SHREK GOES FOURTH WILL BE RENDERED AND SHOWN IN 3D, AS WILL EVERY DREAMWORKS ANIMATION MOVIE RELEASED FROM 2009 ONWARD. BUT THE CPU REQUIREMENTS? MIND-BOGGLING. WILL THE REST OF HOLLYWOOD DON 3D GLASSES?
You think you have heavy computing requirements? Try keeping up with DreamWorks Animation. "We’ll always want more than more," explains Ed Leonard, DreamWorks Animation’s chief technology officer. "There’s never enough computing to satisfy the artistic appetite of our filmmakers."
As an example, Leonard cites what the DreamWorks animators refer to as Shrek’s Law: Every sequel doubles the number of CPU render hours of the last film in the series. The original Shrek required 5 million hours. Shrek 2 required 10 million hours, while Shrek the Third required 20 million hours.
The Bigger Picture: More Time, More Space
The studio’s latest animated feature, Kung Fu Panda, raised the tally to 25 million hours. That number will soar even higher when DreamWorks Animation adds stereoscopic 3D to the mix. “We’ve announced that all of our films beginning in 2009 will be shown in stereoscopic 3D,” says Leonard. “That effectively doubles the 25 million render hours.”
Data storage requirements will also expand with stereoscopic 3D. Each DreamWorks animated feature currently takes up about 50 terabytes. During the course of the day, the animators typically work with two to three terabytes of content. "Add that up across the 10 to 12 films we’re making here, and you get a sense of the tremendous technical infrastructure we need to make our studio run," says Leonard. DreamWorks uses mostly proprietary software running on HP workstations and servers.
Why not just increase the hardware allotted for each project until there are no more rendering or storage bottlenecks? Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. The animators are always pushing the envelope to create as complex a scene as possible. Realistic fur, detailed clothing and intricate character interactions all substantially add to the demands of a scene. “We had huge quotas in Over the Hedge,” says Leonard. “The animators were given only four character hugs per sequence. Otherwise, as soon as you start hugging, the complexity of the scene goes up.”
Stereoscopic 3D adds another layer of creative challenges. I spoke with a DreamWorks animator who expects that some camera and character movements will have to be choreographed differently for the 2D and 3D releases of the same movie. DreamWorks can build on techniques established by filmmakers already working in 3D. One technique reduces the jarring impact of cutting two dissimilar 3D shots together. You quickly bring the two shots back to a 2D space immediately before and after the cut. The goal is to minimize viewer fatigue.
With all the technical issues involved, could stereoscopic 3D turn out to be a drag rather than an inspiration? That may depend on how well the animators are able to integrate the x-axis distances and transitions into the production process. DreamWorks is developing pre-visualization technology to provide an early look at three-dimensional landscapes. “With our upcoming movie Monsters vs. Aliens, which is a 2009 release, we’re actually pre-vizing it with a virtualized camera flying over a real-time set using a game engine to approximate lighting on the set,” says Leonard.
Will Moviegoers Go?
Success for the current crop of 3D movies may also depend on how quickly the filmmakers receive audience feedback. In the 1950s, audiences tired of 3D while many of the 3D movies were still in production. Leonard advises filmmakers to complete enough of a movie early on so they can put it in front of an audience. "You don’t need to ask questions afterward," he explains. "You put a roomful of people with some kids in there, and you’ll know whether it’s working and where people are fidgeting. The challenge for us has been that it’s only very late in the process that we have had enough animation, color and texture for people to view the film."