TechEnablement caught up with DreamWorks CTO Lincoln Wallen after his plenary invited talk at SC14. We had the opportunity to ask Lincoln about our observation of seismic changes happening within the animation industry as technology enables small and mid-sized businesses to create studio quality animated characters for television, augmented reality, and eventually for movies and 3D printing. Lincoln agreed that cloud computing is revamping animation as the computational processing can be outsourced to the cloud – eliminating the need for in-house processing farms. He verified the opportunity for smaller boutique collections of artists versed in animating certain types of characters. We also update users about Pixar’s free version of Renderman in this article.
The Wall Street Journal reported on 11/13/2014 that Hasbro is in early stage talks to buy DreamWorks.
Almost a week later 11/19/2014, Cartoon brew confirmed that incensed Disney executives conveyed to Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner that they would deem the toy manufacturer a competitor should it acquire DWA, imperiling huge contracts involving Marvel, Star Wars and, per a very valuable agreement set to begin in 2017, princess merchandise from Frozen and other titles. Deals with Disney are estimated to generate nearly a third of Hasbro’s business.
However, Business Insider reported on 11/28/2014 that talks are still in process and a merger to create a combined family entertainment company that would be called DreamWorks-Hasbro, and says the deal is at least 60 days away from being finalized.
As part of the seismic change in the industry and after five years of development, DreamWorks is talking about Premo, their interactive animation software. Instead of working in 3-space much like a CAD designer, DreamWorks provids animators with large, pressure-sensitive screens from Wacom. Using the tip of their pen, they can interact directly with the CG character — with the skin, muscles, and other elements responding in real time — resulting in an experience that’s closer to posing a physical model than mind-numbing data entry.
The following amateur video shows Premo in action. It looks like fun!
Accelerated processing of ray-tracing has reduced processing time from 24 weeks to four. Embree ray tracing kernel library is used extensively by Dreamworks, particularly in the Premo ‘Torch’ lighting tool (with Xeon Phi) and also in Pixar Renderman That means faster turn-around, more cloud-friendly capability, and the ability to have more movies in the pipeline at once. For animation, DreamWorks achieved a 10x speedup from multicore evaluation of character rigs breaking a single-threaded performance and scaling bottleneck.
During his plenary presentation, Lincoln said, “HPC allows you to re-examine your problems, but you have to have the courage to rip apart your resources“. Obviously, DreamWorks has followed the courageous route to redefine both how animators interact with their characters as well as achieve at least a 6x to order of magnitude increase in computational productivity!
Note that the Embree ray tracing kernel library is used by Dreamworks, particularly in the Premo ‘Torch’ lighting tool and also in Pixar Renderman discussed below. Embree can be downloaded from github and can run on both CPUs and Intel Xeon Phi coprocessors – although we understand that DreamWorks has added several “special sauce” modules to Embree for use at DreamWorks.
Pixar is also attempting to capitalize on this seismic change in the animation industry by giving out free non-commercial access to their Renderman software. The demand has been so great that Pixar sent out the following email to those who registered:
Thank you for your continued interest in Pixar’s Free Non-Commercial RenderMan. We would like to provide you with a quick update on how we are progressing towards the final release.
As a result of the enormous amount of interest we have received in the new RenderMan RIS architecture, we have decided to do a bit more work on supporting tools and reference materials so that we can provide you with the very best user experience possible. Consequently we are planning to release Non-Commercial RenderMan early in 2015.
RIS is a new approach to solving the complex problem of light transport in rendering. You can read more about RIS here.
We are very excited about this release and will notify you by email as soon as your Non-Commercial RenderMan is ready for download.
We have expanded the Frequently Asked Questions section for Non-Commercial RenderMan on our web site. Hopefully, most of your questions can be answered there, and if not, there is a link to get in touch with us to ask.
They also created the following animated video to show the new capabilities.
Readers will also be interested in our article about MagicLeap for augmented reality.