May 1, 2009
Hewlett-Packard and DreamWorks Animation SKG worked closely to create the 3D movie Monsters vs. Aliens. Monsters vs. Aliens is the first full-length production from the team in 3D. DreamWorks’ 3D movies depend heavily on workstation technology from HP, said Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of the studio. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that we couldn’t do what we do here without the support of HP, ” Katzenberg said. “Welcome to what I say is the next revolution in movies.” The movie, which required more than 40 million computing hours to make, is the first full-length digital 3D movie, DreamWorks executives added at a press conference in the company’s Glendale, California headquarters. DreamWorks used HP workstations, HP ProLiant blade servers, and HP’s Halo telepresence technology to create Monsters vs. Aliens, said DreamWorks CTO Ed Leonard. The studio has one Halo site for each 75 employees, Leonard said. “HALO for cross-site collaboration is a real necessity,” he said. Over 500 artists and animators worked directly in 2D and 3D on HP xw8600 dual-Xeon quadcore workstations and with HP DreamColor monitors. The centre of activity is a 3,500 square foot room packed full of blade servers. HP provided over 9,000 server processor cores spread across multiple racks of individual HP ProLiant BL460c blades, each rack demanding 18kw of power. In all, thirty sequences were created, a total of more than 120TB of data and taking over 920,970 man hours. The standout mothership destruction scene alone amounted to 6TB for the single shot. Each is created in multiple versions: both 2D analogue and 2D digital, for the bulk of movie theatres, each of which are taken from a 3D master using the new DreamWorks InTru 3D system. Every frame is HD resolution, and there are over 100,000 frames in the 2D versions and twice that amount in the 3D film. It required hundreds of blades for each individual character but with this current generation hardware, DreamWorks could render a frame in a few seconds, rather than several minutes with previous-gen machines. As with previous 3D films, Monsters vs. Aliens requires special glasses to be viewed properly. Along the way, they tested out just about every 3D display, auto-stereo screen and headset on the market, developing their own proprietary system of full-pipeline 3D authoring, not just of individual scenes but of scene-to–scene depth continuity. Where InTru 3D differs from the older systems is in its use of digital synchronisation: by perfectly matching the separate left- and right-eye images (which are combined into one 3D image by the brain). Not only are ghosting, motion blur and eye-strain bypassed, but animators have far greater control over the depth of the shot. DreamWorks’ animators used depth in front of, and behind, the screen to draw the viewer’s interest. Most of the available systems were either too expensive, too bulky or too individual-user focused to scale up to theatre-size glasses-free viewing. DreamWorks revealed, however, that they are currently in talks with eyeglasses and sunglasses manufacturers regarding building the polarization technology required to view InTru 3D into standard lenses.