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DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda created with Linux-based HP workstations

Ed Leonard, CTO at the digital facility discusses some of the technology used on the film By John Virata

DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda, which opened today, June 6, 2008, was created entirely on Linux-based Hewlett Packard workstations. The digital studio has been using HP workstations since 2001 successfully on its films. Ed Leonard, CTO at DreamWorks Animation discusses the company's digital workflow, history of the HP-DreamWorks alliance, and the benefit of multi-core processing systems.

DMN: Last time DMN spoke with DreamWorks, both DreamWorks and HP just announced an alliance bringing HP 's Intel-based Linux workstation into DreamWorks to help in the production  of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Has HP been providing DreamWorks with workstations since the alliance was announced in 2002?
Ed Leonard: Yes, the partnership started in summer 2001 when the first Shrek movie came out.  HP is our preferred technology provider. We have used HP Workstations on every movie since 2001.

DMN: How is the HP-DreamWorks alliance working out?
EL: Great, we love it. We have a great partnership with HP. HP is a very deep and broad company. The engineering depth allows us to find innovative products that meet our needs and helps us lead the industry in technology.


DMN: Has the relationship developed any new categories?
EL: Yes, it started with the transition to Linux, which allowed us to the lead industry to commodity based platforms, later we developed the Halo virtual collaboration, and now the DreamColor display that will launch in June. It has been a fruitful collaboration.

Kung Fu Panda was created entirely on HP workstations

DMN: Does DreamWorks still serve as a test site for new graphics workstation technology coming out of HP Labs?
EL: Yes, we have a very close relationship with the HP Workstation group and most groups in HP to get the most advanced products from research and development to production. It gives us a chance to see where platforms are going, and gives us a competitive advantage by giving us early access to the technology before others get to it.

DMN: Does Linux still serve as the animation platform of choice at DreamWorks or is there a mix of Linux, Windows, and other platforms?
EL: Yes for us, Linux is definitely the right platform. Our entire production process is built on Linux, from the workstations to the renderfarms.

DreamWorks Animation has been using HP workstations for the last seven years

DMN: Why does DreamWorks use AMD-based HP workstations?
EL: Historically, we have used AMD. We are now starting to use a mixed platform of both AMD and Intel-based systems.
We love that HP manages the complete platform behind the system. HP delivers best performance for both platforms, Intel and AMD.

DMN: DreamWorks has renderfarms in both its Glendale facility as well as in Redwood City. How are the systems set up so users can collaborate over such long distances?
EL: Something unique about our company is that we have a completely virtualized infrastructure and are able to access all capabilities from all of our campuses. So it looks like one renderfarm, but it is physically located in two places. We then combine the virtual infrastructure with Halo rooms to allow us to seamlessly act as one. We access the renderfarms from the Halo studio, and it is as if we are all working from the same location.
We actually had a consultant working for us in Southern California who was engaged to be married and hadn t finished their pre-marital counseling in Northern California. Rather than flying home for their last counseling session, they did their last session on Halo. We joked, calling it "Holy Halo."

Kung Fu Panda

DMN: How many systems and digital artists were employed in the creation of KFP?
EL: There are always many digital artists and systems used on our films. Just on KFP there were 400 HP Workstations, 1500 servers, and over 6000 cores. Render hours: 24 million, that is four times as many hours as the original Shrek movie.

DMN: Were there any technology breakthroughs in KFP?
EL: We are changing a little bit, but we can do most things. We are removing a lot more limits in the filmmaking process. KFP combines many of the difficult things you can do in computer graphics: you have action, character contact, and furry animals wearing clothing while they are doing Kung Fu fighting. KFP has a very traditional Kung Fu movie look to it in an artistic animation genre.
Making a film is always about compromise, characters can only touch so much " we ve actually had hug limits in some of our past films because making characters touch was so difficult. We are now making our systems less compromising for the filmmakers, which allows them to carry out their vision.
It s all about interactive performance: the evil side is complex, more visual, geometric, surface complexity. You want more believable characters to suspend disbelief when you watch our movies " the faster the workstations the more visual richness you can build into characters.

DMN: Is ToonShooter still widely used at DW?
EL: No, but we ve brought back ToonShooter for one scene in KFP because there is one scene that flashes back to traditional animation. ToonShooter is a 2D pencil test system, DreamWorks is moving more and more toward 3D animation, so it is not widely used anymore. In fact we had to dust it off a bit before we used it.

DMN: Were the animation tools used in the production of KFP proprietary tools or off the shelf solutions?
EL: We develop most of our tool suite ourselves. We have our own proprietary render and lighting tools.

DMN:  KFP is the first DW film to use dual-core processing workstations from the beginning, what did this allow you to do differently?
EL: It s about visual richness and computational power again. Multi-core allows a more interactive experience for our artists. On this film we implemented our rendering to be multi-core. We are able to render 25 times faster because we are using multi-core systems. So something that took multiple minutes now takes seconds. Then if you combine four machines you have 16 cores and can scale the time down even more. We ve also optimized our own tools and software to take advantage of the multi-core systems. For example, we ve optimized our interactive lighting tool and enhanced it for multi-core computing, which allows for almost real-time, live action directing.


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
Related Keywords:3d animation, digital facility, linux, digital studio

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