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April 07, 2010
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, April 7 -- The first-ever feature-length 3D animation film to come out of South Africa, "Lion of Judah", hits local screens later this year -- and it owes its existence to a massive bank of supercomputers that are working overtime to finalise the movie for our screens.
The movie, created at local animation studio Character Matters, is in final production with the assistance of the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) in Cape Town.
It sees a sassy group of farm animals set out to save a lamb from the clutches of the townspeople, and director Deryck Broom is hoping it proves an instant hit in a marketplace that is showing an insatiable hunger for animated offerings.
The production is part of a digital shift that will see technology play an ever-expanding role in moviemaking. To bring to life the lush animated world of Judah, Chris Schoultz, owner of Character Matters, had to push current technology to new levels. The result is a dizzying amount of data -- every blade of grass, every cloud in the sky, every animal, exists digitally, and has to be stored somewhere and processed.
"The recent success of 'Avatar' has opened the door to other filmmakers to show that stories that could not be told in the past can now be told," said Broom. "No longer do they reside in your imagination or only in the pages of literature, but you now have the technology to realise them."
In a virtual production, nothing is photographed. Instead, performances -- down to the tiniest facial expression -- are captured as data, says Broom. At that point, the data needs to be catalogued and stored before being rendered by the final production crews. The production generated more than 25 terabytes of information.
Problem is, there are precious few facilities in South Africa that can handle those volumes of information. Enter the CHPC, which provides massive computing power to research institutions and the private sector. HPC has traditionally been dominated by open source platforms, but the CHPC worked with Microsoft South Africa to install a bank of Windows HPC Server machines to be able to work with Character Matters' format.
"The fact that CHPC's architecture can now take full advantage of the performance offered by Windows HPC Server 2008 means that extremely large datasets, impossibly large for 32-bit systems, can be rendered. This makes it possible to create images with incredible complexity and raises the bar once again for cinematic imagery and visual effects," said Microsoft South Africa's head of platform strategy, Paulo Ferreira.
The CHPC's Dr Happy Sithole says the success of movies like Avatar -- and how they are built -- makes modern movie-making more of a technology project than ever before. The CHPC says it will encourage other local animation studios to use their facility.
"The problems that filmmakers increasingly will face -- keeping track of massive amounts of data, enabling large numbers of people to access that data, and coordinating among production crews that are literally on the other side of the world -- are all perfectly tailored for a high-performance computing solution," says Dr Sithole.
Microsoft's Ferreira says technology is positioning itself to become a major player at the outset of the digital filmmaking revolution. In essence, studios will be able to make movies faster and better without worrying about technology.
According to Ferreira, that is the role technology should play in the future of digital filmmaking. "That's exactly the goal: to allow people to do their artistic jobs, to take the technical burden away from them."
The digital revolution is still in its infancy, but Broom believes it will eventually spill over from the cinema and into the home. Just like people post videos on YouTube now, they will be able to use virtual cameras to create their own 3D worlds. And, just like with "Avatar" and "Lion of Judah," technology will enable art.
Source: Microsoft South Africa
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