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Behind the Scenes 184

JosefK writes: "Film & Video is running an interesting and fairly in-depth article on the technology that's been used by Peter Jackson's crew and WETA for the production of the Lord of the Rings. From satellite video feeds for overseeing remote shoots, to the development of WETA's Massive program for depicting large scale battle scenes with tens and hundreds of thousands of "agents" (and it runs on Linux!), the article covers the gamut of the interesting things Peter Jackson's been doing Down Under." And Salon is running a lengthy article on the increasing use of Linux in the special effects industry.
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Behind the Scenes

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  • Kit Cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JohnHegarty ( 453016 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:25AM (#2506963) Homepage
    "To accomplish the visual effects, Weta has put together an impressive array of computer firepower that includes 150 SGI Octane workstations, as well as 80 SGI dual processor 330 and 230 series Linux workstations. Two SGI Origin 2000s serve as the primary file servers for the facility, and Weta has also installed a TP9400 RAID storage array. "

    This is some amount for kit. Would a Beowulf type setup be less costly, or provide more headaches.
    • ...or, can you actually get commodity hardware to perform like sgi hardware? optimized hardware could be a very profitable business, as apple could create a great consumer analogue to the opensource industry. why sgi can't capitalize on this stuff is beyond me. thanks god i sold that stock long ago.
  • by Unknown Bovine Group ( 462144 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:26AM (#2506969) Homepage
    But as (Dungeons & Dragons) we all know (Dungeons & Dragons), special effects alone (Dungeons & Dragons) without good characters and (Dungeons & Dragons) plot development (Dungeons & Dragons) is (Dungeons & Dragons) crap.

    (Dungeons & Dragons)
    • Re:Special Effects (Score:2, Insightful)

      by McD!ck ( 444861 )
      Yes, special effects (D&D) alone do not make a good movie (Pearl Harbor, Titanic, Mummy). BUT we are not dealing with just any old story. We are dealing with The Lord Of The Rings. This storyline has been read by so many, and adored by such a large following of fans that as long as they stuck to the book and have "decent" actors, this movie should come off better than Liv Tylor's dress!

      The only thing that could've ruined this movie is if they placed Leo DeCaprio as Frodo.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Lord of the Rings is boring. There is a distinct lack of giant robots in it. Good movies have giant robots, bad movies don't.
        • Lord of the Rings is boring. There is a distinct lack of giant robots in it. Good movies have giant robots, bad movies don't.






          The Balrog is actually a giant robot. But they won't reveal that until the fourth movie.

      • Everyone should be prepared to be underwhelmed then. Any other halfway decent good book that has ever been made into a movie/film absolutely can not hold a candle to the book (Just in the last 10 or so years, I am thinking Jurassic Park, or anything Tom Clancy wrote).

        And then, they go and muck it up further by introducing whiz-bang special effects, hoping we don't notice how far off the movie/film is from the book...

        I am guessing people *will* notice, and that is why all 3 have been shot already...

        • (Just in the last 10 or so years, I am thinking Jurassic Park, or anything Tom Clancy wrote).

          Though not a great movie, Jurassic Park is hardly bad (and obviously did well enough for two sequels). And, quite frankly, anything Tom Clancy wrote after The Hunt for Red October is pure crap and always much better as a movie.

        • Re:Special Effects (Score:2, Insightful)

          by dwhitman ( 105201 )
          Any other halfway decent good book that has ever been made into a movie/film absolutely can not hold a candle to the book

          I can think of a few counter-examples. Catch-22. Slaughterhouse Five. A handful of others.

          Now granted, the movies were not as rich as the original novels, but then again, in most people can't read novels like those in 2 hours or so (and if they did, their experience wouldn't be as rich as if they worked through thoughtfully).

          Given the constraints of the format, movie version of novels can be every bit as good or better than the original, albeit different.

          Although usually they aren't.

      • by sharkey ( 16670 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @01:01PM (#2507523)
        The only thing that could've ruined this movie is if they placed Leo DeCaprio as Frodo.

        Or cast N'Sync as Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin and Fatty, with Britney as Eowyn and Christina as Arwen Evenstar. Throw in Clooney as Strider and Stallone as Boromir, and you open the way for Jim Carrey and Gary Busey to steal the show as Legolas and Gimli. With Travolta as fearless leader Gandalf the Thetan, LOTR would have rivalled the Batman movie starring Adam West and Burt Ward for space in moviegoer's hearts.
        • LOL!

          True! TRUE! The sad part is that Hollywood probably concidered it.

          PETER KEETING: "HEY! I got an idea for that new LOTR movie. Lets appeal to the teenage female market. . .with. . .(See list above)"
          ELSWORTH TOOHEY: "PERFECT! I am sold! How much do you need? 10 billion?"

