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Linux Involved in Production of Evolution and Cats & Dogs

Jul 12, 2001, 18:38 (6 Talkback[s])

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., July 12 -- SGI's long-time customer Tippett Studio created more than 60 3D-animated shots for Warner Brothers' Cats & Dogs and over 150 3D-animated shots-plus 15 all-CGI 3D creatures-for DreamWorks SKG's Evolution, using a powerful combination of high-performance IRIX, Linux and Windows NT OS-based workstations, servers and storage from SGI. Academy Award winner for visual effects for the films Jurassic Park and Return of the Jedi, Tippett Studio relied on its recent purchase of 10 Silicon Graphics Octane2 IRIX OS-based visual workstations, 25 Silicon Graphics 230 and Silicon Graphics 330 Windows NT OS-based and Linux OS-based workstations, an SGI 2100 high-performance visualization server and a 2TB SGI TP9400 storage system, in addition to previously purchased Silicon Graphics O2 workstations and SGI Challenge and SGI Origin family servers.

"This was the first time we had IRIX, Linux and Windows NT workstations from SGI all working on the same production," said Eric Leven, Tippett Studio's CG supervisor on Evolution. "We started with a large number of Silicon Graphics O2 workstations and a render farm made up primarily of SGI Origin 200 servers. Later we added a smaller number of dual-processor Silicon Graphics Octane2 workstations and, for the first time in the shop, we began using Windows NT and Linux operating systems running on Silicon Graphics 230 and 330 visual workstations. Compositors used 10 Linux OS-based machines from SGI with 20 processors to run Nothing Real Shake and additional processors to run Pixar RenderMan. The animators used the Silicon Graphics 230 workstations, and we found that those boxes gave us the best performance from Alias|Wavefront Maya on Windows NT. The technical director, the paint artists and the modelers used Maya and Alias StudioPaint software on the IRIX OS-based O2 and Octane2 workstations. Then everything was networked together and rendered on SGI Origin family servers."

Tippett Studio designed all the visual effects sequences in Evolution, including 15 never-before-seen creatures. Maquettes were sculpted from the final creature designs and scanned into Silicon Graphics O2 and Octane2 visual workstations using a 3D laser scanner. The digitized creatures were then refined and manipulated by Tippett Studio's world-class character animators. The studio's 120-plus Evolution crew also created many other unique CG effects to accomplish the 150-shot production, from the seemingly adorable dog sequence to the apocalyptic finale-all created on its networked mix of SGI high-performance visual workstations. SGI technology was key to finishing the immense project on time. According to Leven, "From the very beginning of preproduction to the last shot was about 11 months, from July 2000 to June 2001, which was a crazy schedule. I think we were averaging about six shots every week for the entire duration of production. It was absolutely the shortest schedule we ever worked on."

For the live-action Cats & Dogs, which turns the age-old animosity between house pets into a full-scale war, Tippett's 50-artist team again used the full complement of SGI high-performance workstations to create 60 shots of digital cats, primarily to replace the live-action cats' heads to animate facial expressions. Using Silicon Graphics Octane2 workstations, Tippett created two CGI dogs, including a digital beagle who catches a boomerang, is propelled around a room and lands at the feet of a digital cat, where a fight ensues. On the Silicon Graphics O2, 230 and 330 visual workstations, artists also designed a 3D CGI version of the mercenary villain, called "the Russian," who is a Russian Blue kitten outfitted in a CGI weapons vest complete with guns and knives.

Scott Souter, Tippett Studio's co-visual effects supervisor with Blair Clark on Cats & Dogs, said the producer's primary directive was photo-real animation-the stock-in-trade of the Berkeley, Calif. facility, which has used SGI technology since it opened in 1983. "Our studio came into play because of our history with naturalistic, yet fantastical, animation. Our ability to blend those two characteristics, to keep something real-adhering to enough physics to keep it believable and natural-yet be able to take the character beyond and into the realm of, in this case, very acrobatic, highly specialized fantastical animations is a very large part of our trade," said Souter. To truly achieve photo-realistic animals, Tippett Studio's in-house research and development team created its own fur software. "We linked the fur software between Maya and RenderMan; it's a little thing that bridges the gap between the two," explained Souter. "It was just for fur and fur curve information, written primarily on Silicon Graphics O2 systems."

Souter noted that Cats & Dogs compositors and animators were just as pleased with the Linux and Windows NT OS-based Silicon Graphics 230 and 330 visual workstations, as were the artists who worked on Evolution. "We started production on the IRIX OS-based O2 workstations, and then toward the middle and end of production we started animating in Maya on the Windows NT OS-based workstations from SGI," Souter said. "That worked out very well. It's definitely the choice of our animators, because Maya seems to perform better on Windows NT boxes from SGI."

"Tippett Studio's technological evolution-the networking of IRIX, Linux and Windows NT OS-based workstations from SGI-creates a powerful production pipeline that enables artists to complete an amazing amount of content creation and effects work to meet seemingly impossible deadlines," said Greg Estes, vice president of corporate marketing, SGI. "Tippett's continued choice of SGI technology to meet the ever-increasing demands of visual effects production is testimony to the power of SGI's strategy to be the computer company for the entertainment industry-regardless of operating system. We are particularly pleased that the Linux OS-based workstations from SGI played such an important role in these two summer blockbuster films."

About Tippett Studio

Located in Berkeley, Calif., Tippett Studio was founded in 1983 by President Phil Tippett and his partners Jules Roman, vice president and executive producer, and Craig Hayes, creative director and visual effects supervisor. The studio has more than 125 artists, designers, engineers, technical directors and animators. A visual effects and animation studio for feature films, Tippett Studio has won two Academy Awards for visual effects (Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park) and two Emmys (Dinosaur! and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor) and has received Academy Award nominations for visual effects for five other feature films (Starship Troopers, Dragonheart, Willow, Dragonslayer, and Hollow Man). Tippett Studio has also received an Academy Award for technical achievement in the development of a motion-input device for motion capture. Tippett Studio is currently working on the vampire movie sequel Blade II and will soon be lending its talents to commercials. The studio is also preparing to expand into producing full-length animated feature films and mixed live-action and CGI features.