Animal Logic powers ahead on good old Windows NT

No need for blockbuster upgrades

Creating Academy Award winning digital animation is all in a day's work for the Sydney-based Animal Logic which bets its business on the venerable, but now unsupported, Windows NT operating system.

Animal Logic runs a 2000 machine render farm with a total of 4000 CPUs to process its digital animation work, and when combined with its desktop machines in the evening provides some 100,000 hours of rendering per day, according to executive producer Michael Twigg.

During his keynote address at this year's Microsoft Tech.Ed conference on the Gold Coast, Twigg said all the servers and desktops run NT, which according to Microsoft ran out of support over two years ago.

Beginning January 1, 2005, pay-per-incident and premier support will no longer be available for Windows NT Server 4.0, according to Microsoft's support Web site. This includes security hotfixes and as of January 1, 2005 online support was canned.

This leaves Animal Logic in the precarious position of producing more and more digital animation on an unsupported platform.

Since beginning in 1992 Animal Logic has progressed from doing visual effects for TV commercials to contributing to blockbusters like The Matrix and 300, to releasing its first feature-length animation movie in Happy Feet last year.

"When we started the technology was expensive but the demand for visual effects grew exponentially during the 90s so we moved into film," Twigg said.

For storage, Animal Logic uses some 18 NetApp devices for about 100TB of capacity but Twigg said the company generated "way more that" during the production cycle.

"There is probably 20 times that conservatively over three years," he said.

Not being an IT person, Twigg did not offer a road map for migrating off Animal Logic's unsupported platform but he has certainly come to the right place as the theme of this year's Tech.Ed in centered around the new Windows Server 2008

"We are an art company but what we do is very much underpinned by technology," Twigg said. "It's very challenging for the technical people. We have people come from all industries, including banking and finance, and some have only lasted 8 hours."

Animal Logic seems to be quite pragmatic with its IT management, as Twigg said: "for us, best practice is what gets the job done."

Twigg said the film digital effects industry has matured over last few years and there is more judicious use of it.

"There is not a great deal of earth shattering development but more consolidation of tools," he said, adding very few of Animal Logic's clients are interested in the underlying technology.

Animal Logic also does some software development and engineered a proprietary tool to make penguin feathers look more realistic.

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