Infotech Weekly
August 11, 1999

Informix Index Maps Middle Earth
Amanda Wells

PETER JACKSON'S graphics company, Weta Digital, has spent more than $1 million on Informix software so it can keep track of up to 1500 special effects destined for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Miramar-based Weta will archive the 1200 to 1500 effects shots it creates using Californian database company Informix's Media 360 asset management system.

The total cost of the system is not being disclosed, but the software alone is priced at more than $1 million.

For the first film in the $260 million trilogy, Weta will work for 12 to 16 months on between 400 and 500 effects shots.

Weta chief technical officer Jon Labrie says 60 to 70 per cent of these are "very complex" visual effects shots, including computer-generated images that may interact with human characters.

Media 360 will be used to create a library of the shots, and can handle complex queries for particular types of shot or images.

Informix managing director James Rae says he is excited that "our technology is going to be used for indexing Middle Earth".

Shots already created during Weta's nearly two years work on research and development will be archived by the new system, and Mr Labrie says Weta has been meticulous about saving every image designed so far.

"At the end of the show we'll probably have the clearest digital record of production that anyone's ever created."

Weta is still in the research and development phase, and Mr Labrie says the facility will not enter pre-production till the film itself enters production.

"We don't really enter production until we start to get plates from the shoot.

"Since the shoot starts in early October we don't expect to see turnover of background elements until probably a month or so after that."

Weta has been working on mass animation software and crowd animation software, and is using its sophisticated motion capture facility extensively.

By the end of this year, Mr Labrie expects to have about three terabytes of hard disk online, and estimates around 60 terabytes will be generated for the three films.

Weta has about 25 artists and 15 staff members at the moment, with 80 artists due to be involved at the peak of production.

Mr Labrie says interest in the project has been extraordinary, with more than 2000 resumes submitted in the last six months.

Weta's graphic artists will use a Web browser to access the data management system via the company's intranet.

"It's important from a production standpoint that we'll be able to go in at any point in the project and look at the state of completeness of any of the shots or any of the elements for the shot, without having to run around the facility."

Mr Labrie says Weta aims to have the system online by late October.

Weta's artists are working on SGI Octane or O2 Unix workstations, with about 40 desktops and 25 other processors at the moment.

Weta will work with Informix to customise the system's interface, so that each department will access a specific start-up screen.

Informix will also make some extensions to Media 360's functionality to accommodate Weta's object work model.

"As a model is created, and the modeller wants to make it available to the rest of the facility, he publishes that model as an object to make it available to us."

Informix Wellington branch manager Mark Randall says the object relational capability of Media 360 was a key factor in selling the system to Weta.

Mr Labrie says Weta considered Bulldog and Cinebase before selecting the Informix system, which he says was chosen because it best matched the post-production workflow model for the films.

Mr Randall says the Weta deal is the first sale of Media 360, which has been developed through Informix's work with the BBC, CNN and other media organisations.

He says the product has applications for the advertising and media markets, with some other New Zealand organisations having expressed interest.

Selling Media 360 to Weta is significant because of the profile it will give Informix, Mr Randall says.

The product uses Informix's generic object relational technology, which means that specialist partners source different DataBlades that come together as one package.

Informix has two staff in Wellington, with about 60 in Australia and New Zealand combined, and the Californian parent had a net income of US$52.3 million (NZ$98.6 million) on revenue of $735 million for its 1998 financial year.