Ramping Up 3D Films

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-06-20 Print this article Print


DreamWorks' 2011 movie is the 3D-enhanced Kung Fu Panda 2, which opened May 26 and amassed $332 million in worldwide box-office receipts in the first 17 days. Since the movie cost about $150 million to make (not counting marketing and distribution costs), the producers are already in the black.

Because video quality has improved so greatly in the last decade, 3D feature films tend to be more successful at the box office than standard films and have been ramping up in sheer numbers.

"Once you've seen good 3D, you get spoiled, and it's hard to go back," DreamWorks CTO Ed Leonard (pictured) told eWEEK. "The expectations go up with each new release.

"I've been in this business for longer than I care to admit, and, in that time, I've observed that every film tries to outdo the last film. The roots are still in great characters and in great storytelling, of course. But we want to bring that to life in a way that you're mesmerized. ... You're watching something that is taking you to a different place, and you're forgetting about all the worries of life for two hours."

DreamWorks outdoes itself on a regular basis, as do its equally well-regarded rivals, Pixar Animation Studios and LucasFilms Limited.

The company churns out about three films during a two-year span, so an ambitious schedule is always in the works. Each movie has its own animation staff and HP workstations, which are constantly being updated as new, faster Intel processors become available.

"Because every movie is new, we change the tools and technology [based on] what we're trying to achieve," Leonard said. "Literally, everything is constantly reinvented.

"For Kung Fu Panda 2, this is the first time we're going to see this world in [true] 3D. All the things that we've learned in our past few 3D movies [such as 2010's How to Train Your Dragon and other films] have led us to enhance the toolset and our creative skill set. You see this come to life in a really big way in Kung Fu Panda 2."

DreamWorks obtains all new workstations about every six months, as new movies get started, Leonard said, with the hardware and software improving incrementally with each new purchase. The IT shop also spends a lot of time on performance-optimizing the software.

A typical four-year DreamWorks movie project coincides with current improvement cycles in IT, Senior Technologist Skottie Miller told eWEEK. "About every four years, there's a quantum leap in computing power and I/O speed," he said. "We find that it's best to buy new hardware because it will pay for itself in about one year."

"That's what's nice about working at a place like DreamWorks-you get to use all the new stuff," Leonard said. "During the time of this production, we went from four-core Westmeres [Intel processors] to six-cores. Every workstation has 12 cores working, so there's a tremendous amount of power [for each artist]. And each of those cores has gotten a lot faster.

"It's kind of Moore's Law on steroids. That's what we're chasing."

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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