Churning Out Artwork

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


DreamWorks is the first movie studio to use multicore-powered workstations. Most of its CG stations have 12-core machines capable of 24-thread computing.

Where it once took 8 hours to render a single frame of a 3D movie, it now takes only several minutes. That's huge in terms of time and cost savings.

The HP Z-series workstations offer about 50 percent more cache than previous versions (up to 24GB), which helps speed processing in a big way. Intel Xeon 5600 Westmere processors inside the workstations also run cooler, require less power and cooling energy, and have improved security features.

When CG artists put together all the attributes that constitute a character, several iterations must be developed: It starts with modeling and moves to rigging, hair and fur, clothing and surfacing. This involves very detailed-and often tedious-CG work. It takes a certain type of personality to excel at this, and DreamWorks has found hundreds of folks who fit this bill.

Artists can take 12 to 18 months to do the original drawings for a character. Since Kung Fu Panda's characters were created seven to eight years ago, however, most of the basic work had already been done. Still, the original film could not be reused in this latest film because of the new 3D presentation.

Once the drawings are completed, CG modeling comes next. From here on out, DreamWorks uses Adobe Creative Studio for everything that goes on screen.

That's where mathematics, science, HPC (high-performance computing), artistry and the professionalism of the artists all come together. Every square inch of a moving character is plotted out: how it moves, how it interacts with other characters, how it is affected by wind and water, and how hair moves and falls.

There are hundreds of factors and variables involved here, and they all have to be orchestrated perfectly to show the audience "reality." In fact, DreamWorks has a separate CG unit that concentrates strictly on hair, fur and clothing because so much of it has to be created and rendered.

Surfacing is extremely important, especially in 3D presentations. Lighting, shadows, perspective and other visual factors come into play, and no detail is left untouched.

Much Has Changed

Miller, who's been with DreamWorks for 12 years-after spending seven years at Disney's animation studio-attested to the huge change he's seen in HPC tools for rendering streaming video.

"In 1999, when I arrived here, we had a total of 140 cores [processors], and now we have more than 10,000-in fact, I've lost count," Miller said. "We used to have to physically share the most powerful computers by putting them in boxes and shipping them from one studio to another to get a movie done. Sometimes we'd have fistfights over the RAM because memory used to cost $4,000 to $5,000 per megabyte back then.

"We just didn't have the bandwidth, tools or computing power in 1999 that we have now. Today, we've got multicore processors, dynamic allocation of computing power and incredible amounts of storage. It's been awesome to witness all these advancements."

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 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 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

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel