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Author: Alex Timbs, Head of IT, Animal Logic

Alex Timbs

Alex Timbs

Animation has come a long way since 1906 when J. Stuart Blackton created what is regarded by many to be the first cartoon, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces. In the lead up to the DVD launch for The LEGO Ninjago Movie, I paused to reflect about the changing nature of technology in making animated movies and the role of IBM in the making of Ninjago.

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces

Animal Logic is a creative digital content production studio that is behind the animation and visual effects (VFX) for many much-loved films, including The Matrix, Happy Feet, 300, The Great Gatsby, The LEGO Movie, and the soon to be released on DVD, The LEGO Ninjago Movie.   Our Sydney studio is also in production on the hybrid feature Peter Rabbit whilst our Vancouver studio is busy on production on The LEGO Movie Sequel.  At Animal Logic we run our own render farm to ensure the speed of response required for main production is met. A render farm is essentially the computing resources required to render images in parallel as our many artists work on the production. However, for The LEGO Ninjago Movie, in addition to using our own render farm, we did things a little differently.

Where in the past the bulk of imagery for a movie was generated over a twelve-month period, these days it can be compressed within a three-month period. In addition, where the story development used to be completed before production, now the process is more fluid and can extend across the whole production. Not surprisingly, this means that rendering studios need fast access to infrastructure, that adapts quickly to changing demands and allows flexibility and scalability.

LEGO Ninjago Movie

LEGO Ninjago Movie. Source: Animal Logic

Technology is a vital component in the production of animated films. As animation becomes more sophisticated, technology demands grow and companies like Animal Logic need to look to the additional resources of cloud providers like IBM to assist. For example, imagine rendering 8 million hairs on just one of the rabbits in Peter Rabbit, multiplied by 50 Rabbits.

Every movie project is a completely different experience as they all have different Directors with different requirements and different budgets. Predicting the technology resources required for variables such as the number of shots, production schedules, and techniques, is incredibly challenging. For example, The LEGO Ninjago Movie was 3-4 times bigger in rendering than The LEGO movie.

LEGO Ninjago Movie - lego ninja in action

LEGO Ninjago Movie. Source: Animal Logic

Animal Logic looked to an infrastructure that would allow us the flexibility and speed to scale for each project, as additional resources may only be required for one to two hours. Previously, Australia has lacked the cloud infrastructure to provide Animal Logic with the confidence in hosted cloud reliability and security. However, now the cloud can meet the regulations governing the Motion Picture Association of America, while offering the required scale, it opens many more doors for resourcing.

For the making of LEGO Ninjago, we tapped into IBM Cloud for additional resources to supplement the total farm resources used for the movie. Animal Logic utilised IBM Cloud’s spare rending cycles to assist in the peaks in demand and utilised a pool of virtual machines hosted in a local IBM Cloud data centre. We chose IBM for our hosted cloud because IBM took the time to understand Animal Logic’s unique industry needs and brought in the best experts to assist the company and provide reassurance and confidence at critical times in the production of the movie.

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