          Yes, that was an Ayn Rand reference. . .sorry.

        • Or cast N'Sync as Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin and Fatty, with Britney as Eowyn and Christina as Arwen Evenstar. Throw in Clooney as Strider and Stallone as Boromir, and you open the way for Jim Carrey and Gary Busey to steal the show as Legolas and Gimli. With Travolta as fearless leader Gandalf the Thetan..

          Thank you for bringing that apocalyptic vision into my head. You have successfully tarnished the tale I most love to reread. Now, I must kill you! Good-bye!

          Actually, I think this brings up a good point. The casting seems to be spot on. Ian McKellan as Gandalf made my toes curl the first time I heard it. He's perfect. Here's hoping it all works out.

          CUZ IF IT DOESN'T, I'M TAKING HOSTAGES! I canNOT handle another TPM-like disappointment and remain a stable individual. End of story.

        • ...would have rivalled the Batman movie starring Adam West and Burt Ward for space in moviegoer's hearts.

          I have always thought that a movie version of Frank Miller's the Dark Knight Returns starring Adam West as the old psychotic batman would be fantastic. Delivering those crazy man lines in the same goofy tones he used in the TV series would be an absolute howler yet still be able to get across the chilling theme of Miller's book. Plus West perfectly looks the part of the ageing sotted crime fighter. If only Ceaser Romero were still alive to play the Joker....

  • by PeterMiller ( 27216 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:28AM (#2506982)
    From the Salon Article:
    "At Dreamworks, Leonard laments that the thing that drove graphics card performance on Linux in the early days of the migration was the first-person shooter computer game Quake. Gamers who were fans of Linux and Quake hacked on Linux until Quake ran smoothly."

    This once agian proves that the Quake engine was the primary driver of technology over the last 7 years.

    What will take us to the next level of computing? Why, Quake 4 of course.
  • RTS-Game! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Ch_Omega ( 532549 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:31AM (#2506998) Journal
    Imagine using that setup and those machines for an ultra-realistic realtime strategygame based on LOTR!

    Okay, I just shut up now..
    • I was actually hoping that they'd run the movie from an off-the-shelf game engine, but you're hoping for the reverse?
    • Regelous explained that each creature is actually an artificial intelligence. Each one can see and hear what is around him and will respond to his environment, and other creatures in the area. Each creature is programmed with a range of behaviors which draw from a huge database of motion capture data. Atlanta-based Giant Studios' proprietary motion capture system was used for the huge database of motions that were needed to drive Massive. A motion blending engine within Massive is used to merge motions together.

      Imagine using that to run The Sims: Middle Earth.
  • Weather (Score:4, Funny)

    by Levine ( 22596 ) <> on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:36AM (#2507018) Homepage
    He said that the shoot turned out to be one of the worst of Jackson's career. "We had horrendous weather and all kinds of problems in the production... At one point, production had to be stopped when they were shooting in Queenstown, because there was so much torrential rainfall that the entire crew had to help sandbag the town so that it wouldn't be washed away."

    I'd think the ruins of a town washed away would make an excellent set, but hey. Whatever works.

    • "We had horrendous weather and all kinds of problems in the production... "

      Interestingly, if you watch the making-of featurette on the Braveheart DVD, you will find that Mel Gibson also had many difficulties with rain while filming in Scotland/Ireland.

      I hear that movie turned out pretty well.
      • Unless it's actually pouring off the set and cast in close-up I believe you can't actually see rain on film unless it's being backlit, so rain alone doesn't cause too much disruption, more an inconvenience and some discomfort.

        Having to sandbag the set however...

        • Re:Weather (Score:2, Insightful)

          by elvum ( 9344 )

          The problem is when you film two adjacent scenes on different days - it's going to look a bit strange in the final cut if there are clouds in the sky and puddles everywhere in one scene but then it's gloriously sunny and dry two seconds later.

          For an (unintrusive) example, examine the Indy Car chase sequence in Charlie's Angels... :-)

          • it's going to look a bit strange in the final cut if there are clouds in the sky and puddles everywhere in one scene but then it's gloriously sunny and dry two seconds later. Not to mention when your hero steps out the door and instantly looks like he's been standing in the rain all day. Not to mention the runny make-up... 8-) But if you want authentic Scottish or Irish scenery, you are going to spend a lot of time in the rain.
      • I've been to queenstown, it sits in a valley of moutains. No doubt the rain rushes down the moutains and heads for the city. Maybe that would be good for a flooding movie, but no for LOTR.
    • I know how Square handles bad weather; too bad they're not around anymore.
  • by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:36AM (#2507024) Journal
    that a PBS station [] was involved in the production of LoTR. Does this mean that I'll stop hearing them beg for money twice a year?
    • nah. WETA's super strapped for money. They're understaffed in a few of the most critical areas. I don't know if I can tell you where, 'cause I know things that other people don't (disclosure: my dad is the Senior Director of Engineering @ WETA), but it is definitely safe to say that you will be hearing WETA pledge drives for a long time to come :)
    • ..a large, nocturnal, flightless insect native to New Zealand. Some of these things can grow as large as 30 grams, making Wetas the heaviest insect on the planet.
    • And you wouldn't believe how many resumes we got a couple of years ago, from computer animators who didn't know the difference between and
    • No, it means that you'll see pledge drives during LotR, and vice versa.
  • by Uttles ( 324447 )
    Who says free software is passé? Hollywood's special-effects industry can't get enough of the operating system built by hackers, for hackers.

