Who could love such a machine? DreamWorks uses only Lenovo computing technology to maximize every computer within its walls. Pictured is Lenovo’s Neptune server for data centers.
One might wonder why what a film studio does with its computers is even relevant to engineers. Doesn’t the movie industry use computers – no matter how powerful – for frivolous purposes, like making the hair of the title character in Puss Boots as realistic as possible?
In fact, DreamWorks Pictures, a major motion picture studio, cranked all of its considerable computing resources into overdrive to create Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, the third installment in the series, which was nominated for an Oscar, Golden Globe, and Critics Choice for Animated Feature Film, but lost in all cases to “Pinocchio”. But why bring this up?
Although animation, fiction, and the creation of talking, sword-wielding cats can be seen as ideal pursuits for pragmatic engineers (is there another kind?), the demands that modern film production places on computers are leading to improvements in computing power and graphics technical applications benefit. Just as sending men to the moon—which was considered an idle pursuit by filmmakers—led to advances in technology and discovery (e.g., fuel cells), the film industry has advanced computer technology (faster graphics, storage, and processing). ).
Rendering scenes, furs, furniture, leaves on trees in the background, sunlight coming through the windows… all of these require a massive amount of computational resources. While a product engineer can render a perspective of an assembly for marketing purposes, an animated film consists of 24 rendered scenes per second. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” at 1:40 runtime means 144,000 rendered frames.
The rendering effort alone requires near-supercomputing at every level—from animators’ desktops cluttered with UNIX and Windows workstations, to rooms full of metal cabinets filled floor-to-ceiling with servers the size of oversized pizza boxes .
We are shown through the server room, “but please no pictures”.
We get it. DreamWorks has a lot of intellectual property that is vulnerable to the prying eyes of other filmmakers.
Servers are buzzing around the clock here. Full speed is not fast enough. DreamWorks optimizes the servers to run faster, a practice known as overclocking, which creates so much heat that forced air can’t dissipate it, so they’re water-cooled. More on that later.
Demand is so great, each cycle so coveted, that load balancing must be ruthless.
“Our system recognizes when a user is inactive, logs them off and hands over the resources to another user,” says the system administrator.
We are allowed to photograph the manifold of the water cooling.
The idea of having water in a server room raises a lot of eyebrows. DreamWorks answers the question not asked.
“Water has better flow and heat transfer than heat exchange fluids,” they say.
Fluid quick-disconnects on the back of the server allow the server to be pulled or inserted from the front of the cabinet without spilling a drop. This is the trademarked Lenovo Neptune technology.
Water cooling may be unique to Lenovo, but liquid cooling is not. High-end gaming systems proudly use liquid cooling – while Harley-Davidson riders brag about the noise of their choppers. The water’s high freezing point might be taken as its liability, but this is Southern California. Freezing is not in the forecast. Until it is ready.
Our tour of DreamWorks takes place during a record-breaking cold. Snow covers the peaks of the mountains in western Los Angeles, visible from the bus that takes us to the studio.
DreamWorks relies on Lenovo for all data processing, whether on-premises or in the server room.
We see one of the servers exposed – its copper cooling ducts that transport heat from the CPUs, GPUs and RAM. A kind of gray plastic, heat conductor and electrical insulator at the same time, presses against the RAM. Only the power supply is air-cooled and Lenovo is “working on it”.
Liquid cooling was required for all of the power consumed by each server at full tilt, the DreamWorks representative says.
“We used to have 10 KW per rack. With water cooling we can handle over 60 KW per rack.”
Lenovo remembers its last computer vendor. The fact that it was half board is not mentioned out of courtesy to our hosts. But it’s evident that the connection between Lenovo and DreamWorks is far more special.
“Lenovo got us through the pandemic,” said Kate Swanborg, technology communications and strategic alliances executive at DreamWorks.
“It was Thursday morning,” recalls a DreamWorks IT administrator. “We were told to go home immediately. We grabbed our laptops and drove off. But 4 hours later we were ready to go. We remotely tapped the computers on our campus. Lenovo did that and made sure we could work from anywhere.”
What’s stopping DreamWorks from making even more computationally intensive media like VR, one of the compiled media asks.
“Well, it’s not the technology. Lenovo has the best technology,” says Swanborg with an affection not typically found between computer companies and customers.
Rob Herman, GM of Lenovo’s workstation group, beams at the compliment.
“DreamWorks is a passionate company,” she adds. “Lenovo suits us.”