San Diego, CA — Uwe Harms has reported that Academy Award winning Blue Sky Studios, founded in 1987 and a unit of Fox Filmed Entertainment, acquired a 512 processor system from Compaq. They installed the rack systems based on the AlphaServer DS10L. The computing power with about 350 GFlop/s Rmax puts Blue Sky Studios in the rank of 50 of the Top500 list.
Blue Sky Studios’ mission was to pioneer creatively superior photo-realistic, high-resolution, computer-generated character animation for commercials, feature films, and the entertainment industry. In 1998 the studio won the Oscar Award with the short film “Bunny” which, as the first film used an advanced ambient lighting technology known as radiosity, and set new standards in cinematic storytelling for the computer-animation industry.
The company uses the proprietary software, CGI Studio, which is considered the best renderer in the business. CGI Studio is based on the concept of raytracing and simulates the way light behaves on real objects and surfaces in a natural environment. CGI Studio incorporates an object-oriented graphics programming language rather than a closed menu-driven package. It also builds images through the use of the most advanced, geometric models available, giving it a significant advantage over rendering systems built around polygons. Because of CGI Studio’s capabilities, much of the company’s recent work combines live-action and computer-generated animation composited during the final rendering stage into seamless first generation images. The studio’s unique raytracing process has always required high levels of compute performance in rendering the 1,440 frames necessary to make one minute of film.
With the new 512 processor Compaq Alpha DS10L within 13 racks, the animation company improved its computing performance by a factor of 50. The computer system will be configured into 13 render walls. With 466 MHz Alphas, the peak performance sums up to nearly 480 GFlop/s. Taking in account that in Linpack, the Compaq Alpha clusters catches up more than 70% of peak, the Linpack performance can be expected in the 350 GFlop/s range. This would shoot Blue Sky Studios within the top 50 supercomputers of the Top500 list. The performance makes Blue Sky a world class animation studio. The computing power is serviced by an additional 3.5 terabytes of disk storage.
One of the major issues in the decision was cost, others have been reliability and the compatibility with the operating system that Blue Sky already had in place. The company found that Compaq provided a very good, cost-effective solution for their needs. The AlphaServer DS10L (“L” stands for low profile) system’s attractive price/performance ratio is reinforced by its small footprint. Up to 40 of these ultra-thin 1U rackmount systems fit into an industry standard rack. Compaq’s Tru64 UNIX operating system allows to network all these processors together.
The studio purchased the new computer equipment in anticipation of “Ice Age,” its first computer-animated feature film with parent company 20th Century Fox Animation. It has already received several of the machines, and will take delivery on the remainder when the studio moves to its new, larger facility in White Plains, NY.