    This story is good news, I'm glad Linux is catching on in popularity, I recently switched to Linux on my personal PC and I'm enjoying every minute of it. The reason for my switch: I used to use it at school, I use it at work, and Windows XP is as crooked as a politician, so I switched to good ol' Linux. Linux is a great OS and the best thing about it is that the more you become a power user, the more powerful you become. It's absolutely the most flexible and tweakable system out there. This public perception however, "by hackers for hackers," is crap, and we need to frown upon it. Linux is built by software enthusiasts, not "hackers." I'm not a Linux history expert, but I have a good feel for the way things are at this moment, and I have to say that nowadays Linux users are a wide range of people, including big businesses, educators, kids, the computer nerds like myself, etc. Linux was built, and continues to be built, by people with a great knowlege of software engineering and the desire to provide a democratic style OS that is both powerful and easy to use, and best of all: free.
      • Linux is built by software enthusiasts, not "hackers."

      Gather round grandpa's ol' rocking chair, and he'll tell you a tale from the Olden Days, when the world was young and innocent, and "hacker" was synonymous with "software enthusiast"... ;-)

      • Don't worry, I remember those days. My point was just that similar to glittery gloves and Members Only Jackets, calling a computer enthusiast a "hacker" is out like the fat kid in dodgeball.
    • But Hammel is perfectly correct when he says that Linux was bult by hackers, for hackers. You presumably object because you're thinking of the popular meaning of "hackers", rather than the historical meaning, which was pretty close to the phrase you want to substitute: "software enthusiasts".

      • OK, if you want to get technical:

        hacker [hákr ] (plural hackers) noun

        1. COMPUTING somebody accessing another's computer: somebody who uses computer expertise to gain unauthorized access to a computer system belonging to another, either to learn about the system or to examine its data

        2. COMPUTING computer enthusiast: somebody who is very interested or skilled in computer technology and programming

        The popular concept of hacker is and has been for a while definition 1. Calling Linux users and programmers by that definition is wrong. The technical secondary definition of the term hacker is in fact computer enthusiast. That definition, however, is extremely rarely used. I in fact have never heard it being used that way, and in this article, definition 1 was clearly being implied.
  • I don't often like seeing a movie once I've read the book - and I certainly wasn't going to see LoTR. That is, until I saw the trailer at the cinema. Man, I was taken by the whole thing. Okay, the faces and some scenes are "wrong", but that's only because I'm used to my own imagination. The battlescenes are awe-inspiring, and in general I am very impressed.


  • by billmaly ( 212308 ) <bill.maly@[ ] ['mcl' in gap]> on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:46AM (#2507078)
    Go easy on Jackson when his films are released. He's obviously done close to everything that a director can do to:

    1. Maintain Tolkein's vision.
    2. Tell the story as truly as possible
    3. Work within the confines of the entertainment industry to do so AND make a movie palatable to Joe Six Pack. (If the film doesn't make money, Hollywood won't support it, fact of life here on Earth, and probably MiddleEarth as well!)

    These have all been Herculean tasks, and Peter Jackson has devoted his life to them. I would hope that the LOTR faithful are willing to look past minor transgressions that HAVE to be made to bring a story of this scope and scale to the screen.

    Obviously, this will be a far, far cry from the embarressing cartoon of FOTR. Let's hope people can forgive Hobbits that aren't quite rotund enough, elves who aren't quite willowy enough, and dwarves that are perhaps a smidge to tall.
    • Exactly! And personally I am REALLY glad they already filmed all three so even if the first doesn't come off well with the public, I will still be able to see the others.

      (I can't trust a public who fell in love with Titanic :)

      • I totally feel the same way... however, I fear that if the first movie does not go over well, then they may not spend the time and money to finish production of the last two movies. We must remember that they have only filmed the last two movies. They have yet to finish special effects, voicing, post production, and so on.
  • LOTR category!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ankit ( 70020 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:48AM (#2507087) Homepage Journal
    This has been said many times, and I am just repeating it. Taco, can we _please_ have a aseparate LOTR category? It more than deserves one!

