The semiconductor maker is spending $8 million on movie tie-in marketing and advertising promotions in hopes that the film's slick graphics and cool animation effects will inspire consumers to expect a similar high-end multimedia experience at home on their Intel-powered computers. Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices saw breakout success in 2001 when it partnered with Hewlett-Packard to promote DreamWorks' animated comedy "Shrek." Intel is hoping for the same. The difference between then and now is that while AMD wanted to prove to the IT community that it had first-class server processors, Intel is focused primarily on consumer products.
© 2007 Disney/Pixar
"Disney allows us to use the content, characters, and brand of the movie to leverage our visuals and our brand," Heather Dixon, Intel Digital Home & Mobility Manager told InformationWeek. "We've partnered with OEMs, national retailers, and studios before, but this is the first time we are promoting a movie from awareness to preference at purchase."
Pixar and Intel have been working together since 2001, when the chip company secured a partnership with the movie studio based around Intel's NetBurst architecture and Hyper-Threading technologies. The relationship has spanned three films: "The Incredibles," "Cars," and now "Ratatouille."
Opening this weekend, the latest Pixar/Disney creation centers on the story of a French rat that helps whip up fantastic creations behind the scenes of a Paris kitchen. Intel is telling a similar story about how it is helping Pixar behind the scenes. The difference though is that while the cartoon rat throws in a pinch of oregano here and there, Intel supplied Pixar animators with enough hardware support and software tools to launch a rocket to Mars.
"We have one primary application lead that works with Pixar's Render Man team and there are three or four helpers assisting who are in charge of changing firmware," Thomas Metzger, Intel HPC Solutions Architect told InformationWeek. In addition to helping the Pixar team, Metzger said a separate team of engineers works with Disney on the studio side with data center optimization for distribution.
Metzger was not specific on the number of servers that Intel supported for its "Ratatouille" endeavor, but did say that the development of the film eerily paralleled the launch of the latest Xeon dual core 6100 also known as Woodcrest. "We didn't schedule the Woodcrest release to match the film, but the timing of their refresh of their RenderMan software was close enough to our Woodcrest 6100 launch that we knew it was important to Pixar and their ability to do in that movie," Metzger said, adding that working with Pixar and Disney provided a perfect opportunity for Intel to test how well its Xeon would do in parallel processing work loads over multiple storage servers.
Intel also supplied Pixar with its VTune, Compiler, Thread Checker, and Profiler support software to help the RenderMan development team write the code for multi-core and multi-threaded processors.
While consumers won't be booting up a multi-core Xeon chip in their laptop any time soon, Intel is noting that improvements to its Core microarchitecutre are allowing for consumers to view the movie as the filmmaker intended them. "The technology helps Pixar make a better movie and tell a better story because they can use the effects that they want and not have to change the story around," Dixon said.
For example, a waterfall effect like the one in the movie "Cars" would have been impossible to do without advanced processing power, Dixon added. The "wow" animation moment in "Ratatouille" is expected to come when the rat falls into the sink with bubbles.
"There is a distinction between enterprise and consumer," Dixon said. "Multi-core processing has made it easier to produce and create magic. The message isn't you can be a content creator but as fans we can enjoy the movie that much more on our consumer devices."
Intel is also expected to use its Pixar partnership to evangelize its latest semiconductor products, Dixon said. The company's Premier IT Professional Program in the United States invites IT executives to get up to speed on Intel's latest chips and how technologies like virtualization can help their enterprise.
In addition to highlighting its work on "Ratatouille," Intel said representatives from Pixar will often join them in these meetings. However, Pixar chief executive Steve Jobs and chief creative officer John Lasseter are not expected to make personal appearances.