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More on LoTR Special Effects 270

Posted by michael
from the smoke-rings dept.
sushi writes: "Another LoTR article: this one focusing on the technology used at Weta Digital (the CG shop). Interesting that they are undertaking "major" R&D into running more Linux, and that Linux "delivers about two times the price performance compared to systems running proprietary operating systems". I've been lucky enough to have seen inside this place, and it's cool to see a render-wall of linux boxen. Full story from a New Zealand newspaper." We linked to another good article about WETA a month ago.
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More on LoTR Special Effects

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  • Large array of boxen...Should one use bootp? Or just mount drives over NFS?
  • How far along are these guys, as compared by lets say Pixar or some of the other well known CG shops?
    • How far along are these guys, as compared by lets say Pixar or some of the other well known CG shops?

      Pixar probably pushes more ultra-high resolution CG than any other house, and therefore they own one hell of a farm, athough they don't use much in the way of OSS. You can read about their latest hardware (purchased this spring) on Sun's site [sun.com], basically they have 250 SunFire 3800's, with 8 750MHz SunSparc IIIs, 16GB of RAM, and 108GB of disk space each, plus some addtional disk space, for a total of 1.5THz processing power, 4TB of ram, and 27TB of disk space.

    • The comparison probably isn't fair because Pixar and Weta do very different jobs. Weta does visual effects and Pixar does character animation. They are superficially similar in that they often use the same modelling and rendering tools.

      VFX houses generally have to produce "elements" to match existing photography (matching camera motion, set lighting and so on). That's actually where most of the trouble happens: getting things to match. So a VFX house's best friend is not necessarily the modeller and renderer, but the compositing system (Cineon, Shake, Avid, After Effects etc).

      OTOH, Pixar has to build characters and worlds from scratch, like in traditional 3D animation (e.g. that of Aardman). Every prop and every piece of set decoration needs to be modelled, placed and rendered. Their best friend is the animation system (in Pixar's case, often incorrectly referred to by marketroids as "Marionette", but known to everyone inside the company as "Menv").

      Note that this skips over a lot of detail (and I'll no doubt be corrected/chastised for oversimplifying things), so take this with the appropriate sodium chloride.

      • Actually, you'll mostly be chastised for getting what Weta are doing wrong - they are doing both what you describe as visual effects and character animation, since a number of characters (Balrogs, trolls, etc) are animated from scratch.
  • by Astral Traveller (540334) on Sunday December 02, 2001 @08:46PM (#2645150)
    Linux has started to become the platform of choice for extremely complex and involved multimedia production, powering enormous render farms and video storage RAID arrays, yet still, Linux falls on its face for mundane day-to-day productivity work. Linux can render the incredibly lifelike texturing and animation exhibited in "Monsters Inc." and "Titanic", yet it can't even open a simple Word document without formatting errors. While delivering superior performance rendering these intensely detailed and hard-wrought movie scenes, Linux stills falls short of Windows when playing Quake. How did we get into this perplexing state of affairs?

    I'll tell you why -- good old fashioned ego. Whereas the low end (kernel developers, compiler writers, etc.) and high end (clustering software, 3D modelling and rendering, etc.) of development is led by strong, well-organised teams of well-trained developers with vision and understanding, the middle ground of the Linux is polluted with warring egos that suffer too much from the problematic NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. There are a myriad of competing, mutually incompatible yet separately inadequate office suites (Star Office, KOffice, Applix,...), desktop environments (KDE, Gnome, XFCE, CDE, UDE, ROX,...), and X servers (XFree86, MetroX, XiG). We can't even decide [cups.org] on a [lprng.com] printing system [ghostscript.com]! I realize that, according to Eric S. Raymond's famous "Cathedral and Bazaar" text, that open-source software is primarily written to scratch an itch and get peer recognition, but this is taking it too far. If all the man-hours poured into KDE and GNOME were combined into a common vision, we would have one perfect end-user desktop, instead of two poor imitations of Windows.

    Don't give me the old "competition" argument either. There is only one Linux kernel, which seems to progress just fine without another competing project nipping at its feet and instigating flamewars. The endless KDE vs. GNOME, Applix vs. StarOffice, and other feuds have wasted more productivity than would be gained by and competitive drive.

