There is nothing like a studio preview of a new movie. I grew up near Hollywood and actually thought once about becoming an actor. Things didn’t work out that way but, for me, this is still one of many roads not traveled. So it was with a great deal of excitement that I found myself over at DreamWorks last Thursday. The purpose wasn’t to see the movie, the very entertaining Shrek 3, but to be briefed on the massive and very successful partnership between three players behind it.
Technology has made significant progress since Shrek 1 & 2 came out (2001 and 2004, respectively). When you see the movie (if you have kids you probably won’t have a choice), there is a level of reality we have not yet seen in any other animated movie to date. Pay attention to the textures, facial expressions, hair, and particularly the water. Some of these elements are difficult to distinguish from real objects. Also, we need to remember that by the time these animated are shown in theaters, the technology behind them is about 2 years old.
What is particularly interesting about Dreamworks is that the company can not only turn out two movies a year, but operate on a three-year cycle, as compared to Pixar/Disney’s estimated five-year cycle. One reason for that is a high level of collaboration between companies to develop the technology that is driving the movie creation process. In fact, much of the technology that is been used was actually created by Dreamworks and some of that is now being bundled and resold by HP.
It is unusual to see a chip company like AMD working with both companies so closely. Amazing multimedia creation is a good deal of the drive behind their next generation converged GPU/CPU parts, code named Fusion, which will likely find the greatest initial acceptance by the entertainment industry which lives on (and whose success is derived from) performance.
One piece of information that caught my attention is that Dreamworks is so technology driven that they actually upgrade their infrastructure on the fly. Even if they have to make a major chang, they are likely to do so without powering down their servers or network, which runs seven days a week and 24 hours a day. Finally, this is where a keystone of HP technology (one that came out of the printing and imaging group) shines. A high definition video conferencing product was jointly developed by Dreamworks and HP and currently represents the state of the art in this segment (it also is arguably the most expensive at more than $500,000 per conferencing room). The Halo collaboration platform was developed to directly address Dreamwork’s collaboration needs and, as a graphics intensive company that spread out across the nation, their needs are clearly focused on the quality of this video conferencing system.
This system cuts days, if not months, off of their creation process and helps them to create more high quality computer animated movies than any other company with a similar size.
AMD/HP/Dreamworks vs. Apple/Disney/Pixar
I was struck by the difference in related partnerships (or lack thereof) between AMD/HP/Dreamworks vs. Apple/Disney/Pixar.
The second combination, given Disney alone, should be vastly more powerful ; but the first is making a bigger technological and historical difference. The key appears to be collaboration and the problem is that while HP is leading in this area, Apple simply won’t do it and that means that much of the magic that could otherwise result simply can’t happen.
Think of the amazing things that would be possible if Disney/Pixar, Apple, and Intel really tried to blow the doors off of the animation industry. It’s kinda sad that, largely because of Apple, this is rather unlikely to happen.
What AMD/HP/Dreamworks are working on could change how we communicate over distance even eliminate much of our business travel, and will likely redefine what is possible with regard to animation and virtual reality. To be fair, Disney probably, at least at one time, could have done all of this alone. But even Disney’s massive power and imagination is still just Disney if you remove subtract Apple and Intel from the equation. What makes the Dreamworks advancements amazing, on the other hand, are the contributions by all parties. You can imagine future video conferencing solutions with photo realistic backgrounds, art or pictures that could subtly animate virtual attendees that act and look like younger, trimmer and better dressed versions of their hosts while maintaining all aspects of the real people. The three companies are already working with gaming companies to understand how the technologies used in high definition animation could blend with games and how games’ abilities to render on the fly and in real time could significantly enhance high definition movies making both more real and much less expensive to create.
This points to the power of collaboration and probably goes to the core of why the AMD/HP/DreamWorks solution uses Linux and not Windows creating a cautionary tale for Microsoft which we will leave for another time. Going forward, I expect there will be collaborations like this that will define the future for much of what we do and much of what we see.
This is magic, and it is wonderful to be able to look, imagine and dream of just how the magic of the future will be created.
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.