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DreamWorks casts Linux in 'Sinbad'

The studio expands its use of the open-source software for its latest animated feature, "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas," using only Linux workstations and servers.

Movie studio DreamWorks has expanded its use of Linux for its latest animated feature, "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas."

In partnership with Hewlett-Packard, the movie studio dipped its toes into Linux waters with "Shrek," using some lower-end HP servers to speed up the brute-force "rendering" process under which skeletal images are fleshed out with detailed color and texture. In "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," DreamWorks extended Linux use to the workstations that animators use to create the images in the first place.

With "Sinbad," scheduled for release this week, HP Linux workstations and rendering servers were used 100 percent of the time, said Jeff Wood, director of product marketing for HP's personal workstation business.

The Linux connection continues to spread at the studio. DreamWorks is using HP x4000 workstations running Linux to create "Shrek 2," Wood said, and is now adding the newer xw8000s as well. Another new DreamWorks movie, "Shark Slayer," uses xw8000 systems as well, Wood said.

About 250 of the 1,000 HP Linux workstations at the studio were used for "Sinbad," Wood said. In addition to those systems, the company has hundreds of lower-end 1.75-inch-thick HP Linux servers bolted to racks to handle rendering chores.

Linux, which runs on workstations using Intel chips instead of more expensive machines from companies such as SGI, is becoming a popular way to satisfy the appetites of an increasingly digital Hollywood. Other digital animation companies using Linux on Intel systems include Industrial Light and Magic and Pixar.

At DreamWorks, Linux initially wasn't up to snuff, able to draw only about three frames per second on animators' workstations at the outset. With HP optimizations to the operating system to accommodate features such as double graphics cards, though, the systems were able to draw 46 frames per second, Wood said.