    I, for one, am somewhat miffed that while my operating system powers Hollywood blockbusters and NASA supercomputers, it still can't fully replace Windows on my office desktop. Linux is growing up; its users need to grow up with it, shed their egos and work towards the common goal of creating an excellent working environment.

    • This is the diffrence between somone porting their own apps and trying to emulate a file format that happens to be designed to provide it's authors with more leverage.

      Do you know *anybody* other then MicroSoft that has maged to render MSword files corrently?

      The StarOffice folks giving up and going with XML instead was the best idea they had in a long time.
    • And what have YOU, personally, done to help remedy this perceived problem, other than bring up this (oft repeated, and spurriously argued) point of view?

      Opening a Word document is difficult, because it requires lots of reverse engineering, and many people do play Quake at roughly equal performance under Linux or Windows. XFree is popular because it is FREE, the others you mentioned are commercial (and with other advantages and disadvantages).

      So, no, it really isn't all that interesting. It is a banal view point; if things aren't improving in your specific area quick enough for you, then do something about it (coding, guidance, money, bug fixing, bug reporting, whatever) It seems to me that YOU have the ego problem, expecting that everything should do exactly what you want.

      Besides, you are WAY off topic.
    • by Carrott (62320)

      Linux has started to become the platform of choice for extremely complex and involved multimedia production, powering enormous render farms and video storage RAID arrays, yet still, Linux falls on its face for mundane day-to-day productivity work.

      A rendering application is fairly operating system independent. It only requires ANSI C level functions for opening the source files, crunching the data, and writing the output. There is a little bit of OS stuff for communication between nodes etc, but really nothing compared to making a wordprocesssor.

      So if you have a Solaris or SGI renderfarm program, and you recompile it for linux, you quickly get a userbase of happy users who start wanting to run the modeller on this cheap hardware. So you port that too, which might not be that hard if it was coming from another unix.

      Writing a spreadsheet that reads Excel files is more difficult than porting your own application which you know you can sell, for actual money.

    • Monsters, Inc was modelled, animated and lit on SGIs and final rendering was done on Suns. No Linux here (yet).

      I think you meant Shrek.

      • No, he meant Monsters Inc. Pixar has mostly Sun's for rendering. Shrek was almost entirely on Linux.
        • Er... that's what I said, wasn't it?

          What Astral Traveller said was:

          Linux can render the incredibly lifelike texturing and animation exhibited in "Monsters Inc." [...]

          Now of course this is true. Linux can do the job. (Rumour has it that Pixar has found that FreeBSD running with Linux emulation is actually slightly faster at running prman than Linux itself for their kind of scenes, though. It's probably virtual memory performance dominating.) However, until someone comes up with a 14-CPU-per-box Linux machine, Pixar will stick with their Suns.

    • First of all, I don't think its fair to call what you're talking about 'Linux'. In the strictest sense Linux is just a kernel. But, even if you take the canonical meaning of "all the software that comes with my distro" you still can't really include the 3d software. That stuff is proprietary and expensive. It's well designed for the simple fact that people are paid to make it, and paid a lot of money (and they're a lot of competition in that arena as well)

      And lets not forget that there are a lot of competing companies and products out there for high-end graphic synthesis. The difference is that they are in 'traditional' competition with each other, I mean, you could argue using the same logic that if all the major graphic companies merged and worked together you'd end up with something truly amazing, but I doubt that. I think you'd end up becoming stagnant. (and don't forget that these products aren't even Linux exclusives or open source. You can get a lot of these programs for windows or other UNIXs)

      And there's another reason that we have competing standards, people have different visions for software, and since they're working for free, they are going to do what they want to do. Who knows of KDE people would be working on GENOME if there was no KDE or vise versa? How do you know it would result in a Super-gui and not some boring half-done shell whose developers are complacent in their lack of competition?

      • First of all, I don't think its fair to call what you're talking about 'Linux'.

        Would you be happier with GNU/Linux? *duck*

    • Yes, there may only be one Linux kernel.. but it's certainly not without competiton. You've forgotten about GNU/HURD, and the constant performace/feature comparisions to (Free|Net|Open)BSD.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What's really weird about Linux in the film industry is that the business / distribution / promotion side of the industry would love to outlaw free software. (SSSCA, DMCA, etc.)

