How HP powers Dreamworks Animation with its workstations and big data storage

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Dreamworks Animation's Kata Swanborg

The animation studio uses more than 1,000 HP workstations and crunches huge volumes of data to bring its popular computer generated family movies to the screen

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The animation studio behind Shrek and How To Train Your Dragon uses HP workstations and converged storage capabilities to create its popular computer-generated family films.

An animation studio may not seem like an enterprise IT environment, but as technology communications and strategic alliances executive Kate Swanborg put it: “Behind the scenes and under the hood, Dreamworks Animation is a digital manufacturer. We make data.”

For example, Dreamworks Animation’s latest release, Boss Baby, is 90 minutes long. It consists of 130,000 frames, each frame containing of hundreds of assets and elements. Every frame is then animated, ’lit’ and rendered individually before being composited together.

This equates to a movie which consists of more than 500,000,000 digital files, according to Swanborg, accounting for 350 terabytes of data, before backups. It then stores this data across its own HP data centre and an HPE private cloud infrastructure.

“We’ve had at times ten films in active production simultaneously,” Swanborg added. “That means we have five billion active production files being worked on in a hybrid-cloud environment where any artist can access any file, from any film, at any time.”

Speaking during the Cannes Film Festival this week, Swanborg said: “If our filmmaking is comprised of data, you can appreciate why we care so much about technology.”

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This means that Dreamworks Animation needs to give each of its 1,500 digital artists a high-performance computing setup. Partnering with HP means they use Z840’s, each with 128GB of RAM and six cores, and two 27-inch DreamColor displays. Each workstation then runs as a render-farm overnight. “We very much see ourself as a high power computing environment”, Swanborg said.

For example, the film The Croods involved more than 80 million render hours to generate the 3D models of the film’s characters.

Read next: DreamWorks uses HP converged infrastructure for 3D animation rendering

Now, Dreamworks Animation - which was acquired for $3.8 billion by Comcast last year - is interested in leasing more equipment from HP as part of its new “device-as-a-service” offering. It already uses HP’s managed printing services, where HP leases and manages all of its printers for the studio.

Now, under device-as-a-service, companies can start to take this approach with hardware, instead of buying it upfront. Swanborg said: “We have not used services around the workstations. However, as I speak we are looking into changing that because HP has become so good at service oriented options and it takes a lot of pressure off of us.”

HP has a long heritage in the creative industries, acting as lead technology partner for the Cannes Film Festival for 14 years and with its high-performance workstations and monitors proving popular for visual effects and animation artists.

While HP president of EMEA Nick Lazaridis admits that the film and entertainment industry isn’t a massive revenue driver for HP, its value lies in PR and it’s ability to ‘co-innovate’ with these partners.

He explained to Computerworld UK: “If you talk about revenue, it’s not a massive revenue driver. We are a $50 billion company and I would say it isn’t even 10 percent, but more important for us is the collaboration we have with the movie houses and they help drive a lot of the technological innovation.

“It’s also hugely important in terms of visibility, branding and marketing, but the number one benefit is not so much Cannes but what we get to learn and co-develop with the media houses.”

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