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Vanguard Animation Completes Space Chimps On Time and On Budget with SGI Render Management Solution


SGI Altix XE Servers and PipelineFX Qube! Software Enable 10,000 Frames to Render Each Night

NAB Booth SL4314 (April 2008)—Vanguard Animation’s all computer-generated (CG) movie Space Chimps, distributed by 20th Century Fox and due to open in 2,500 theaters July 18, made all deadlines with ease because of technology from SGI (NASDAQ: SGIC) and PipelineFX and the digital media expertise of SGI® partner Seven Group. In August 2007, realizing their white box servers were not going to be able to handle their multi-gigabyte data file rendering, Vanguard purchased the SGI Render Management Solution to deliver the highest quality images in a timely fashion.

“We purchased the SGI systems for the really big shots, the really big sequences that required massive memory and very high throughput. With the Altix servers we were able to achieve those shots and sequences in a matter or hours rather than a matter of days,” said Tom Jacomb, Associate Producer, Space Chimps. “We did 1,720 shots total, and we were running about 3TB of rendering per night. Because of SGI’s contributions we were able to deliver on time and on budget.”

Vanguard developed a proprietary real-time lighting tool for the Space Chimps project that enabled CG artists to place and locate lights within a scene, which in turn gave them a real-time Renderman environment response, allowing them to work with 90 percent of what the final rendered image would ultimately become.

“Artists were able to use our custom-written lighting tool to pull together scenes and shots, add lights with the art director over their shoulder, and then position them so the key lights and the reflections off of the eyes were all well-placed, and in a very expedient fashion,” said co-producer Curtis Augspurger. “We then put it on the farm through PipelineFX Qube! where it would render on the SGI boxes in a significantly faster speed. For five months we were running at 95 to 98 percent capacity and were able to get through about 10,000 frames or 10,000 frame elements per evening. That is very high throughput.”

PipelineFX’s Qube! uses a central supervisor backed by a MySQL database to manage the queuing and execution of the jobs on the render farm. Qube! software running on all the render farm ’worker’ machines, allowed Vanguard to prioritize all the jobs in the queue, while maximizing throughput for the whole farm. The SGI Workflow-Ready Solution for Render Management integrated with and enhanced the performance of the Qube! scheduling and render farm management software.

Space Chimps, an irreverent and comedic adventure starring three chimps that boldly go where no man has gone before, is the latest project from producer and Vanguard CEO John Williams (Shrek, Shrek 2). The film was produced through a partnership between Vanguard Animation and Starz Media. The 80-minute feature employed 330 production people, including 200 CG artists, in the 30,000-square-foot production space in Burnaby, British Columbia.

“Both Curtis and I were working in CG at the start of computer animation, when SGI was the de facto hardware manufacturer,” added Jacomb. “It was very pleasing to go back to SGI because they have been so much a part of CG animation history.”

Through Seven Group (, Canada’s digital media specialist, Vanguard Animation purchased the SGI Render Management Solution consisting of 10 SGI® Altix® XE310 servers, each powered by four Quad-Core Intel® Xeon® processors running the Linux® environment and optimized for Pipeline FX Qube!

“When Vanguard came to us last year, after several months of production, they had reached the point where they knew they didn’t have enough horsepower to render out all the images in the timeframe allotted,” said Anthony Brown, Managing Director of Business Development, Seven Group. “We tried to find some way to manage a high density system without having to implement things like blades because they had already gone with a 1U infrastructure. And the highest density 1U infrastructure we could find was the SGI Altix XE310. Being able to get 16 processor cores in a single 1U box gave us the density of traditional blade systems with the flexibility of 1U boxes.”

“SGI’s innovation in computer animation continues with our powerful, affordable Altix XE servers that have certainly proved their robustness on the production of this major motion picture,” said Jim Mukerjee, digital content management segment manager, SGI. “SGI’s continued advancements in high density servers allow creative companies such as Vanguard Animation to meet the challenges of animated film production and deliver the best their talents can conceive of — on time and on budget.”
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