Advances in computer technology are on the verge of transforming
the global film and animation industry - and the community
of media companies surrounding HP Labs in Bristol, UK, is
ideally placed to profit from the transformation.
According to John Manley, head of utility computing research
at HP Laboratories Bristol, these powerful, flexible technologies
will radically change how small- and medium-sized media companies
operate, allowing them to plug in to huge amounts of processing
power when they need it, flexibly and reliably.
Manley was speaking at the launch event for the animated
film, "The Painter", created for HP by Bristol production
company 422, using an innovative experimental rendering service
developed by researchers at HP Labs.
Bristol is arguably the leading centre in the UK for the
film production and media industry, and is home to multi-award-winning
companies such as the BBC, Aardman Animations and 422, which
are recognised internationally.
Early users of future technologies
Manley told the audience of some 70 Bristol media company
executives, animators, film-makers and university and industry
researchers that they had the opportunity to be early users
of these future technologies if a compelling appeal to the
UK Government for support over a three-year period could be
made. He invited them to join HP Labs in a planning workshop
in the autumn to decide what needs to be done to create an
advanced media community.
The requirements are likely to include a utility computing
fabric, 24*7 management, broadband connectivity to the digital
media services utility, media applications deployed as on-demand
services, together with training and support for the users.
"HP Labs and 422 have shown what can be done with advanced
technology, but 'The Painter,' which used our experimental
HP Utility Rendering Service, is just one example," said
John Manley. "If we can build a powerful computing and
storage utility and network in Bristol it could be used for
transcoding, digital asset storage, rendering, streaming,
on-line editing/approval and many other critical services
for the media industry.
"Bristol's rich seam of media companies will have a
overwhelming advantage if they act together and plan now,"
added Manley. "But if we don't act quickly it won't take
long for other regions in the UK -- and around the world-
to catch up."
More flexibility for media creators
So what advantages did the HP Utility Rendering Service give
422? The service runs on a powerful new computing system,
called a utility data centre*, at HP Labs Bristol. 422's production
team was able to send frames from "The Painter"
to be rendered just when it needed them, without the need
of having large numbers of expensive, dedicated machines in
its office, waiting to be used. And, as the rendering demand
in making "The Painter" increased, the service and
the data centre were able to dedicate more computing power
to the task.
Speaking at the launch, Andy Davies-Coward, Creative Director
and co-founder of 422, said that such a service would give
creative media organisations such as his much more flexibility
and access to computer power that would allow them to take
on projects that are today effectively out of reach of small-
and medium-sized companies.
Rising demand for computing power
He gave the example of high-definition TV (HDTV) that is
about to be introduced in the US. Animations shown on HDTV
will be much more detailed and will six times the amount processing
power as for today's standard TV.
422 is now planning a 3D IMAX version of "The Painter,"
This would require significantly more computing power for
rendering than today's TV versio - again, much more than 422
has or could afford to buy.
"With 'The Painter,' we have shown what can be done
with advanced utility computing technology, much of which
is being developed by HP and at our Labs in Bristol and Palo
Alto," Manley said. "But this is only the start,
and the future is closer than most people realise"
The Bristol creative media community has "a golden opportunity,"
he said, to create a world-leading position as a global provider
of digital media services.
by Julian Richards
* story uses UK English