IBM Movie Tech Anything but 'Despicable'

IBM has announced that its technology was integral in the production of the new computer-animated 3D feature film, "Despicable Me." Big Blue delivered a server farm based on IBM's iDataPlex system to help with the movie's production.

IBM has announced that its technology was integral in the production of the new computer-animated 3D feature film, "Despicable Me."

In a July 8 press release, IBM announced that it has collaborated with Illumination Entertainment to help it meet the massive production requirements involved in creating the movie, which stars Steve Carell as a villain named Gru who hatches a plot to become the world's greatest super villain. The film was developed and produced by Illumination Entertainment and is being released by Universal Studios on July 9 in the United States.

IBM officials said the animation and visual effects for "Despicable Me" generated 142 terabytes of data -- an amount roughly equivalent to the traffic generated by over 118 million active MySpace users or 250,000 streams of 25 million songs, according to the IBM release.

"'Despicable Me' represents a breakthrough in the emerging model of collaborative, geographically distributed digital movie making, which we are proud to be building from the ground up," said Chris Meledandri, producer of "Despicable Me" and founder of Illumination Entertainment, in a statement. "By seamlessly bringing together creative talent from the U.S., France and other locations around the world via technology, we completed a massive production undertaking that is often left to larger single-location Hollywood studios. Thanks to the capacity of IBM's rendering technology and the skills of our artists, we were able to bring our creative vision to life through the completion of a wonderfully entertaining film and build the foundation for a large pipeline of projects in development."

The production team needed an IT solution that was easy to configure, manage and expand, IBM officials said. To avoid the potentially high air conditioning costs associated with operating a data center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the company also wanted an energy efficient technology platform. To complete the project, the team needed to quickly design and build a dedicated server farm capable of meeting these demanding workloads across its 330 person team of artists, producers and support staff, according to the IBM press release. Enter IBM.

"IBM is delighted to work with Illumination Entertainment on this exciting project to advance digital film-making production," said Steve Canepa, general manager, IBM Media & Entertainment industry, in a statement. "The combination of our film industry expertise and powerful, flexible and cost-effective technology solutions is helping to accelerate the adoption of new digital technologies like 3-D into the creative process of film making."

Illumination tapped IBM and its Paris-based business partner Serviware to build a server farm based on IBM's iDataPlex system, IBM said. With this system the company was able to meet the intense computing requirements for the film and save room by doubling the number of systems that can run in a single IBM rack, according to the IBM press release. The entire space used to house the data center amounted to four parking spots in the garage of the production facility, about half of what had initially been allotted, IBM said. The studio's iDataPlex solution included IBM's Rear Door Heat eXchanger, a water-cooled door that allows the system to run with no air conditioning required, saving up to 40 percent of the power used in typical server configurations. Overall, the installation included 6,500 processor cores, IBM said in its press release.

Illumination Entertainment collaborated with Mac Guff Ligne, a Paris-based digital production studio, to complete the 12 months of intensive graphics and 3-D animation rendering, amounting to up to 500,000 frames per week. Meanwhile, Chris Meledandri of Illumination Entertainment has something of a pedigree in animated films. He also supervised the production of "Ice Age 1 & 2," "Alvin and the Chipmunks," "The Simpson Movie" and "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who."