      Meanwhile, the production side has realized that it is really useful and is wholeheartedly embracing it.

      You have to wonder if sooner or later some pointy-haired boss at the MPAA is going to wake up and go "WHAT! We USE Linux!? We use that communist, anti-American.... Well that had better stop immediately!"

      I wonder how the "copyright" industries will try to resolve this - they don't want regular people to have powerful tools like programmable PCs and free software. But they sure want to use free software to make movies.

      Maybe they'll go for an approach of requiring "computer licensing" but only if you use "non-approved" software. Most people wouldn't care because most people just run Windows, and they wouldn't need a license. Only Linux users, software developers, and computer science students would have to get licensed.

      Kind of like you need a license for a car, but not for a bicycle. (Or continuing the analogy, Windows XP == tricycle...)
    • i dual boot and i do belive that quake 3 arena plays quite a bit better on linux than on windows, just an observation
    • by tswinzig (210999) on Sunday December 02, 2001 @10:38PM (#2645493) Journal
      While delivering superior performance rendering these intensely detailed and hard-wrought movie scenes, Linux stills falls short of Windows when playing Quake. How did we get into this perplexing state of affairs?
      I'll tell you why -- good old fashioned ego.


      No no no... I think you mean id.

    • > Linux has started to become the platform of choice for extremely complex and involved multimedia production, powering enormous render farms and video storage RAID arrays, yet still, Linux falls on its face for mundane day-to-day productivity work.

      That's funny... I've been using Linux for mundane day-to-day productivity work for years.

      And it's still getting better.
  • A bewoulf clus...oh wait. Never mind.

    poundincludegeek
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 02, 2001 @09:09PM (#2645217)
    With SGI's announcement that they are supporting Linux on the new Visual
    PC does anybody know if Alias is going to port MAYA onto the Visual PC
    but running Linux ? The MAYA renderer should be easy to port as it
    requires no graphics capability.

    I am thinking of setting up a MAYA render farm and my preferred
    platforms would be the Visual PC running Linux. I am VERY wary of using
    NT which has an appalling reputation for unstability, requires far more
    support than Linux, is subject to multiple upgrades/service packs and
    has VERY poor performance under load. Linux would provide superior
    through-put, superb stability/reliability and also integrate very well
    and easily into my otherwise SGI dominated setup.

    Anybody else interested in a MAYA renderer port to Linux ?

    Please do not reply if you are trying to tell me how good NT is - the
    growth of Linux in comparision to NT tells me what I need to know - even
    with Microsoft spending millions of dollars advertising NT its sales are
    only comparable with Linux sales - virtually unadvertised compared to
    NT.....
    • 'IAMAgfx dude' but isnt 'Alias Wavefront, Maya 3.0.1' for linux, what you are talking about ? check there site .. its been ported to, and available on linux for a bit now.
    • Eeehhh, Alias Wavefront ported the Maya batch renderer to Linux and announced it at SIGGRAPH 99. And of course if you are looking for a reneder farm for Maya, there is also Phortorealistic RenderMan from Pixar (couple it with RAT: RenderMan Artists Tools) which is also available from Linux for a couple of years at least.

      Maya itself has already been ported to Linux (v. 4) and to Mac OS X (V. 3.5 I think).

      Check it at the Maya press releases page:

      Maya Press releases [aliaswavefront.com]
    • I have been using Maya for Linux for a while now. Last year A|W had Maya 2.5's renderer ported to Linux. This year they released 3.0 on NT,IRIX and Linux. Soon (or maybe it has happened...) 4.0 will be released for Linux, it is currently out for NT and IRIX.
      The speed is there on Linux, most studios are looking at moving from IRIX in the future, or they have moved. We are looking at moving from IRIX in the near future.
      Most larger production studios have in house tools as well as Maya and other pieces of software, so A|W's port is only one part of the solution.
  • In article [salon.com] on salon.com it says that they use clusters of around 1000 linux boxen, which they replace for every film... it take aprx. 2/3 years to make the film, so by the next film hardware has become more powerfull, so bye-bye old clusters, hello new ones.

