating tasks. Eventually, everything fell into place.

The whole animation and visual effects industry is completely reliant on Linux because we are dealing with a lot of data and require huge computational power to create amazing visuals. Linux is the perfect candidate, giving serious bang for your buck. But I didn't leave Linux there—I continued learning more about Linux and became a Red Hat Certified System Administrator. Receiving my certification was one of the happiest moments in my life. Currently, I work at a nice little animation studio called The Cirqus Arts, where I work as an artist/programmer and help maintain the systems, which run CentOS. One of the tasks I really like is training new hires on Linux and introducing them to the world of open source.

My advice for anyone starting out is yes, learning Linux will be a bit overwhelming, but stick with it. You'll thank yourself later. And learn a bit of scripting along the way—there's no limit to what you can do. And, thank you to all the developers who contribute their valuable time and energy to Linux and other open source applications.

See all of my artwork with Linux.

My Linux Story

This article is part of a series called My Linux Story. To participate and share your Linux story, contact us at: open@opensource.com.

29 Comments

bartb

"RPM Hell" like you describe about missing libraries is the reason I moved from RPM based distros like Fedora, SuSE, CentOS to DEB based distros like Ubuntu. For me, it is just easier having the system find and install all the required libraries instead of searching for each one myself.

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cg-cnu

Well, I faced that issue when am starting out. But frankly, even rpm has a way to install all the required dependencies. You just need to use yum install file.rpm. There is a way to do almost anything because someone somewhere might have felt the need and wrote it. If not, you allways has the freedom to create it yourself or move to other options which provides what you want. That's the beauty and power of open source. Cheers.

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Don Watkins

Great story. Thanks for taking the time to share.

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cg-cnu

Glad you liked it. Thanks.

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Claudia  DeCatur-Brown

I'm so interested in trancoding, PST and Linux. I don't know where or how to start. I went through a lay off some years ago and I don't know where to begin again. Any ideas ?

Thanks,
Claudia

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sethkenlon

Claudia, I don't know what PST is but if you want to try transcoding, check out FFMPEG. The best thing to do is to try it. Transcode, every night, all night long. Wake up in the morning and see what the results were.

This might help get you started:
http://slackermedia.info/handbook/doku.php?id=ffmpeg

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MBrewer

Excellent article! I had no idea that linux is so heavily relied on in the animation and visual effects industry.
Love this: "But actually, what I'm doing is a lot of problem solving. In my view, problem solving skills are one of the best things I learned from experimenting with Linux."

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cg-cnu

Thanks for your comment. Being an insider, I can confidently say that the Hollywood Vfx magic is powered by linux.

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Svjatoslav Agejenko

Great article, and very true! BTW I also write down notes when I learn. Here are lot of notes collected over the years and systematically organized about Linux/GNU, Blender and others, in hope it can help someone: http://svjatoslav.eu/notes/index.jsp

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cg-cnu

Thanks for the comment and thanks for sharing your notes.

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Yankee495

I got my first computer when I was 15, I'm 51. I learned BASIC and assembly, then went on to DOS and on to Windows 95. I started on a Radio Shack computer, then an Amgia and finally a PC and have been using Linux since about 1996 (I thought it was a passing thing in 93-94).

Boy if we'd have had Linux in those days, but we only read about Unix and used what we had. My point is I often look back and wish I had made notes, lots of notes! I could compile it into a book that would help people using about anything from old computers (Amiga help), DOS, Windows (95, 98, XP, 2000, Win7) and Linux.

Now that would be a book! Also, I've killed a lot of viruses on Windows manually. Once in a while a friend gets one and I have to figure it out again so I wish I had that book.

The worst one to find was one that I couldn't figure out how it started up. It was linked into the service menu and started when you right clicked! Yes, it wasn't in any of the normal places. Everyone said format it, but no, I had to find out.

Write that book!

And great article too! Since I started when there was no one to ask I got used to figuring things out. Today people are lazy, too lazy to Google it let alone figure it out for themselves. I've been trying to get my son to use Linux for years and it looks like I'm going to have to get him a computer and install it. I run Mageia.

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cg-cnu

wow! this is much richer story. Work on different systems, learning programming and slaying the viruses on windows. Would love to read your story.

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Jason van Gumster

Hooray! Glad to see another creative posting their story here! Thanks so much for sharing.

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cg-cnu

Wow! Happy to see your comment on my post :) Have been following your open art series and coverage on blender.

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Falx

I'm impressed by how you are able to combine the creative (Blender, Krita, etc) and technical aspects (Red Hat certification) of open source software. I've only dabbled on the fringes of Linux over the past few years but this article is inspiring. Cheers!

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cg-cnu

Thanks Flax. Yeah I know, it sounds a bit like a balancing act initially but once you get the hang, it will be perfectly normal.

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Orionds

Fantastic story. I am not at the same level but I went through about the same things to learn more about Linux.

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cg-cnu

Thanks for the comment :)

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Amit

Nice Story : ) and " learning Linux will be a bit overwhelming, but stick with it. You'll thank yourself later. And learn a bit of scripting along the way—there's no limit to what you can do." this lines are very true thanks for sharing your story....

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cg-cnu

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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Erik

As a musician, I'm always mildly annoyed when visual artists refer to themselves as "artists", as if there's no other art beside the visual ones.
And no, Prince doesn't count.

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cg-cnu

Hi Erik, I get what you are saying. While I don't think I am in a position to define art and differentiate the various genres of it, I was just using it in the general sense. Sorry if its hurt you.

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sethkenlon

Great story, Sreenivas. We use Linux at work as well, and it's amazing to see what the unique blend of being able to innovate and be creative ends up producing.

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cg-cnu

Hi Seth. Thanks for your comment. I have found your slackermedia project inspiring! Would love to do something like that for centos.

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carlab_

Really enjoyed your story, it's really interesting to know the Linux experience from an artist's point of view. I'm glad you kept motivated and continued learning despite driver issues and such.
Congrats on the certification! Keep going! :)

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cg-cnu

Hi Carla, Thanks for the comment. I am glad that you found it interesting.

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hashembigman

yes, me too i love Linux , But unfortunately not much famous and most people are compatible with Windows

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sethkenlon

Depends on the industry. Linux pops up in the loveliest places for artists, and after all, part of being an artist is to forge a new path. I know I'm personally quite happy to be the weird indie artist in my neighbourhood who uses that weird computer-with-all-the-stickers-on-it. And you'd be suprised what happens once you start using Linux; you tend to find other artists doing the same sort of thing.

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magdymada3aw

good article

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