Press Release: July 31, 2003

Animation Company "Fast Forwards" Production with HP Utility Data Center

Film Built Using Adaptive Enterprise Framework Enabled by Shared, Virtual Resources
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HP (NYSE:HPQ) today announced that a commercial-quality animated film has been produced using an experimental rendering service from HP Labs and running on an HP Utility Data Center (UDC).

The four-minute film, "The Painter," was created by the award-winning production company 422, which is based in Bristol, England, and worked closely with researchers from the Bristol site of HP Labs. HP plans to submit "The Painter" to the world-famous Sundance Film Festival and other animation competitions in Europe.

The project demonstrates how computing resources can be assembled, organized and managed virtually using the flexibility of the UDC, a key component of the HP Adaptive Enterprise architecture. It also illustrates the value of utility computing, in which an end-user taps into a large pool of virtual resources, but pays only for what is used.

The film was rendered using a prototype utility rendering service developed by researchers at HP Labs Bristol and run on the Labs' UDC. Commercially available rendering software also ran on the utility service.

Rendering is the process that turns animators' computer-generated wire models into finished frames by adding color, light, texture and other details. It is highly compute-intensive and usually requires a substantial investment in dedicated servers and specialized software: there are 24 frames per second in a film and each frame can take from a few minutes to several hours to render.

By using HP’s utility rendering service, 422 rendered the high-quality film in about 17 days, instead of the two months it would have taken without the use of the UDC – about three times faster.

"Despite the film's complexity, 422 was able to take full advantage of the UDC by bringing online an increasingly large number of extra resources for rendering to match the rising demand as production reached the final stages," said Andy Power, 422's head of animation, who directed "The Painter."

HP's proprietary software used on the UDC to render the images is an experimental program and not currently commercially available. It was created as a way to test an HP Labs Bristol technology called SmartFrog, which can be used to create many different kinds of services to run on a UDC. The HP Labs team was looking for an experimental service to test SmartFrog and the HP UDC.

"We believe in learning by doing," said Steve Hinde, project manager for the prototype utility rendering service at HP Labs Bristol. "So we spent a long time talking to the many media companies that we have in Bristol and they told us that rendering can be a tricky problem. For us, it's interesting -- it uses lots of computing power and it's expensive because of the amount of high-level hardware required and the cost of the rendering software licenses. It's an excellent test case for the utility computing concept and the HP UDC in particular."

Usually, animation companies have racks of servers dedicated to rendering. But during production, there are peaks and valleys of demand for the servers: at the peaks, there are never enough computers for the jobs; in the valleys, expensive equipment and rendering software lie idle. Using the dynamic reallocation capability of the HP UDC, 422 was able to obtain more computer power for rendering at peak processing times and then release those servers for other tasks when they weren't needed.

"This project shows how technological innovation can drive new utility computing services, building on the pay-as-you-go model," said John Sontag, manager of HP Labs' worldwide UDC installation. "Like gas or electricity, customers can 'turn on' more computing resources as needed and pay only for what they use. In many ways, the UDC may be an ideal infrastructure for the animation market -- which is expected to hit $50 billion in the next few years - because users require varying degrees of processing power throughout the production cycle."

HP has a long tradition of working with the animation industry. The first products the company sold in 1939 were audio oscillators used by Walt Disney Studios for the film "Fantasia." The company also has formed a technology alliance with Dreamworks SKG and played a key role in the technology used to create "Shrek," which won the first Academy Award for animation in 2002. HP has been involved with other productions, including "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" and the forthcoming "Shrek 2."

The HP UDC is extremely versatile and provides advantages across many industries, especially those where compute power needs to be moved in real time. It is the industry's only comprehensive virtualization solution for data centers that is available and shipping today.

Within HP Labs, the UDC has enabled a fourfold increase in capacity without the need to add additional space or personnel, which could result in millions of dollars of savings annually. It is being used to consolidate the Labs' worldwide IT infrastructure and will serve as a platform for ongoing research, as well as handling day-to-day IT tasks. Plans also call for sharing the resource with university and other scientific labs, such as CERN, the European particle physics laboratory.

Founded in 1988, 422 is one of the most respected specialist providers of design and computer-generated graphics to broadcast television producers. It has won three Emmy awards, four British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nominations and numerous other international accolades. Broadcast clients include the major UK TV channels as well as European and U.S. organizations such as National Geographic TV, The Discovery Channel and independent producers around the world.

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