    What I would like to know is what they do to the old computers... I hope that they do things like donate them to local schools and the such, I know that for most applications it doesn't realy matter if you don't have this year's Pentium 54 with 5gigs of ram, but I would imagine that these machines are tricked out pretty nicely. Does anyone know what does happen to them?

    1000 machines x $2000 = $2,000,000
    Thats still cheaper than a bigname actor... shocking :)
    • Given the replaceable nature of the machines involved, they are probably all leased to provide WETA the most advantageous position possible from a federal tax break standpoint, after which they are probably returned to the owner who sells them to companies in developing nations at discounted prices.
      • .. except that Weta is a company based in NZ, and if the machines are leased, then there may be a taxbreak, but it won't be federal ;)

        I have a friend who recently spent some time at Weta, and by the sounds of it the boxes are all high spec, and therefore probably not going to any developing nations anytime soon
      • Weta is a New Zealand company, the movie is being made in New Zealand. "Federal tax break"? Idiot.
        • The last time I checked, New Zealand had a federal government, to which they pay taxes. Believe it or not, the United States is not the only nation on Earth with a federal government, nor is it the only one where it makes more sense to get yearly tax breaks on least equipment rather than tax breaks every couple of years for new equipment that may need to be replaced yearly.
    • There's still the small matter of the animators and systems support staff. Neither of who come cheap.
    • They are missing video cards, keyboards, and monitors, (and may be missing floppy and CD drives, though the ones I am familiar with are not) and may not be all that valuable to schools.
  • Linux rendering farm (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    It seems that since the days of the movie "Titanic", Linux has become
    entrenched as a major rendering farm OS and is starting to move into the
    workstation environment! Get it? Workstations ARE on the desktop! Remember
    that it was the workstations were the Winvocates claimed the real work was
    done! Seems Linux is continuing on it's course to become of becoming the
    dominate OS in computer generated special affects in the movies!

    http://www2.linuxjournal.com/lj-issues/issue88/4 80 3.html

    A great quote:

    "Some wonder how Linux will dislodge Windows on the desktop because leading
    desktop applications such as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and Access)
    aren't there. But, if you are a motion picture animator most of your
    everyday tools are already available on Linux, and the number being ported
    or even produced specifically for Linux is increasing at a remarkable rate."

    Seems that when the tools are ready, people are more than willing to
    switch! Hell, there more than ready, they'll even developed their own tools!

    "For character animation, a scan of a paper sketch is done using
    ToonShooter. Production software lead Derek Chan explains, ``ToonShooter is
    an internal tool we wrote for Linux. It captures low resolution 640 × 480
    line art that the artists use to time the film.'' Created more than a year
    ago, this Linux capture stand software is deployed in three animation
    departments. Chan says, ``Demand was keen for this Linux software, and we
    delivered it ahead of schedule. DreamWorks has 60 units in production
    now.''

    Hmmm, It all sounds like the work that winvocates claimed as the domain for
    NT. Departmental changes in OS's. Could this be how Linux takes over the
    desk top? One department at a time?
  • Ironic (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gnarly (133072)
    Weta is gathering material from its archives for use in The Fellowship of the Ring DVD release

    Weta has a "major" research and development effort under way at the moment into running more Linux-based workstations.

    Ironic that Linux was used to make this movie & DVD but Linux users would be prevented [slashdot.org] (in the US) from distributing the software to watch the movie.

  • LotR Topic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by heptapod (243146)
    Star Wars has a topic, why not LotR? Steve Jackson's already rubbed the Linux community's collective johnsons hard enough because of the special effects developed on your beloved operating systems and for the simple fact that nearly every "nerd" has read Tolkein's saga.

    Isn't this enough to merit a topic already or will LotR continue to play second fiddle to the increasingly mediocre Star Wars franchise?
  • by Ryu2 (89645) on Sunday December 02, 2001 @09:38PM (#2645298) Homepage Journal
    The two articles didn't say. Are they using PRMan, or something else? Or are they using their own proprietary renderer, a la PDI/Shrek?
  • Massive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Alien54 (180860) on Sunday December 02, 2001 @09:53PM (#2645337) Journal
    Weta crowd supervisor Stephen Regelous has created software, dubbed Massive, that creates realistic crowds. Every individual in the crowd moves in response to stimulus such as terrain, and to the actions of others. The battles in The Return of the King will see hundreds of thousands of these intelligent agents in frame at the same time, Mr Labrie says, stretching the software to its limits.

