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Lights! Camera! Linux! - page 2

Linux at the Movies

  • November 11, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

In late 1999, when this disparity between the processor speeds became so clear, some Hollywood studios started contacting hardware vendors to discuss putting together Intel-based workstations for the jobs that needed to get done. One of the first companies they talked to was Hewlett-Packard.

The choice wasn't a big intuitive leap for Hollywood. HP has a long career in graphics work, particularly on their graphics boards. It's no slouche on the software side, having around 15 years of experiences designing the graphics routines for its HP-UX flavor of UNIX.

HP listened to what the studios were asking and saw for itself that SGI, long the powerhouse in this market, had some serious shortcomings.

"SGI has been stumbling in offering competitive solutions in the past two to three years," said Jeff Wood, a Project Marketing Manager for HP. Wood is a key player in HP's bid to enter the world of Tinseltown and is excited about meeting studios' needs. The big factor in their solution is Linux.

Linux was the perfect operating system to use for a new, faster, Intel-based hardware solution. Not only would HP's software from HP-UX fit easily onto this platform, but many of the studios' prior efforts on UNIX would also be able to be ported.

Computer graphics in movie making is a very processor-intense operation, because artists need to create three-dimensional objects rendered perfectly into two-dimensional space. Getting the right tools to do this in a timely manner is critical, since too much time will be used if the operations are handled inefficiently.

HP-UX's X11 server already had 3-D rendering built-in, so it was a relatively simple matter to port this rendering capability over to Linux. It did not hurt that HP had long supported SGI's OpenGL graphics libraries in HP-UX as well. With some judicious tinkering, HP was able to create a low-level architecture that would work with any X- and OpenGL-compliant graphics application, including the Linux version of OpenGL, Mesa.

"If it works in Mesa," explained Munir Mallal, Software Product Manager, "it'll work with our libraries--only much more accelerated."

Mallal emphasized that the availability of these graphics libraries will allow post-production shops to easily port existing graphics code over to Linux.

The distribution of Linux being used on HP's Visualize fx5 and fx10 workstations is Red Hat, with some added enhancements to let the new graphics libraries work and, of course, the libraries themselves.

The benefits of these libraries may not be disseminated to the Linux community at large for some time. "For the time being, most of the graphics vendors are keeping the libraries proprietary," said Mallal. The reason for this move is that these low-level graphics libraries can provide clues to hardware architecture, which no vendor is willing to share.

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