    Call me a karma whore if you like... But this needs to be said often for it to be agreed upon!

  • Windows *ever* used? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:55AM (#2507117) Homepage
    Sidebar-question: is Windows *ever* used in the publishing/effects industry?

    Every time I work for a company we always have a few hundred Windows machines for desktop users, a mix of NT/2000/Netware/Linux/FreeBSD machines for servers, and Macs for desktop publishing and photo editing. It doesn't seem like Windows is *ever* used for anything higher-end computationally, even with the end user.

    • This is a little off topic, but there's some high end (heavy computation) science/research related software (WinBUGS, bayesian inference using Gibbs sampling, is a fine example) which is only supported in windows versions (although I don't know of an instance where no Unix version exists.)

      Admittedly, there's a lot more high end research software which only runs on some particular flavor of Unix.
    • I work for a wireharness company in the auto industry. Our group designs wiring shields, grommets, and terminals. Almost all the engineers have Unix boxes. All the windows boxes are on the desks of managers, purchasing and Evil HR. The engineers use different CAD software depending on who our customers are, but all are on Unix, whether SDRC-Ideas, Catia, or other. We engineers use Citrix metaframe for our MS office tasks. Its only the "other" departments that use 98 or NT boxes (for solitare or freecell)

      Not really a joke, just an observation.
      • by Dirk Pitt ( 90561 )
        I have to totally disagree with this.

        I'm certainly not a Wintel advocate, but there is a tangeable increase the in the use of Windows in the engineering and graphic arts industry.

        I can talk a little more authoratatively about the engineering space. FEMAP, an FE Analysis tool, is widely used from small shops to Lockheed, and is an NT-only product. Nastran, Abaqus, and all the other FE solver companies have big NT sales. All of the MCAD packages you mentioned, I-DEAS, Catia, ProE, Autocad, have equal or greater sales in the Windows space.

        Alias Wavefront, 3D Studio Max, and many of the other rendering packages are getting hotter on the Windows OS's, too.

        I think it comes down to hardware cost. Hopefully Linux will continue to grow in the engineering and effects space, because big companies are just growing sicker and sicker of paying tens of thousands of $ for Unix-native boxes like SGI (check their stock lately?). Luckily it looks like the art industry is adopting Linux ( Maya has a RedHat release), and I'm seeing some of it in the engineering space (Nastran has a cool distributed-process solutions package), but don't think that the non-PC *nix packages are going to continue to thrive. WinNT+cheap Intel hardware is MUCH cheaper than Irix+Octane.

    • Sidebar-question: is Windows *ever* used in the publishing/effects industry?

      Add music to that list, and the short answer is "nope." It's a simple matter of left brain versus right brain -- artists just don't care about the cheapness or ubiquity of Wintel.

      Heck, I'm sitting here, working for a company that *makes* NT boxen (for industrial automation), and I still got me a brand new Mac and the full suite of Adobe software to do my marcomm work. I made it a condition of employment. If I hadn't, they would have stuck me with an old 200 MHz PII running CorelDRAW and Ventura Publisher. (No exaggeration -- I still have to boot it up sometimes to access materials created by my predecessor.)

    • It depends on the size of the FX company. Most major companies (ILM, SPI, Pixar, etc.) mostly use SGI/Irix for production, and also Macs, Suns and a few things here and there. Windows would only be used for office style apps.

      Smaller shops (boutiques) probably use mostly Windows and also Macs. Companies like Blur, Digital Anvil, etc. Probably mot TV FX are done in Windows (Enterprise (Eden), Xena, etc.).

      There was one time that Windows was given a chance. When Microsoft owned Softimage and released it for NT, I know that ILM at least did tests with it (a short film). While the short looked good in the end it was a failure. Apparently there were just too many issues of porting their in house software and also integrating it into their *nix network.
      • Actually, I read an article a few years ago saying that all of the modern star treks' visual effects were made on macs with lightwave.
      • NT (not Windows) is used plenty. But almost all software we use has a Linux port. We use NT boxes here and the primary application locking them in is LightWave. It is unclear why NewTex refuses to do a Linux port of at least the renderer (considering they do a Mac OS9 and OSX port, they can't claim they are using some MS-specific stuff).

        The NT boxes are mostly SGI 320's, a total waste of money, as they will not run either new version of NT or Linux, and will probably be trashed before the much older and slower SGI workstations that are all over the place.

        A lot of practical non-high-level stuff is Windows only. Movie format players in particular. Java interpreters that work for the nasty Oracle forms served up by our HR department. The usual crap that locks everybody into Windows, like Word/Excel documents (though that is not too bad). Often peripheral devices like scanners and digitizers require purchase of an NT machine to interface to them.

