August 13, 2001
Jackson Takes On More
Peter Jackson's computer art graphics workshop Weta Digital hired double the number of graphic artists it expected to need to create effects shots for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Chief technical officer John Labrie told an Infinity Solutions technology seminar in Wellington last week that the Miramar facility now has 150 artists, with 230 staff in total, and is still growing.
He initially estimated that the facility would have a total of 130 staff with 80 graphic artists.
Mr Labrie says another 10 artists will come on board in the next couple of weeks.
"I never anticipated that it would become as big as this."
He says the facility has between 17 and 19 terabytes of storage at the moment.
Weta has eight weeks left to deliver its visual effects for the first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, Mr Labrie says.
The effects are "all looking fantastic" so far.
Duplication of the film will begin in mid-October so that the 10,000 to 12,000 prints needed for simultaneous international opening on December 19 can be produced.
Mr Labrie says a lot of 3D creatures have to be created, including a cave troll, an octopus with 18 tentacles and the Balrog.
This monster, tipped by some fans to have wings and pincer-like horns, is Weta's main creature creation for the first film.
Mr Labrie says Weta started work on what he describes as "a creature of shadow" two years ago.
The work needed to "simulate million of particles to get realistic flow for fire, water and smoke elements" is very computer- and data-intensive, he says. It takes 64 processors running for two days to produce four frames of film.
Mr Labrie says Weta's work splits into 2D and 3D. The 2D side involves combining filmed images with computer graphics or other images filmed separately. He says 3D work is computer-intensive but not data-intensive. It takes between two and three hours to render a single frame.
Creating the 2D images is data-intensive but not computer-intensive. An image is merged with other layers, such as smoke, dust or water, to create a final frame.
Weta has 224 systems installed running Linux; these make up its "render wall" that processes images into frames of film.
Graphic artists send requests to the render wall, most of which are SGI processors.
Mr Labrie says he still has a good relationship with American company SGI.
He says Weta bought an SGI file server because he thought it could take on other tasks when not file-serving.
In reality, it became constantly tied up serving files.
The facility has software that ensures every available processor in the building is in use, including artists' PCs if they step away for more than five minutes.
Weta has recently increased its number of Network Appliance servers from one to three to help cope with its compositing demands. It is using the servers, which are distributed by Infinity, to run file-server intensive applications. Mr Labrie says he decided to go with network-attached storage rather than a storage area network because he did not want Weta to be breaking new ground ahead of the rest of the market.