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No holiday movie season would be complete without family friendly fare, and in 2009 Twentieth Century Fox delivered with “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.” The rodent romp opened on December 23rd, featuring six animated chipmunks (technically, three of them are ‘chipettes’) seamlessly capering alongside live actors and sets.
Academy Award®-winning visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues (R&H) was once again charged with designing, creating, and integrating the leading critters, extending the character work developed for 2007’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” the first live action release in the franchise. As it has done for over six years, the studio relied on NVIDIA® Quadro® professional graphics solutions to help its artists create remarkable character animation. The project was completed across R&H’s four studios in Los Angeles, India, and Malaysia.
R&H was tasked with developing hundreds of shots for “The Squeakquel” and six movie trailers – a higher shot count than any project in the company’s history. While they were able to re-use some digital assets from the original movie, they also had to design and animate brand new CG characters.
Adding to the complexity of the task was the work required to integrate the CG chipmunks with their live action counterparts in games of dodgeball and football, plus everyday situations. Furthermore, the entire project needed to be completed in just 28 weeks, a short turnaround considering the breadth of the work.
“There was a tremendous amount of CG work demanded in this film, so being able to leverage NVIDIA Quadro technology to preview our work quickly, and generate many iterations of scenes was essential,” said Mark Brown, vice president of technology, Rhythm & Hues.
To meet the demands of “The Squeakquel,” R&H put its custom production pipeline into overdrive, adding artists and workstations in its four locations. At the peak of production, nearly 1,000 NVIDIA Quadro-based workstations were at work on a daily basis across R&H facilities in Los Angeles, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kuala Lumpur.
“NVIDIA solutions cover the gamut of digital film production and are used by everyone from texture painters to 3D artists, as well as in the screening room, said David Perkins, R&H technical support supervisor.
Added Nathan Cournia, R&H software engineer, “We use NVIDIA Quadro for real-time 2K playback with full color correction. Using the GPU to access real-time color look up tables, studio executives can instantly see exactly how our shots will look in the theater.”
In addition to utilizing Quadro solutions for 2K projection and dailies, R&H deploys Quadro-powered Linux workstations running the studio’s proprietary software, Icy, for compositing; Voodoo for animating; Wren for rendering, and; Eve for playback. The NVIDIA Quadro solutions also accelerate Autodesk Maya modeling software, and Side Effects Software’s Houdini effects package.
“On ‘The Squeakquel,’ we wrote custom code for previewing lighting interactively on the GPU from within Voodoo, without having to create a time-intensive, full render of the scene. Instead, artists and executives could quickly use high-quality preview renders to make decisions about the direction of a shot or evaluate various lighting options,” continued Cournia. “With this system it became possible to complete more and faster iterations of shots.”
Perkins noted that while graphics cards are essentially invisible to the majority of artists who use them, the NVIDIA technology is of critical importance to R&H and their digital film pipeline. “In production you can’t afford to keep updating your operating systems and graphics drivers. That’s why we rely on NVIDIA Quadro. They have performed solidly for us for years.”
“On ’The Squeakquel,’ Quadro’s geometry throughput allowed artists to visualize high fidelity models. Being able to view high resolution geometry at real time rates aids both animators and lighters in quickly making artistic decisions,” added Cournia.
Given the new paradigm of using 3D in film production, R&H has begun exploring NVIDIA stereoscopic 3D drivers for Linux in preparation for their next feature film project, which will be a 3D movie.
Cournia concludes, “The GPU presents a huge benefit for stereo 3D display and the NVIDIA Quadro solutions have great throughput and processing capabilities in stereo where you’re essentially viewing two sets of shots at once. NVIDIA enables our artists to sit at their desks, put on 3D glasses, then animate and play back in stereo 3D, all in real-time.”