Pursuit of Performance

Dreamworks Animation Software is Productivity-Optimized by Intel

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

DreamWorks Animation software optimized by Intel lifted creativity while cutting production costs.

Long before NASA’s Apollo Program landed the first man on the moon, the name Apollo belonged to the mythological god of light, the sun, truth and just about anything amazing you could imagine. Today Apollo is a collection of advanced technologies put to use for the first time during the making of DreamWorks Animation’s sequel to the hit movie How to Train Your Dragon 2.

The Apollo Platform, developed by DreamWorks with significant collaboration from Intel over the past five years, contains an advanced suite of software tools that gave artists powerful, almost magical tools to create How to Train Your Dragon 2, which is in theaters now.

The collection of components that make up Apollo empowered animators to be more creative.

A tool called PrEMO gave artists instant access to an unprecedented amount of parallel computer processing power, allowing them to edit characters in full resolution detail.

Torch, an interactive lighting and asset management tool, let artists quickly bring focus to characters and scenes by adding, removing or re-positioning lights, bringing a unique look and feel to How to Train a Dragon 2.

“PrEMO is DreamWorks’ animation tool that allows artists to work with characters in real time, on their tablets, just with a stylus, manipulating the character in any way that they want to,” said Dean DeBlois, director of How to Train Your Dragon 2, in an interview with Variety.

“It allows them to be much more intuitive with their choices, whereas before, they had to work with numeric keypads and deal with all sorts of curves and graphs. Now it’s just grab the character, move whatever part you want to move, create a key frame and move on.”

This toolkit allowed animators to get back to working with their hands, said DeBlois.

There are many steps required in the previous system to get just the simplest smile, blink, raise of the lip.

“Working with Intel, we were able to revolutionize our tool set working on this new software,” said David Torres, head of character animation at DreamWorks.

“We were able to turn things around much faster and get more iterations. It actually brought us closer to being traditional artists. Using this technology now I consider myself an emotional sculptor. The new tools allowed me to be more immersive and more innovative.”

Previously, animators had to wait anywhere from several seconds to many minutes for their change to render on a separate machine. With Apollo, not only has wait time dropped, animators are now able to edit several characters at a time within the same scene.

“A lot of the focus was on spreadsheets with names and controls,” explained Simon Otto, head of character animation at DreamWorks Animation.

“It was quite tedious and labor intensive to get the right expression and also get the right action that you wanted.”

Apollo makes artists more agile and creative, but the studio can significantly reduce production costs, according to DreamWorks Animation CTO Lincoln Wallen.

“We can play all those gains, and we are, both in terms of budgets for these movies by tens of millions of dollars, as well as [increase] the quality of these movies, which you can see in How To Train Your Dragon 2,’” he told BoombergTV.

This movie required 90 million hours of work to be rendered, which is like running a computer for 10,273 years. It took up 398 terabytes of storage space, which would fill nearly 26,000 smartphones or tablets, if each had 16 GB of storage.

As animators push creative limits with each new movie, the software they used for years wasn’t keeping up with advancements in computer processor performance, something that drove DreamWorks to team up with Intel back to 2008.

DreamWorks converted its computing infrastructure to Intel technology in 2008, and since then a handful of Intel software engineers have played a unique role at DreamWorks creating software that takes advantage of the computer processors’ power and performance.

The ability to optimize software and hardware before, during and after the movie making process can help improve the creativity and bring other benefits.

“We can actually make them [the hardware and software] better,” said Christos Georgiopoulos, Intel’s vice president of software and services, in an interview with BloombergTV.

That means getting the most out of existing and next generation technologies.

Apollo technology could benefit other industries that rely on 3D modeling to design things like cars, airplanes and sophisticated buildings, according to DreamWorks.

“They [other industries] also design new products in a visual way,” said Wallen. “All of the processes are enhanced and sped up by Apollo.”

Technology is a differentiator for DreamWorks, according to Kate Swanborg, head of Technology Communications and Strategic Alliances at DreamWorks Animation.

“Audience expectations keep growing,” she said in an interview for Intel Free Press.

“Every movie takes them to a new level of visual richness and storytelling. At DreamWorks Animation it’s about creating a character that has a facial system that has so many nuances in it you can actually see when they’re nervous or concerned or excited. You can watch them anticipate a moment, and all of that has to do with the underlying technology that allows our animators to control literally thousands of animation control points in just the face alone. That is what will make an audience member fall in love with a character.”


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