The power behind lucas film magic (Data Center)


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The power behind lucas film magic (Data Center)

  1. 1. The power behind LucasFilm magic <br />By Darren Waters Technology editor, BBC News website <br />The BBC News website takes a look at the computing power and storage which drives the creations of LucasFilm, effects gurus Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and games division LucasArts. <br />It should come as no surprise to learn that the firm behind Star Wars has a robot cleaning the floors of its data centre, at the heart of the Letterman Digital Arts Center, in San Francisco. <br />Peter Hricak, senior manager for network and telecoms at LucasFilm, says: " We have a small Roomba vacuum cleaner for the data centre - it's about half operational right now. <br />" We usually have a wireless webcam on its head so we can watch it cleaning the room from our desks." <br />It may not be R2D2 - who tends to mess things up rather than clean them - but it is a reminder of LucasFilm's rich heritage. <br />The data centre at LucasFilm is mammoth - scores of racks holding number crunching processors and hard drives filled with special effects - stretch off into the distance. <br />Space battles <br />It is easy to get lost in the room. <br />That power is harnessed to provide visual effects for films such as Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. <br />Bill Nighy's startling genesis as Davy Jones and the epic space battles in the final Star Wars film were created on machines in this room. <br />“ All of our render farms are named Death Star ” Peter Hricak <br />" At the time it was built, in 2004, it was the world's largest 10-gigabit backbone network in the world," explains Mr Hricak. <br />" We have a theoretical network capacity of 11.38 terabits per second," he adds. <br />That means at any given second 11 trillion bits of data can be sent and exchanged over the network at LucasFilm. <br />The company has the processing power equivalent to 10,000 home PCs at its disposal, rendering computer graphics, and powering the work of Industrial Light and Magic, LucasFilm and LucasArts - four times the power it had just three years ago. <br />But that kind of horsepower comes at a cost, explains Mr Hricak. <br />'Unfortunate truth' <br />" The unfortunate truth is that there is a financial restriction to keeping the film with budget - if we had an unlimited budget we would have unlimited processing power. That's not the reality. <br />" We pride ourselves on using every processor we have - we turn the artists workstations into part of the rendering farm at night." <br />He adds: " So we do distributed rendering not only in the data centre - the entire facility will light up at night and add their CPUs to the rendering power." <br />The centre has gone through three generations of rack-mounted computers in just three years. <br />In 2004, one rack was the equivalent of 60 home PCs, but now each one has the same processing power as 500 machines. <br />The data centre bears more than just a passing resemblance to the innards of the Death Star, the Emperor's battle star in the Star Wars films. <br />The racks are suitably black, forbidding and each blade in the rack is labelled Death Star. <br />" All of our render farms are named Death Stars - we have also silk screened the imperial logo on all of the nodes, regardless of the vendor that provides them," explains Mr Hricak. <br />Growing need <br />That increase in processing power has also been reflected in the growing need for ever more storage. <br />Three years ago there was 32 terabytes of storage available online to the artists, while today there is more than 250 terabytes of storage. <br />" Although we have 250 terabytes, one year from now none of the data on these discs will be here anymore," says Mr Hricak. <br />" The data will be archived to tape, sent to studios and kept in our vaults. We're generating 10 terabytes of new data each day." <br />And keeping those systems running at the right temperate is 25-tonnes of coolant in 32 air conditioning units, flanking the centre itself. <br />Megawatts <br />Feeding the data centre is more than 2.4 megawatts of power. <br />Mr Hricak says the need for ever more processing power and storage has stemmed from requests from directors and the demands of the industry. <br />" If you build it, they will come. As you do one movie for one director who wanted one wave one year, another director will want to do a movie entirely underwater. <br />" The needs are constantly increasing. Poseidon had more visual effects elements than any other film we have ever done. <br />" That initial pan sequence around the ship in the opening scene - everything was CG; there were cigarettes burning in ashtrays, bubbles in hot tubs. <br />" Every one of the those objects hand to be rendered individually - it really taxed this room quite heavily." <br />On Wednesday, we will be speaking to Roger Guyett, visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic. <br />In San Francisco and Silicon Valley <br />Story from BBC NEWS: 2007/04/24 07:06:32 GMT© BBC MMX<br />