Disney Shifting to Linux for Film Animation
By STEVE LOHR
The Walt Disney Company, the doyen of animation studios, is joining Hollywood's embrace of a technological upstart — the GNU Linux operating system.
Disney's animation division is announcing today that it plans to use Hewlett-Packard workstations and data-serving computers running Linux for digital animation work in the future.
The Disney move is the latest commitment by major studios and special-effects houses — including DreamWorks SKG, Pixar Animation Studios, Industrial Light and Magic and Digital Domain — to Linux, which is a variant of the Unix operating system that is distributed free and under terms that allow programmers to fine-tune the software.
Movie animation is a rarefied niche market for computer technology. The studios have deep pockets, legions of technical experts and plenty of financial incentive to get just the right look and detail in movies like "Shrek" and "Monsters Inc.," since the payoff for a box-office hit can be enormous.
Yet the advance of Linux into Hollywood is a sign that a technology once viewed as part of the counterculture of computing is moving steadily into the mainstream. "Hollywood is at the leading edge of computing, and it shows what Linux can do," said Martin Fink, general manager for Hewlett-Packard's Linux systems division.
At Disney, like other studios, machines running Linux typically take the place of computers running proprietary versions of Unix, like SGI's Irix software. Not only is the Linux software free, but it runs on low-cost personal computer technology, workstations and data-serving computers powered by Intel or Advanced Micro Devices microprocessors. "For us, it's a move to less-expensive commodity technology systems," said John Carey, vice president for Walt Disney Feature Animation.
In animation, Linux made its first inroads a few years ago on the clusters of server computers used in "rendering farms," which require huge amounts of processing to render a finished image of a creature or character as it appears on movie screens.
More recently, Linux has also been used on the workstations used by animators for drawing and modeling their creations, as the leading producers of animation software have tailored their applications to run on Linux. Alias-Wavefront tweaked its Maya program to run on Linux in March 2001, after it had been approached by animation studios and special-effects houses that wanted to use the Linux technology, according to Kevin Turesky, an engineering manager at Alias-Wavefront, a software subsidiary of SGI.
Linux tends to be portrayed as an archenemy of Microsoft and its Windows operating system. In the long run, the rise of an alternative like Linux will limit Microsoft's future growth and market dominance. But in the near term, as the Hollywood experience shows, Linux is gaining at the expense of proprietary versions of Unix.
"Historically, animation has been a Unix environment," said Al Gillen, an analyst at the International Data Corporation. "And what's happening in Hollywood is that another piece of the Unix market is moving into the Linux space."
Indeed, Mr. Carey observed that adopting Linux for part of its animation was part of its migration strategy to move away from its previous "homogeneous technology environment," revolving around SGI's Irix.
The Disney commitment is the second agreement in recent months for Hewlett-Packard systems running Linux in Hollywood. In January, Hewlett-Packard announced a three-year partnership with DreamWorks involving the purchase of Hewlett computers and some joint development of technology.
Hewlett-Packard, to be sure, has a heritage of doing business with Hollywood and Disney. The first product the founders William Hewlett and David Packard sold in 1938 was to Disney, an oscillator used to help produce the rich, textured soundtrack for the animated movie "Fantasia." < Nova versão PHP 4.3 Melhorias significativas em OO | slackware 8.1 >