    Aside from the impressive technological feat, imagine looking forward to the day when effects like these are availble for Gaming Engines.

    Imagine Quake IX out in an open plane of battle with literally hundreds of thousands of soldiers and other things out there all at once.

    I am reminded of something similar to the weekend dogfights/lanparties at the Airforce Academy, but with a much larger field of action.

    [smile]

    • Imagine getting killed before you can think as you spawn in the middle of a firefight involving the population of a small country :)

      With that much going on in one place, I don't think it would be much fun because the overall hit rate would preclude survival for a significant amount of time.
      • Imagine getting killed before you can think as you spawn in the middle of a firefight involving the population of a small country :) With that much going on in one place, I don't think it would be much fun because the overall hit rate would preclude survival for a significant amount of time.

        I don't know, you could always spawn in a dead zone where everyone has been killed off already, more or less...

        But I am sure that there is a whole crowd of people who would go for it. Just as described. say, in an over-sized and semi dormant volcano caldera.

        Ten thousand people in a square mile equals one person per 50 foot square (roughly) for a large distance. not so bad until they start mobbing. Start looking for many hole covers really quick.

        • Well that could open some new possibilities - I love mass destruction :) Then again, the fun part of taking out 5 people with a panzerfaust is that you miss completely half the time.
    • I've done something vaguely like this in the GPLed version of Bungie's Marathon, "Aleph One", by setting up a vast plain with a couple hundred enemy aliens on the other side. You get a whole stockpile of arms and when you wake them up, they charge you en masse.

      It's not all that fascinating as there's only 20-50 enemies in your immediate vicinity at any given time. Most of the fun is firing big ol' weapons into _crowds_ of enemies. They can't be projectile-using enemies or you're just hosed instantly ;)

      That said- there _is_ a coolness factor to this type of gaming. It's very unlike Quake, but I'm told Serious Sam is more prone to hitting you with a fairly large number of enemies.

      • Have you tried Serious Sam? Quite a bit of "mob the player" action in that title. A bit like old sk00l player-created Doom levels...
    • The way that 'Massive' works is ingenious. A statement of the battle simulation problem is "How do you get all of these simulated actors to respond correctly to their individual environment?"

      The solution employed at WETA is to use state-of-the-art graphics hardware to render the view from the eyes of each simulated actor. He then plans his actions based on this view, correctly placing his feet on the changing terrain, correctly attacking bad guys while avoiding attacking good guys, and so on.

      Of course, this is only one part of the system. There are a few thousand motion-captured full-body gestures used for each simulated actor to implement these desired goals; for example.

      I have been extremely impressed, stunned even, by the astonishing pace of development on this movie. They've come up with shockingly great solutions to very hard problems, on a time scale that I wouldn't have thought possible. If you read the article, John Labrie says that he wishes that he had more time to plan, and didn't have to just react -- but I can't believe that there is any better way to make a movie. When the director-artist-programmer team really starts to hum, you can get amazing progress in a very short time.

      thad
  • I'd quite like to see a walking tree.
  • Text of article (Score:3, Informative)

    by Joe Hardy (_yoda) (252679) on Sunday December 02, 2001 @10:08PM (#2645384)
    Given that the server is being given a good hammering at the moment (and not handling it very well), here's the contents of the article (after trying to retrieve it about 10 times)

    Lord of the special effects
    03 December 2001

    By AMANDA WELLS
    Weta Digital chief technical officer Jon Labrie was looking forward to a lull after delivering the special effects for The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

    The facility, based in the Wellington suburb of Miramar, delivered the effects shots in early October, with the film's Australasian premiere scheduled for December 19.

    But, Mr Labrie says, things are not proving quite as quiet as expected, and Weta's biggest workload is yet to come.