    • Windoze NT/2000 is increasingly used in the post production and graphics industries as products like maya (3d software from Alias Wavefront, an SGI company) and Avid (world's biggest producer of offline editing systems) are ported from mac to NT. Often the mac version is released several months after the NT version so users needing cutting edge stuff have to switch to NT. Shame
  • No Balrog in book 1 (Score:3, Informative)

    by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @11:56AM (#2507124)
    Wasn't the first movie supposed to be 'The Fellowship of the Ring', the first part of the written trilogy?

    IIRC, the Balrog's cameo was definitely in 'The Fellowship...', so what's up with this?

    Labrie reported that the most difficult creatures from The Two Towers, and Return of the King include Gollum, Treebeard (an ent), and the Balrog. ?We will be diving into those right after the delivery of film one.?

    In depicting a Balrog, Jackson will be forced to offer his own answer to a question that has haunted Tolkien fans since the book was released. In the book, it isn?t clear whether a Balrog, which is described in passing by Gandalf, has wings or not.

    Will Jackson?s Balrog have wings?

    Fans will have to wait until 2003 to find out.

    • The more important question is "Do Balrogs have fuzzy pink slippers?"
    • They need to include Balrogs, Ents, Goblins, Wargs, Elves, Dwarves, and Gollum in the first picture so they can sell action figures of them.

      - Freed

    • by JennyWL ( 93561 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @12:30PM (#2507331)
      Jackson has kept the names of the books the same, but altered the story somewhat. He's also keeping the movies more nearly the same length than the books are (go look at your paperbacks and you'll see that The Two Towers is by far the thinnest). There is more background being shoehorned into the first movie than we found in the first book, and to keep the movies relatively the same length some of the action we read in FOTR is appearing in the movie TTT.

      From []:
      The character of Rosie will be expanded slightly, in order to allow us to see the origins of her relationship with Sam before his departure from the Shire....
      Also, events that were told through flashbacks in the books will have to be told visually in the movies, such as the defeat of Sauron during the Second Age, Isildur's death, Gollum's history with the Ring, and Gandalf's imprisonment by Saruman at Isengard. ....
      the first film in the trilogy will apparently feature flashbacks that will familiarize audiences with the history of the Ring, and it is safe to assume that any flashbacks of this type will include a summary of the story of The Hobbit.

      Gandalf explains Gollum's history at the very beginning of FOTR and describes Sauron's defeat at the Council of Elrond, IIRC, so both of these added scenes will appear in the FOTR movie. The explanation of Bilbo's history with the Ring will probably also occur in Hobbiton at the start, so the movie version of FOTR has lots of added material. No wonder there wasn't room for Tom Bombadil.

      Tolkien geek
      • Talking of length .., I asked a friend of mine who's in Weta Digital the other day what the running time for Fellowship was looking like.

        He told me 2 hours, 45 minutes.

        Since they're so close to releasing the movie, I can't see that figure fluctuating much.
    • The Balrog *is* in the first movie. You can see its foot in the latest trailer. The article is wrong. Gollum will supposedly not be seen on screen until the second movie (we'll probably see Smeagol in the first, though).
  • Is this the Peter Jackson who made low budget horror movies like Bad taste and Braindead? He's a genius! Bad taste and Braindead are two of the funniest splatter movies ever made.
    • Is this the Peter Jackson who made low budget horror movies like...

      Yes - he's the same guy. Check out: Peter Jackson [].

      Let's just hope he does better than this guy [] - another director know for odd, quirky movies who ruined a beloved classic [].
      • For anyone who is in the slightest amused by B movies, I wholeheartedly recommend Bad Taste. It just requires a strong stomache, but is truly one of the funniest movies of all time (or at least was when I was in highschool).
      • Gee, lay off Lynch's Dune already. I realized he did a marvelous job once I stopped to consider how much he was limited on budget, production time, film length, and audience intellect. (I'm not talking about you and me, but the people the studio execs intended to pay for the film.)

        Ruined? Hardly. My copy of Dune is still right there on my bookshelf patiently waiting for a seventh read. I'd read it four times before the movie came out. Nothing Lynch did could ever have spoiled my appreciation of the book.
    • by ratguy ( 248395 ) <> on Thursday November 01, 2001 @12:41PM (#2507409) Homepage
      It is indeed the Peter Jackson who made Bad Taste and Braindead. He also made the masterpiece that is Meet the Feebles, one of the most fscked up movies you will ever see.

      To see how well he can handle special effects, I'd recommend watching The Frighteners. The CGI in it looks a little dated today, but it was pretty impressive when the film was released. It was on Starz last night, so I just had to watch the Lee Ermey segments.

