Pixar An Intel Shop? Say It Ain't So, Steve!

Running Pixar is Steve Jobsi other job, and that company is as successful and as innovative as Apple, but for entirely different reasons: Apple produces hardware and software, Pixar produces movies. Both appeal to the masses on their own merits.

Making digitally animated movies require two different types of computers; workstations on which the animators and artists create the action in the flick, and rendering computers that turn what was created by the animators and artists into something we can watch. Renderers usually are not just one computer, but a farm of many to which the huge rendering job is distributed in bite sized pieces. This allows a job that could be completed by one machine in hours, days, or even weeks to be completed by the farm as a whole in a fraction of that time. Obviously, the faster the individual machines are in the farm, the faster the farm can complete any given task. The faster your farm can render the faster you can complete a movie, so animation shops like Pixar are constantly upgrading their render farms with the fastest available computers.

Pixaris render farm traditionally had been filled with computers from Sun, thatis all changed now according to a report from C|Net News. Though Pixar is incorporating Mac OS X into its workflow, the companyis rendering farm will be using Intel based computers running Linux. From the C|Net News article titled Pixar switches from Sun to Intel:

The Emeryville, Calif.-based film studio (Pixar) is replacing servers from Sun in its render farm--a bank of servers that fuses artistsi images into finished film frames--with eight new blade servers from Racksaver. In all, the blade system contains 1,024 Intel 2.8GHz Xeon processors, and it runs the open-source Linux operating system.

Pixar installed the Rackspace system over the previous six months and will use it to develop its next film, The Incredibles, which will likely hit theaters in 2004.

While the financial impact of the individual contract may be negligible to Sun, the symbolism is tough to ignore. A number of film and entertainment studios in the past year have swapped out Unix computers containing reduced instruction set computer (RISC) processors, like Sunis UltraSparc III, in favor of systems running Linux and chips from Intel or from Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices.

Last July, for instance, Industrial Light and Magic replaced RISC-based computers running Unix on artist workstations from SGI, choosing instead Dell desktops containing Intel chips and Linux software. ILM also installed a rendering farm running AMDis Athlon processors. Other Intel-Linux installations took place at DreamWorks and Sony Picturesi Imageworks.

"Weive got coverage now with the brand marquee companies," said Tom Gibbs, director of industry marketing at Intel. "This is a complete migration. They are moving off Sun Solaris and onto Intel-based servers running Linux."

While Intel-based servers are generally less expensive than Unix-RISC-based servers, Gibbs asserted that the conversion is taking place because the performance gap between the two types of setups has largely been erased, and even reversed for certain functions.

"They (film studios) will pay what they have to pay to get the image quality," Gibbs said.

As part of the switch to Intel for rendering, Pixar has ported its Renderman software to run on Linux.

The full article also points out that Steve Jobs gave the keynote address at Intelis sales conference in Las Vegas.