    Work has started on key shots for the second film, The Two Towers, and a detailed plan is being drawn up for tackling the sophisticated effects needed in this film and its successor.

    Weta will deliver The Two Towers effects by October 1, 2002.

    Mr Labrie says the facility has yet to get a clear picture of the workload for the film, which involves animating several key characters.

    Gollum, an evil creature bent on retrieving the One ring he once possessed, emerges in the second film, and Weta's graphic artists have begun bringing him to life. Gollum is shown close-up and must appear believable.

    Treebeard, an ent or talking tree, also appears in the second film, along with other creatures for which Weta has developed digital fur.

    Mr Labrie says Weta will probably have to grow by another 10 per cent to complete The Two Towers, up to about 250 staff.

    The trilogy's second and third instalments contain some impressive special effects set pieces, he says.

    The third film features "an extraordinary number of battle sequences".

    Weta crowd supervisor Stephen Regelous has created software, dubbed Massive, that creates realistic crowds. Every individual in the crowd moves in response to stimulus such as terrain, and to the actions of others.

    The battles in The Return of the King will see hundreds of thousands of these intelligent agents in frame at the same time, Mr Labrie says, stretching the software to its limits.

    Massive was developed on SGI operating system Irix and has since been ported to open source operating system Linux.

    The deadline for delivering the third film's effects has not yet finalised, but could be October 2003.

    In terms of the facility's workload, creating effects for The Return of the King will be equivalent to the first two films combined, he says.

    Mr Jackson has kept tabs on filming and effects while offshore through extensive use of videoconferencing. He could view the output of a camera remotely, and artists could transfer frames via an FTP connection.

    Mr Labrie says that at the start of the project in 1998, it was hard to conceive how much work it would be to complete simultaneously all three films based on the 1200-page epic.

    JRR Tolkien's world is hugely detailed, with a vast variety of landscapes and diverse array of creatures.

    Elves, dwarfs, hobbits, trolls, orcs, ents, wraiths and balrogs populate Middle Earth, and purists will be watching keenly for a literal rendition.

    Mr Labrie says Weta's naivety was probably a good thing.

    "Nobody would want to tackle three films again, not at the same time."

    Weta grows seven-fold

    Mr Labrie joined Weta Digital in 1995, when the company was set up to provide effects for Mr Jackson's films.

    Weta is privately owned, with Mr Jackson's 34 per cent the largest individual stake.

    Mr Labrie came to Weta from the US, where he had mostly recently worked on effects for science fiction blockbuster Independence Day.

    He has overseen the facility's expansion from 30 to 230 staff.

    Weta has created effects for previous Jackson films Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy far outstrips these in complexity and volume of effects.

    About 1500 effects shots will be created in total.

    Mr Labrie says if he was doing it again, he would spend more time up-front on planning for growth and "less time reacting".

    Planning of this kind is underway for films two and three at the moment.

    In terms of technology, "there's not a lot I'd do differently," though getting digital asset management up and running was problematic.

    "There are still issues to be addressed, but for the most part we have done it right."

    The growth of the facility has been "far greater than we anticipated". Originally, Mr Labrie thought Weta would need between 80 and 90 graphic artists to complete the trilogy's special effects.

    But artist numbers hit 167 in August, at the peak of The Fellowship of the Ring production, with 225 staff in total.

    At the moment, the facility has about 205 staff, with some people leaving to work on other projects or heading home to other countries after the first film was completed.

    Numbers will ramp up again in the New Year to hit between 230 and 235 in April or May.

    Finding graphic artists for the project is not a problem, Mr Labrie says.

    "Everybody wants to work on Lord of the Rings."

    Just under 40 per cent of the artists are Kiwis, 31 per cent from the US, 11 per cent from Australia, 5 per cent from Britain and the rest from countries as diverse as Japan, Egypt, China, Germany, Korea, Russia and France.

    Weta has amassed substantial world-class talent, he says.

    "In terms of pure technical infrastructure, we are one of the three largest facilities in the world.

    "We consider ourselves, at the moment, to be one of the top five visual-effects facilities on the planet."

    He says Weta staff are focused on the work remaining during the next two years, with the future of the facility after that yet to be decided.

