Ringer Joel B was kind enough to send us some excerpts from a recent article in the Austrailian PC Authority Magazine:


I’m just writing to let you know that in this month’s Australian PC Authority magazine, there’s a long feature on animation techniques in film. LOTR is mentioned several times. They have a website which is utterly devoid of content, so I’ve written out the LOTR bit for your convenience 🙂 Some good technical detail about WETA and so forth.

One of the most talked-about movies in the animation world is the upcoming Lord of the Rings trilogy, expected to be the most costly film ever produced outside the US – a film with the potential to push animation still further.

Using a low-tech derived process known as rotoscoping, the trilogy originates on film, although CGI plays an integral role in the movie (how else do you create several thousand beasties). All the landscapes of Middle Earth – enough images to cover hundreds of thousands of frames – are first shot on ‘Super 35’ film before being digitised to allow each frame to be enhanced or altered to make the weather fit the scene. We’re already talking serious bytes. This framework is fleshout with the beasts and characters – both real actors and pure CGI – before interaction, movement and complex lighting are thrown into the pot.

Such complex imagery moving independently and in three dimensions takes serious rendering, the term given to the process by which the algorithms describing an animated 3D image are transformed into that image either on screen or disk. Rendering has long been the bane of the animator’s life, at least those that don’t want endless coffee breaks. While much of the production work has been accelerated through the advances in technology, rendering continues to frustrate animators.

The Lord of the Rings, using a network based around some 80 SGI Octane and Unix O2 workstations and another 25 high-end processors behind the scenes, found the daily rendering requirements stored up for the nightshift began to take their toll. There are now dedicated Linux farms in place for the rendering process, an ongoing response to days when staff were turning up for work only to find the processors still doing the rendering from the previous day’s work.

By the time the first film went into production, New Zealand-based producer Weta was working from a wall of rendering-dedicated, dual-processor SGI 1200 servers running Red Hat’s Linux. The film’s technical guru Jon Labrie expects the number of rendering servers to reach a peak of 200.

The ongoing processing purchasing may sound like a problem, but herein is a piece of purchasing nous. With the final part of the trilogy not expected until 2003, the Weta team has time on its side. Labrie knows the company will need more machines as the work goes into the final stages of production, but he’s not buying all the machines just yet. ‘The price is coming down and the processors are getting faster,’ he believes, preferring to wait until he can buy more bang for his buck.

He’s preparing for the possibility that director Peter Jackson may call for up to a million CGI combatants in the final battle scenes, a stunning number and one so data-intensive that Labrie will call for all the processing power his budget allows.”

The article goes on to talk about different ways of rendering and so forth. Hope this is of use to you!