      He also directed Heavenly Creatures, which shows how well he can capture dramatic performances. It also has some pretty wicked dream sequences that show me just how creative this director really is.

      I'm really happy with this choice of directors. From his past work, it seems that he's up to the task. He's also a huge fan of the book, and it's obvious that he wants to do it justice. Put that together with his sick sense of humor, and his penchant for gore, and we could have quite a film on our hands come December.

      Of course, Jackson's taste for gore is going to be toned down a bit for the initial release, as he's been contracted to make a PG-13 film. There is a rumor that the DVD will have a Rated-R cut. I hope this happens.

        • I'm really happy with this choice of directors.

        Umm, actually, if you've been paying attention at all you'd know that the project didn't choose the director, the director chose the project. It's his baby, New Line is giving him complete authority, and that's what's going to make it work.
  • ...that an industry so devoted to content control and the elimination of "fair use" with regard to copyrighted material is using software developed primarily by folks who are diametrically opposed to those principles?

    • I guess. But there's a big difference between effects houses like WETA or Animal Logic and distributors like Disney and Fox. Effects houses do what they're paid to do. They don't dictate intellectually property policy.

  • One very interesting line was burried at the bottom of page 5
    In any case, Leonard is pleased with the results. "Today, I'm happy to say, all of these things have succeeded to the point where we feel confident to committing all of our pipelines to be 100 percent Linux for the desktop and the render farm."
    Is this the industry that will push Linux onto the Desktop?
    • Is this the industry that will push Linux onto the Desktop?

      Probably not. This is a very specialized industry, and will remain so. Simply because Linux is popular in rendering CGI does not mean that my grandmother will start using it; after all, she only has to render CGI once every couple of months.

      But seriously, most of this stuff has traditionally been done on a *nix variant anyway (mostly IRIX, IIRC). These are people who are used to using *nix, and know that it can get the job done. Getting corporate users to use Linux as a desktop environment is a whole different ballgame.

    • To the extent that if you intend to get a job working in movie EFX you will HAVE to know Linux- and if you come around advocating for Windows you will be seen as an unprofessional hobbyist loser.

      A very gratifying twist, I think :)

  • by Hanno ( 11981 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @12:26PM (#2507301) Homepage
    I don't quite understand why the GPL should be a problem, as mentioned in the Salon article.

    It doesn't forbid writing and selling proprietary software, as long as said software isn't based on GPL'd source fragments.

    And in-house tools are an example of software that isn't meant to be published or sold to the public. So when writing such tools, they can use GPL'd source and mangle it in whatever form they want, since the result doesn't leave the company and isn't sold or distributed, they don't have to publish source.

    Or did I get something wrong here?
    • Yeah, good point - the only explanation I can think of for this quandry is that perhaps some of the studios are modifying the kernel in ways that (if/when released under GPL) would reveal the workings of their proprietary stuff.

      But I think the article ended on a positive note... sounds like the requirement to keep the 'plumbing' (ie. the kernel) open is benefiting everyone.
    • Microsoft and others have spread a lot of bad impressions of the GPL. Most people outside the GPL-using community don't really know much about it - except that it's "viral", and - critically - that "it means that if you use GPL'd code, you have to release your source code to the public". True... sort of.

      Fine distinctions about in-house use are going to be lost on people who're as concerned as Hollywood about IP rights. If they hear that the GPL threatens IP, they'll be anti-GPL, and it's as simple as that.

    • Despite its being mentioned prominently, the GPL has litte to do with it.

      The issue that article is getting at is the fickle "Goodwill" of the Free community.
      If one partakes of the pool of Free stuff but gives nothing back, then the community tends to shun you.

      As powerless as we sometimes feel in politics and business, the shun of the majority of Free software afficionados (even those undesirables such as the warez crowd and the black hat kiddies who tend to sympathize with the cause) is not something to be underestimated.

      (A DeCss like research effort into undermining your fragile restriction scheme, combined with a kiddie's DOS attack on your webserver all the while RMS is giving a speech about why you are "evil", can really make a bad day for anyone.)

      Someone who makes an investment in a new direction will typically want to recieve approval and congratulation for it. The goodwill of the community is desirable. So to gain it, they start down the path of sharing. But its a slippery slope, and a GPL violation can land you with some bad press.

      Simply going all out open, the studios think they may lose their edge over the competition.
      By staying as closed as possible, they risk ostrasization from the community, and a separation from the process that brang them the foundation that they are building on in the first place.

      The real technology coming from Linux and friends is a sociological one, not a computing one. Its a new way, and it has ramifications that extend far beyond computer science.

    • I know that at Disney, for instance, using anything GPL'd is a problem. Disney is a rabid protector of its intellectual property*, and Disney's lawyers do not feel that they can guarantee with complete certainty that using GPL'd tools will not expose them to some threat to the intellectual property created with those tools at some time in the future.