    Weta will not be able to support existing staff numbers when Lord of the Rings work is completed without securing another project of the same magnitude, which seems a tall order.

    Effects artists tend to be nomadic, Mr Labrie says, and will head off to the next project in which they are interested.

    Mr Labrie says the business could become more broad-based, tackling interactive gaming or commercials. "It's hard to make a profit out of visual effects."

    This time next year, serious consideration of Weta's future will start.

    The Hardware

    of the Rings

    The facility's technological infrastructure has mostly coped well with its exponential growth, Mr Labrie says.

    Adjustments are being made at the moment to network switches and data distribution systems to ensure Weta's technology will scale up again when facility growth peaks for The Two Towers work.

    The machine room, housing the processing power at the heart of the facility, will probably be enlarged, and work will be done to increase electricity flow and the Uninterruptible Power Supply service into the premises.

    Mr Labrie says Weta will probably look at buying more hardware in February or March to meet The Two Towers' requirements.

    Between $20 million and $30 million has been spent on Weta's IT infrastructure so far.

    The total is "a little more than we expected", because of some unanticipated costs near the end of the first film's work.

    A "rendering crunch" of last-minute work meant more processors were needed to complete the final six weeks of visual effects production, partly because of some late additions to the cut.

    Mr Labrie says he has probably exceeded budget estimates made three years ago by about $1 million.

    Weta does not have formal hardware agreements in place, but has developed strong relationships with vendors SGI, Auckland-based DVT, and Infinity Solutions, and Mr Labrie says he would go to them first to see if they could supply the hardware he needs.

    About 90 per cent of the company's systems are from SGI.

    The machine room has about 12 terabytes of storage, with about 20 terabytes in total at the facility.

    Mr Labrie says working storage needs will probably hit 30 terabytes for the second and third films.

    But adding storage is not as difficult as it used to be, and prices have come down.

    By the time the effects for the third film are finished, between 70 and 80 per cent of the hardware will be out of date. These systems will be written down.

    Some PCs will be able to be used for the company's next project, along with a StorageTek tape robot which has a long lifespan.

    Mr Labrie says Linux is gradually replacing Irix as the operating system of choice in the effects world.

    Weta has a "major" research and development effort under way at the moment into running more Linux-based workstations.

    Mr Labrie says the facility is running a substantial amount of Linux at the moment, on processors in the machine room that are "the core of the rendering wall".

    Between 40 and 50 workstations run Alias/Wavefront's Maya character animation software or Nothing Real's Shake compositing system on Linux.

    He says he is looking at "making a more determined move" into Linux for the second film and will probably at least double the facility's number of installed Linux systems.

    Linux delivers about two times the price performance compared to systems running proprietary operating systems, he says. Unlike several years ago, sophisticated animation applications are increasingly able to run on the free operating system.

    The project has brought with it huge public and media interest.

    Mr Labrie says he is receiving a couple of interview requests a day at the moment, from New Zealand and offshore media.

    "I thought maybe we'd be able to keep a low profile for a bit longer."

    Fans will be keen to check that technology has brought Middle Earth to life correctly.

    Mr Labrie says visual effects in The Fellowship of the Ring are "all over the film", with audiences not going for long without seeing footage that has been manipulated in some way.

    "There's always some kind of trick going on."

    But these are seamlessly integrated into the film's background.

    Weta is gathering material from its archives for use in The Fellowship of the Ring DVD release at the moment.

    The DVD, which is being produced by New Line, will contain information about the making of the film.

    American software company Electronic Arts is creating a Lord of the Rings game, for which Weta is supplying images and models.

    The facility has a fulltime staff member dedicated to finding material for the game, though has no involvement in its production.

    Mr Labrie is setting up a games company at the moment, with details under wraps for another couple of months.

    He has written film scripts in the past, and says he will write storylines for the interactive games the company will produce.

    The company will probably launch early next year, and Mr Labrie will continue in his Weta role.

    As the facility's infrastructure becomes complete, being chief technical officer is more administrative and takes up less time, he says.

