Weta goes bananas for blades

Written by Geoff Richards

October 10, 2005 | 15:05

Tags: #blade-server #fedora #halo #intel-xeon #king-kong #movie #peter-jackson #red-hat #render-farm #supercomputer #tflops #trailer

Companies: #ibm

Weta Digital, the New Zealand-based special effects house co-founded by Peter Jackson and famous for the award-winning CG in the Lord of the Rings films, has shelled out $2-3 million on 250 additional blade servers to complete post- production work on Jackson's latest epic, King Kong.

Housed at the New Zealand Supercomputing Centre in central Wellington, each new IBM blade server sports dual Intel Xeon 3.4GHz processors and 8GB of RAM - that's 850GHz and 2 terabytes of RAM if you please, Mr Palmisano.

When added to the centre's existing 1,144 Intel Xeon 2.8GHz processors, the purchase cements NZSC's place in the Top 100 of supercomputing clusters in the world.

While NZSC nears an impressive theoretical peak of 10 TFLOPS, IBM's Blue Gene dominates the top rank with a theoretical peak computing power of a whopping 183 TFLOPS. Amazingly, it does so using PowerPC 440 700 MHz processors, albeit 64 racks of 1,024 processors; 65,536 in total. The PowerPC's design allows it to punch above its weight, calculating 4 GFLOPS per MHz versus the Xeon's 2 GFLOPS.

Weta Digital also has an additional 500 blade servers at a second site in Wellington, and has been used to produce special effects for films such as I, Robot and Van Helsing following their 2003 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in Return of the King.

In addition to various post-production work for the US$150 million King Kong, the acclaimed studio will be used for the up-coming Halo movie, after it was revealed that Peter Jackson will act as an Executive Producer for the film. The irony is that Microsoft's revered 3D shooter will be brought to the silver screen via a Linux-powered render farm - Weta's blades run the Fedora version of Red Hat Linux.

King Kong
will hit cinemas worldwide on 14th December - watch the trailer if you're curious to see what Jackson has done to the 1933 classic. Halo is currently expected sometime in 2007.

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