High-Performance Computing Helping to Make Dreams Come True – HLRS

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This year is shaping up to be one of the best years for cinema in a while. Some of Hollywood’s most iconic characters are returning to the big screen in 2015, with new releases from James Bond*, Star Wars* and The Hunger Games* franchises. However, few of us stop to wonder how 007 can plummet through a glass ceiling unscathed or how those X-wings crashing look so realistic… It’s all down to hidden technology.

Technology in the Talkies

Space drama, Gravity*, won a few Oscars at the 2014 Academy Awards, including Best Visual Effects, and it’s not hard to see why. Apparently, around 80 per cent of the scenes in Gravity were animated and computer generated. In many scenes, only Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s faces existed as anything other than 1s and 0s on computers. Everything else, from space shuttles, jetpacks and space debris, was created by graphic artists using Dell* workstations powered by 4th generation Intel® Core™ i5 and i7 vPro™ processors.

Only last month, we released What Lives Inside, the fourth installment of Intel’s Inside Films series. Directed by two-time Oscar-winner Robert Stromberg, our latest social film stars Colin Hanks, J.K. Simmons and Catherine O’Hara alongside the recently launched Dell* Venue 8 7000 Series super-thin tablet with Intel® RealSenseTM technology and powered by an Intel® Atom™ processor Z3580. The film took eight days to shoot and relied on 200 visual effects artists, which just goes to show what it takes to bring such whimsical worlds to life on the big screen.

HPC Helping the Film Industry

3D movies rely a lot on technology and require significant computing capacity. In a change of pace from the usual manufacturing or university research projects, The High Performance Computing Center in Stuttgart (HLRS) recently supported a local production company by rendering a 3D kids’ movie called Maya, The Bee*. This 3D flick, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Miriam Margolyes, is not your typical HPC challenge, but the amount of data behind the 3D visuals presented quite a mountain to climb for the makers, Studio 100.

To ensure the film was ready in time, the project was transferred to HLRS, which had recently upgraded to the Intel® Xeon® Processor E5-2680 v3, enabling it to undertake more projects and better serve critical industry needs like this one because this system delivers four times the performance of its previous supercomputer. 1 Thanks to the HPC capacity available at HLRS, Maya, The Bee was released last month in all its 3D glory.2 “We are addicted to giving best possible service, so it is vital that we run on reliable technology,” said Bastian Koller, Manager of HLRS. For more on the HLRS supercomputer, click here.

Bringing Characters to Life

Intel and Framestore have been working together for almost five years now. However, Paddington* is the first film that Framestore has worked on with a computer-animated animal as the lead character, and the mischievous little bear caused quite a few challenges. Many characters brought to film, such as J. K. Rowling’s Dobby* or Andy Serkis as Gollum*, are shot using motion-capture technology to make them appear more lifelike, but the actor playing Paddington wore a head-mounted camera during the voice recordings so animators could see how a human face moved at every point and try to mimic it in bear form. While this gave audiences an incredible character, animating and rendering a photo-real lead character for every shot required significant processing capacity. It took 350 people across two continents working for three years to bring Paddington the CGI bear to life, but with high-performance, flexible IT solutions based on servers powered by Intel® Xeon® processors, it was a piece of cake (or a marmalade sandwich!).

Intel VP & GM, Gordon Graylish, shared his thoughts on the red carpet at the Paddington premiere, saying: “It is wonderful when [Intel® technology] gets to be used for creativity like this, and this is something that would have been impossible or prohibitively expensive [to make] even two or three years ago. Technology allows you to take the limits off your imagination.”

I'd love to hear what you think about all this hidden HPC tech used to get fantastic blockbusters into our movie theaters, so please leave a comment below or continue this conversation by connecting with me on LinkedIn or Twitter, with #ITCenter - I’m happy to answer questions you may have.

1 Software and workloads used in performance tests may have been optimized for performance only on Intel microprocessors. Performance tests, such as SYSmark and MobileMark, are measured using specific computer systems, components, software, operations, and functions. Any change to any of those factors may cause the results to vary. You should consult other information and performance tests to assist you in fully evaluating your contemplated purchases, including the performance of that product when combined with other products. For more information go to http://www.intel.com/performance

2 Released in March 2015 in the US and the UK

*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.