Thursday, February 23, 2006

Linux Invades Hollywood

Ten years ago, Linux was a student's hobby. Now it's becoming the film industry's operating system of choice

By Robin Rowe

Shrek was the first major motion picture created primarily using Linux. It won't be the last. Linux is rapidly becoming the professional animator's operating system (OS) of choice, not just at DreamWorks SKG, which produced Shrek, but at top production studios in Hollywood, the Bay Area, and London. An OS that started 10 years ago as a Finnish college student's personal hobby-not even a university research project-is invading film industry servers, renderfarms, and workstations.

Film animators are now using Linux versions of Alias|Wavefront's Maya, No thing Real's Shake, Side Effects' Houdini, and Pixar's RenderMan-the leading commercial applications for animation, compositing, special effects, and rendering. Internally, the studios have ported millions of lines of proprietary code to Linux and are writing more. How did Linux go from a hobby to a professional graphics environment?

It was August 1991 when Linus Torvalds posted this innocent USENIX message about what would later be named Linux: "I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386 (486) AT clones."

At that time, the IBM PC was 10 years old, Windows 3.0 was just emerging, and most PC users were still running MS-DOS. The Macintosh OS, which just about everyone agreed was superior to Windows at the time, would soon lose market share to Windows, a cheaper rival that came late to the party but ran on more systems and had broader support. But whether they were Macs or Windows-based systems, PCs were inconsequential to the film industry 10 years ago. Serious graphics work was done on Unix workstations, especially those from SGI.

Indeed, SGI servers and workstations dominated the movie industry because they were good at two things: crunching numbers (for rendering animation), and displaying high-resolution graphics images quickly on the screen. Hollywood may have represented only about 10 percent of SGI's sales, but the company listened to the visual effects community and met its needs, largely because the demands on computers in movie production made it an ideal proving ground for advanced features and applications.

Full Story


Post a Comment

<< Home