Penguins power the movies

Linux and open source is behind most of the special effects you see in the movies, CTO Bruno Mattarollo, from Rising Sun Pictures (RSP), revealed at Linuxworld last week.

He said that, as a cutting-edge industry, visual effects businesses are constantly facing new problems and challenges that open source helps to solve.

"We have a lot of things to learn and a lot of very complex problems to solve, so it is important to share code and knowledge," he said.

Mattarollo said an example of this industry contribution is Open EXR. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) developed and released the high dynamic-range (HDR) image file format, OpenEXR in response to the demand for higher colour fidelity in the visual effects industry. It has now become a standard format in the industry.

RSP has chosen to go with open source to avoid vendor lock-in and reduce costs. The 11- year-old, Adelaide-based company has worked on a variety of films including Lord of the Rings, the Last Samurai, the Harry Potter series and currently, Superman.

The company has more than 200 boxes running Linux and Fedora 4 workstations.

Mattarollo said RSP uses XFS for most servers and is looking at transitioning to a parallel file system.

"Loading your file servers with the task of moving gigabytes of data every second without needing to spend millions of dollars on infrastructure is a good example of where open source shines," software Engineer from RSP Andre Pang said, referring to open source clustered file system, Lustre which the company is looking to deploy.

"Open source is a core part of RSP's infrastructure in all parts of the visual effects process, from PHP, Python and Ruby to cinePaint, Subversion and ImageMagick, open source contributes greatly to our ability to compete," he said.

Each member of the more than 120 staff at RSP runs a customized distribution of Linux as an operating system, often with GNOME or KDE.

"This is simply because no other operating system can provide the levels of stability, customization and performance that our artists require," Mattarollo said.

The company also manages its 150-node render farm with Sun's open source Grid Engine.

"We thus rely on the clever systems administrators and the open source community at large to solve some of the most demanding computing problems in the world," Pang said.

The company also runs some Apple Macs and uses a substantial amount of proprietary tools such as Maya and Shake.

"But proprietary tools just don't live well together. We have to run Maya and Shake on separate machines and each tool has its own specific requirements. We run into a lot of problems," Mattarollo said.

"We have yet to find proprietary solutions that work out of the box without spending millions of dollars, which we don't have."

Mattarollo said yet another way the company uses open source is as a "glue" for integrating the proprietary tools.

"Mostly we try to glue all of the applications we use together with a myriad of open source scripting languages."

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