Now that the movie Titanic has successfully out-maneuvered all the critical icebergs and ended up a smash hit at box offices worldwide, Digital Equipment Corp is keen to talk up its part in making the film. Virtually every frame, it says, was composited on systems using its Alpha RISC chip at the studios of Digital […]
Now that the movie Titanic has successfully out-maneuvered all the critical icebergs and ended up a smash hit at box offices worldwide, Digital Equipment Corp is keen to talk up its part in making the film. Virtually every frame, it says, was composited on systems using its Alpha RISC chip at the studios of Digital Domain Inc, the largest digital studio in Hollywood, and once an exclusive user of Silicon Graphics Inc workstations. According to DEC, Digital Domain ported its in-house Nuke compositing tool over to Alpha workstations, and found they were able to process images three and a half times faster than MIPS-based SGI hardware – Digital Domain still has some 350 Silicon Graphics workstations, which were also used on the film. Adding in the price factor, DEC claims there was a ten-fold improvement in price/performance. Large amounts of compositing was needed for Titantic, which made extensive use of computer-enhanced sets that needed to be merged with model shots and live action shots. Much of the water was also electronically created using the Alpha systems and the compositing tools. It appears that the new hardware was brought into play after the film – said to be the most expensive to produce in movie history – began to run seriously late. Back in April last year, Variety reported that Digital Domain was looking to outsource about 200 shots to other special effects houses. Titanic had orginally been scheduled to open on July 2, 1997, but the compositing process only began seriously at the beginning of July, by which time Digital Domain was using 200 Alpha CPUs for the task running SoftImage software. The systems worked 24 hours a day on the task until the end of August, and the movie was finally released just in time for Christmas on December 19th. Interestingly, Digital Domain didn’t go to DEC itself either for the hardware or the operating system. Instead it bought 160 machines from Newport Beach, California- based Carrera Computers Inc, one of the very few Alpha clonemakers. Only 55 of those was running NT, while the others ran the Linux Unix-alike operating system, version 4.1 of Red Hat Software Inc’s implementation. Digital Unix was deemed too expensive and not flexible enough in connecting up to NT-based servers and supporting unusual peripheral devices. The whole system was connected up using a 100Mbps network, supported by 5 Terabytes of disk. Digital Domain was founded in 1993 by the writer, director and producer James Cameron, along with creature effects specialist Stan Winston (of Jurrasic Park fame) and Scott Ross, the former Industrial Light and Magic general manager and LucasFilm vice president. DEC says other studios have moved over to Alpha, including Netter Digital, responsible for the TV series Babylon 5. Perhaps more importantly, DEC says that movie- making software is now being ported over to Alpha, including Softimage, Discreet Logic, Silicon Grail, Cinema Graphics, Eyeon Software, Lambsoft, Modern Cartoons and others – but it obviously needs them to support the system software as well as the hardware itself. And, of course, with Compaq Computer Corp now in charge, those software houses need to have the faith that the Alpha chip doesn’t head the same way as the Titanic itself and sink without trace.