      I was surprised when I heard this, but I heard it directly from the developers at Disney and The Secret Lab (TSL is formerly DreamQuest, which Disney bought a few years ago to be their visual effects branch. TSL is scheduled to be shut down shortly as it has proven to be non-viable).

      I did my interviews with Disney on this subject about a year and a half ago, and perhaps they've changed their minds since then, as Linux has become far more mainstream. But at least at the time, they were dead set against using Linux, GIMP, or any GPL'd product.

      * I used the term 'intellectual property' holding my nose, only because that's how they say it.
  • by SnicklesTheElf ( 312850 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @12:27PM (#2507304) Homepage

    I see in the article on "Linux goes to the movies" that the author doesn't really understand the mentailty behind a good portion of the Open Source community.

    It's simply not the case that the driving force behind Linux are a couple of companies (Redhat and VA software), rather it is the case the the driving force behind it are thousands upon thousands of people doing their own little (or big) projects in an attempt to add their piece of what they think Linux needs.

    "Over the past year, the information technology elite have started to dismiss Linux as a flash in the pan that tried and failed to dominate in a world owned by Windows. Woebegone Linux and open-source companies are scattered across the landscape like so much shrapnel. The stock prices of IPO high fliers VA Linux and Red Hat currently trade near half of their pre-IPO offering prices. Meanwhile, Windows XP gets the press and the plaudits."

    Now don't get me wrong, I understand he's just a lowly journalist, but who are the 'Information technology elite'? Bill Gates? Larry Ellison? The managers posing as technical people you see on the news? Technical stock analysts? Furthermore, Windows XP's "press and plaudits" are just a glorified sales pitch. It's big news simply becuase M$ payed for it through their asses. Ah well, it's not like the media is anything even close to objective anyway.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    For one thing, Linux is an OS. Linux itself is not making the graphics for these films; the software running on top of Linux is doing the work. Second, I don't see any of these companies pouring $$ into the promotion or development of Linux itself. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

    The main reasons these folks are using Linux are (a) it's stable, and (b) it's free. Those do not do anything to benefit the Linux biz. And as for the feather in the cap thing, there are very few graphics houses out there making special effects for movies, and out of all of them only a few are using Linux. Even if they all used Linux, it would still be a very, very, very small user base that we're talking about.

    If these people want to help promote Linux, they need to throw down $$ for promotion and development for the OS. As it stands, they snag whatever's free, port their proprietary, in-house apps to it, then someone on the team mumbles to the press "there are Linux boxes being used in here" and then Slashdot gets wind of it. From there, lots of folks pat each other on the back even though Linux is only what's used to network the computers together and launch the applications that are doing the real work...

    Please, folks, this smacks of desperation. I want Linux to succeed, but if we do this "see, I told you so" thing every time someone throws a crumb our way, we're going to look pathetic.
  • by Azog ( 20907 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @12:45PM (#2507449) Homepage
    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...)

    • 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.)

      Wow, what an amazing piece of FUD! Correct me if I am wrong, but everything the 'industry' has done with lawsuits is directed at software meant to break encryption or distribute their works more freely then they would like. E.g. they didn't want to outlaw DeCSS because it's free software, but rather because it broke DVD encryption!

      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!"

      Well seeing as how the MPAA does not create movies, I find this utterly ridiculous.

      Kind of like you need a license for a car, but not for a bicycle. (Or continuing the analogy, Windows XP == tricycle...)

      A car can be used to kill people and destroy people. It's much harder to do that with a bike!

      How did this FUD-filled troll get rated +5?
  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @12:49PM (#2507468)

    Americans strong point

    EnZed is the Land of the Long White Cloud, and is a good 3 hour plane trip from Oz, which is truly the Land Downunder

    But even though I am a skip and not a kiwi, I have to say that it is an awsome place to vist with an astounding variety of scenery packed into a really small place. Pefect for the typical yanks concept of a holiday, as being no more than 2 weeks in duration :-)

    Yes I am trolling .. but someone has to do it. :-)