    But his focus will remain on the enormous project till it is completed, sometime towards the end of 2003.
  • I love stories like this, 'cos he used to be a total Irix weenie... three or four years ago, when fx/compositing / modelling / rendering programs first started appearing on Linux, we had a big argument about whether or not Linux would beat Irix. Face it, SonyBoy, you lost ;p

    BTW AFAICT from the guarded comments he's let slip, the film - the FX at any rate - is going to absolutely rock. My local fleapit is taking bookings now, oddly enough it's on my to-do list for tomorrow.

    • I can't say I blaim him, Irix was the shit comared to everything else back then. Linux was very immature and has come along way. I don't think there were many, if there was anyone at all that foresaw the kind of momentum that linux has now. Now with Irix's XFS on Linux its that much easier. The real advantage is that the hardware has surpassed SGI from a price/performance issue by a HUGE margin. Its not so much linux itself as the fact that a computer can be built for $2000 and be good to go. Linux was just the catalyst that made the switch that much more plausible, and when the software finally came over, so did everyone else.
  • hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Iamthefallen (523816) <Gmail name: Iamthefallen> on Sunday December 02, 2001 @10:17PM (#2645411) Homepage Journal

    I've seen some screenshots and they don't look that hot, have a look for yourself [ucla.edu]

    I vote the guy who made that the least likely to ever have sex...

  • by dustpuppy (5260) on Sunday December 02, 2001 @10:31PM (#2645462) Homepage


    Apparently it's a Tolkien Ring network - yuk yuk.

    • People mess with me because I run token ring at home. I agree that it's probably not the best choice, but hey, it was free. However, on a huge network like this, (did I see 1000 boxes?) Token ring would clearly outperform ethernet, and Token ring is quite reliable. Not to mess with your +2 funny though.
      • Umm...

        While Token Ring initially had a scalability advantage over Ethernet in that Ethernet was contention-based and Token Ring wasn't, any such advantage died out long, long ago. In the age of switches, Ethernet is no longer contention-based either (unless you're one of the five people on the planet still using hubs), which kills the only disadvantage it ever had. Then, compare the base speeds -- 16 Mbit versus 100 Mbit (or, using Gigabit Ethernet hardware, you can actually get reasonably close to a gigabit using ordinary Cat5 UTP).

        Token ring just will not cut it any more, and certainly can't scale nearly as far as switch-based Ethernet can. How exactly would you implement your 1000-node Token Ring network? One big ring? Assuming an average of 1ms between nodes, that's a full second for a complete traversal of the ring -- and with the ring being as busy as it is, it'd instantly collapse under the load. Okay, maybe you want to bridge multiple rings together. You're still going to have terrible network performance compared to switched Ethernet, where everything is effectively bridged.

        And reliability? Are we talking about the same "token ring" here? Moses on a stick -- I still have nightmares.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday December 02, 2001 @10:49PM (#2645523) Homepage
    Rendering farms have no user interface at all; they're like hosting farms. All you need is enough of an OS to run the rendering app and talk to the net.

    The main reason not to run a Microsoft OS for a farm of anything is that it's getting harder and harder to turn the resource-wasting crap off.

    I just found my own NT application loading Internet Exploder whenever I bring up a file open dialog. As soon as you call for a common dialog, an incredible amount of crap gets loaded and three more threads start up within your app, doing who knows what. It looks like the file browser in the open box uses IE.

  • by SilentChris (452960) on Sunday December 02, 2001 @11:36PM (#2645728) Homepage
    Actually, a far greater tool was used than Linux-boxen in creating Lord of the Rings. Artists.

    You could have all the rendering boxes in the world. If you have high-school hacks, you're going to end up doing hack-level work.

    Directors at Pixar once said that they hire artists that can use computers, not computer people who claim they are artists. This movie would have been just as impressive if it was made without the technology.

    And let's not forget the artistry involved in writing the book, which required millenia-old technology.

  • The Massive software they wrote for dealing with crowd scenes has a certain amount of AI built in so that you can get realistic looking crowd scenes without animators getting nickle-and-dimed to death on animationg thousands of figures seperatly.

    According to one of the Weta guys speaking at a function, this had some downsides, not least of which was semi-autonomous soldiers running away from battles. Not quite the look they were after.
  • by wiredog (43288)
    I just love the work they [weta.org] do, so I send them money every year.

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