LucasFilm Sinks $4 Million Into 64-Bit Workstations For Special Effects

The Hewlett-Packard workstations will offer artists faster rendering, and provide the force behind Lucasfilm's Star Wars video games, animated television series Clone Wars, and future movies.
Lucasfilm Ltd. is making a three-year, $4 million dollar investment in Hewlett-Packard technologies, which will provide the force behind its Star Wars video games, animated television series Clone Wars and future movies, says Cliff Plumer, Lucasfilm chief technology officer.

The investment includes 1,000 HP xw9300 workstations to be installed at Lucasfilm's new Letterman Digital Arts Center at the Presidio in San Francisco, and in its Singapore facility, scheduled to open in November. "The big benefit is our move to a 64-bit workstation, which is something we've planned on," says Plumer. "Our entire back-end infrastructure has been 64-bit and we wanted to deploy the same type of workstation."

The workstations powered by dual-core Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron processors out-performed all other systems evaluated, Plumer says. The switch from the Intel Pentium 4 workstations will enable Lucasfilm's graphic artists to perform more interactive tasks and render images at a higher resolution. Files are sent to an on-site rendering farm, powered by systems featuring AMD's Opteron processors, where 3-D and 2-D geometries, textures, and lighting are composed into a sequence of images.

Depending on the complexity of the images, renderings could take minutes, hours, or days to finish. The new workstations will let artists complete a higher resolution of the image faster. Lucasfilm also selected HP StorageWorks XP12000 Disk Array, with 35-terabyte capacity, and Cisco Systems' MDS 9509 for its business applications. "We chose HP because of their ability to provide new technology from AMD and Nvidia," Plumer says. "They both have unique power and cooling requirements that the 9300 workstation can handle."

Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore will get the same workstations as the Presidio complex in San Francisco. That's where LucasArts, a video game producer, and Industrial Light & Magic, which created visual effects for films including the Harry Potter series, the Jurassic Park films, and the Steven Spielberg film War of the Worlds, are based.

Some of the HP xw9300 Workstations will run both Linux and Windows XP on the same machine with help from a custom-built, in-house computer sign-on program that appears when the machine boots up. The artist will have an option to boot up the machine in either operating system.

Workstations will have Nvidia Corp.'s dual PCI Express x16 graphics with 3-D graphics capabilities. The list price on each workstation is about $10,000, according to Frank Giaimo, VP of strategic alliances at HP.

Editor's Choice
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
Roger Burkhardt, Capital Markets Chief Technology Officer, Broadridge Financial Solutions
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author