  • That a nice feel good story, but there were too many questions left in my mind about the studios using Linux to do their work, and what they contribute back. Some of the things that they found to work or mde to work, I must wonder if they have made it back into the Linux system, or do they fall into the "What's Mine is Mine" mind set? Not to say that IP is wrong or bad, but if these guys get 'it' then are they talking to the higher ups about the DMCA, etc. It's possible that they are, but on the quite side...
    Another thing that caught my eye:
    And Leonard says he'd still like to see the open-source community look toward entertainment as a partner in innovation, not just in recognition. "One of the hard parts of dealing with open-source is that it's still viewed as a bit of a hackers' world: As long as you're willing to hack at the code you'll get what you want." A reality for the VFX industry is that as a business they need to find a way to channel the talent in the open-source world so that they can get value from it.
    Channel that they can get value from it.
    Does that leave a bad taste in anyone else's mouth too?
  • "But moving to Intel hardware meant getting third-party applications moved to new computers and finding a new operating system to run them on. Microsoft's NT was offered as one option, but Feeney says most members had already tried and rejected that path."
    I love this part of the article. I get the image in my head of studio execs shaking NT off their hands in the same way a person reflexively shakes his hand violently when he discovers he just laid it in a pile of animal dung.
  • The story is from Digital Producer []
  • by dxkelly ( 11295 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:18PM (#2508408) Homepage
    Does this mean if we look close we'll see stupid bots trying to run through walls due to bad waypoints?
  • For those interested in the digital transfer mention in the article, "2k" and "4k" refer to the horizontal resolution of the scanned images: 2k means 2048 pixels per line, 4k means 4096 pixels.

    The Imagica Imager XE digital film scanner mentioned has a maximum resolution of 4096x3112 pixels. It does a 2k frame scan from 35mm in 4 seconds and a 4k in 6-8 secs, counting speed to a remote disk via Fiber Channel or Gigabit Ethernet. It's about the size of a refrigerator [] and weighs 400kg. Heavy duty stuff.

  • Natural fit (Score:3, Informative)

    by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @06:50PM (#2509779) Homepage Journal
    To me, this just highlights the suitability of open source for severely vertical markets like EFX. The fact is, what's right for Joe Sixpack is NOT necessarily right for Industrial Light And Magic. The Salon article bemoaned how Linux OpenGL was so heavily biased towards Quake- well, think for a second about how much use DirectX would be to ILM! When you have technologies that can cover both a cruder mass market and a specialised vertical market, generally the vertical market will get trodden on completely.

    How does this apply to Linux in EFX? Simple- people can talk about how it's difficult to get EFX companies to share their proprietary _application_ code, but have you considered the reverse- how easy it is for such companies to get whatever information they need on the Linux code? Hell, they _own_ their own OS code under the same terms as any of us. They don't have to go hat in hand to Microsoft begging "Oh please fix this graphics API optimization that gets the consumers 5 more FPS in quake but hurts our image quality" or something- under the terms of open source/free software, they have total access to anything they need to know- and being specialists, unlike Joe Sixpack they can _use_ that information. And they do- and they are. This genie ain't going back in the bottle.

    How do we make them advance the state of free software in general, rather than just using it as a platform for their proprietary stuff? (for those of us who feel this is necessary- some would consider it an imposition!) Simple, but not easy. Beat them. The only way to do it is to find a specific, incredibly narrow area where you as an individual, or a small team of OSS coders, can beat the best the proprietary world has to offer. Then do it- and put the code out as GPL. If you're the sole coder you can strike deals with commercial, proprietary guys to let them use the same code under a different license, letting them off the hook- but keep the GPLed version up to date.

    This can be incredibly narrowly focussed. For instance, clouds. Clouds are a fractal phenomenon that are not easy to render volumetrically. To this day, EFX houses will sometimes handle clouds by use of a huge water tank with paints in it, rather than trying to program them. Figure out a way to do perfect CGI clouds fast, and GPL it. Put it out there for use by the great and small. Figure out new ways to do terrains, or raytracing, or to computer-render realistic fabrics- the tough stuff. Do that, and GPL it, rather than trying to persuade someone to GPL _their_ work to suit you.

    Works for me (I write dithers and wordlength reducers).

    • While I would love to see something like that happen I think we would have to wait for a long time. Some apps are really complex and specialized. I don't think we'll see anytime soon something like Maya, Softimage XSI, a Mediacomposer or Inferno like GPL app.

      FX companies don't share most of their propietary code because 1) it's written by them, not taken from other GPL code and 2) they need that competitive advantage. Linux usage in FX is a relatively fairly recent occurence. And besides there is tons of propietary stuf that no one knows about outside those places. Sometimes you get brief insights at SIGGRAPH or in specialized publications. It's a very particular market that doesn't lend itself to just open stuff overnight. Then again from time to tiem you see stuff that could be the beginings of the ideas you propose. There is AQSIS (a RenderMan compliant renderer), Mesa and Falmaidan (a fluid simulator) at sourceforge.

      AQSIS []

      falmaidan []

      Mesa []

      There has been talk of FX companies of releasing a lot of code (Michael Goldfarb of Rhythm and Hues for example). It may eventually happen. Some companies have already released stuff or are working on it. Just check some of the RenderMan SIGGRAPH course notes.

      Probably best way is to keep an eye on SIGGRAPH and the VESTECH meeting to see how much progress is done, it amazes me every year.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas