IBM invests in On Demand digital studio

IBM has signed a four-year multimillion-dollar deal with digital animation firm Threshold Digital Research Labs of Santa Monica, California, to build a digital studio that will be leased out to special effects firms looking for short-term, on-demand access to IBM's computers.

"We were looking for a more efficient, more flexible, less technology-dependent way to animate feature films," said Threshold Chief Animation and Technical Officer George Johnsen. "The only way to make these kind of movies, up to this point, has been to spend a large truckload of money and set up an infrastructure," he said.

Threshold has 100 employees and has worked on such projects as "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "The Faculty," and the Armageddon attraction at Disneyland Paris.

Under the terms of the deal, which IBM said is the first of its kind, Threshold will work with IBM to develop a standard set of hardware components. Animators will be able to lease or buy Intellistation Z Pro workstations with enhanced graphics cards from either Nvidia Corp. or ATI Technologies Inc., while the image rendering and data management will be done at a new facility that IBM is building at Threshold's office in Santa Monica.

IBM and Threshold are also working together to build a customizable project management software suite on top of WebSphere and DB2, which will track animation work in progress and manage changes in the animation across different machines. "It's essentially a production manager for the animation project," said Johnsen.

Threshold will begin selling the Animation On Demand service in the fourth quarter, but the digital film studio will itself be the first user of the service. The company has begun work on a $50 million animated feature called "Foodfight!" which will be the first film to use the new facility and software.

Construction of the new facility is expected to be completed in a couple of months, said IBM Director of Blade Strategy Tim Dougherty.

"Foodfight!" is expected to be completed in 14 to 18 months, Threshold said.

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