Using Technology for Better

By eweek  |  Posted 2007-05-18 Print this article Print

Storytelling"> In this newest adventure, King Harold, Shreks father-in-law who became a new man when he was turned into a frog in the last movie, falls ill leaving Shrek and Fiona to care for the throne. Unwilling to assume the mantle of leadership, Shrek, along with Donkey and Puss in Boots, sets off to bring Fionas rebellious cousin, Artie, to take his place as the new king.

The story unfolds with both primary and secondary characters, as well as background scenes, created in more detail than in any previous film. For example, in past movies, characters hairstyles were limited since creating tresses that moved and flowed realistically was prohibitively complicated and computationally intense.
The well-known hero scene in Shrek 2, a scene that lasted several seconds in which Prince Charming took off his helmet and tossed his golden locks, took months of dedicated work to create, Leonard said.
In the new movie, though, everyone from princesses to Prince Charming (and even Merlin with his flowing beard) sports individually styled hair made possible through massive computing power. "Shrek the Third" required 20 million render hours (compared to five million for Shrek and 10 million for Shrek 2) and, at peak production, almost 4,000 AMD64 processors in the renderfarm were dedicated to that task, said Scott Miller, principal systems engineer at DreamWorks Animation. Instead of months, these scenes were created in days and hours by leveraging the increased computing power. In addition, animators were able to add more realistic movement to water, fire and magic scenes, said Leonard. And working faster provides more than just an opportunity to do more—it has emerged as a competitive advantage as well. "This technology is giving them a competitive advantage in the creation of movies over Pixar," said Enderle. "Now, they are working on a three-year cycle, whereas Pixar is still on a five-year cycle." To meet its storytelling goals, the animation company packs as much technology as possible into its data center, which takes up roughly 20 percent of the space on its campus in Glendale, Calif. The average data center uses 40 to 60 watts of power per square foot, while DreamWorks data center averages 150 watts, said Leonard. And, for DreamWorks, underutilization is not an issue. During the final product of Shrek the Third, the data center was routinely at percent utilization, added Miller. Although the company is silent about what might be in store next for Shrek and Fiona, the data center promises to remain in high gear as the company churns out its two-per-year release schedule. Next in line for processing power are Bee Movie (in theatres Nov. 2), Kung Fu Panda (slated for Spring 2008) and the sequel to Madagascar (Fall 2008). Meanwhile, the technology used on "Shrek the Third" promises to empower others. "These workstations are heavily focused on graphics and rendering," said Enderle. "Things happening in the movies are now crossing over to games, and game houses are facing big rendering jobs. Theres now a blending between the two industries, gaming and moving animation. Going forward, anything with heavy graphics and performance drivers will benefit from this." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.


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