HPC helps deliver animated feature film

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Framestore, the Oscar winning animation and computer generated imagery studio, has just completed its first full length animated feature, The Tale of Despereaux for Universal Studios, using its in-house developed high performance computing system for the rendering of the images. This system was made up of a 200TB clustered Linux file system closely coupled to a 6000 core render farm. Production data was mirrored on a second 400TB cluster, all of the data storage was based on Infortrend EonStor storage systems.

'Producing cinema quality animation generates huge volumes of valuable data. At peak working we were generating 5TB per night, so reliable high performance storage was central to our system design. We were very keen to use RAID 6 to give us extra resilience. We selected Infortrend's EonStor storage systems as they gave us the capacity and flexibility we needed. Having used Infortrend products for the past ten years we were confident we could trust them for this critical project,' said Steve Prescott, technology director at Framestore.

The creative team had been briefed to achieve a unique look for The Tale of Despereaux, inspired by the Dutch Masters. To meet the required deadlines animation proceeded alongside the development of the processing needed to render this final look. This parallel approach increased storage and render farm demands as many intermediate stages of production data had to be retained to avoid unnecessary animation rework whilst fine tuning of the lighting effects and colour proceeded.

'80 per cent of the rendering for the film was completed in the last three months of production. We designed the systems to scale. The project started with 50TB of storage, which we grew by an additional 150TB as we worked,' said Prescott. He continued: 'With this capacity we believe we are, by some margin, running the most powerful CGI render farm in Europe.'

The storage cluster technology used is Lustre, the open source Linux cluster file system, which combined with the open architecture of the Infortrend storage arrays, and server hardware from HP and Dell, provided Framestore with a completely scalable infrastructure. At the peak of production the cluster was using 4700 of its 6000 cores for work on The Tale of Despereaux – with other projects still running in parallel. The processor cores are split across 1000 Dell servers each core having 2 GB of RAM.