IT Gets Creative At DreamWorks

Virtual collaboration, Linux, and utility computing stretch the limits of technology.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 28, 2006

2 Min Read

In terms of the overall filmmaking process, we generally think about production having four main components: development, preproduction, production, and postproduction. Ultimately, technology touches all four components, although most resources are consumed in the main production component. With every production having very different creative goals, managing the technology needs can be tricky.

To help manage the peak, we turned to utility computing. The idea is that we can tap into an HP data center on an as-needed basis and pay for only what we use, much the way consumers pay for electricity. This approach has proved extremely valuable on several of our past productions.

Shrek 2 was partially rendered at HP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif. Never before had we moved the rendering process off our own systems. The HP data center was linked to our Redwood City campus about 20 miles away via a secure, high-speed fiber-optic network. The same data center also lent us a hand during the production of Madagascar in 2005, which required some serious computing power—12.5 million CPU hours.

We rendered about 1 million of those hours at HP's remote data center, which provided a tremendous amount of flexibility at the end of the production. The added computing power let us stretch our limits. In the end, the crowds of furry lemurs dancing in the dense jungles came together exactly as our filmmakers had intended—there was no need to compromise quality for lack of technical resources.

Aside from solutions developed with our technology partners, most of our core tools are proprietary systems that have been crafted for artists. Given our creative goals, our needs are so specialized and unique that only proprietary custom tools can meet the bill.

We've assembled an extraordinary team of talented software engineers who work to create solutions to our unique creative challenges every day. One of the most exciting aspects of my job is being able to work with some of the most skilled artists in the world without having to give up working with equally talented engineers.

Each of our films affords us an opportunity to create on both the artistic and the technical front. The end goal is progressively richer and more visually sophisticated imagery that enhances our storytelling.

Ed Leonard is chief technology officer at DreamWorks Animation SKG.

How innovative is your core technology? Tell us.

See Related Articles:

Six Options For Open-Source Support, March 2006
What's Holding Up Utility Computing?, February 2006
Putting Open Source To Work, April 2005

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