After producing Bolts & Blip, one of the world”s first 3D stereoscopic animated television series, Toronto-based ToonBox Entertainment had prepared to start stereoscopic animation for its next extravagant flick, The Nut Job. It may be tummy tickling to watch Surly Squirrel and his rat friend Buddy”s relentless attempts to lie, cheat, and scam their way to a better life; however, technically creating such frame-by-frame visual miracles need heavy taxing on workstations and servers in the render farm.
Dell”” PowerEdge”” C6100 powered by Intel Xeon processor 5600 series makes a great render farm machine because it”s fast, highly configurable, and incredibly robust. ToonBox Entertainment deployed Dell”” PowerEdge”” servers in its render farm to help deliver world-class 3D animation. The hot-plug serviceability of each server node facilitates rapid expansion of the render farm. “These servers enable us to scale up and down very easily,” says Aaron Pearce, systems administrator at ToonBox. “Adding a Dell PowerEdge C6100 server is basically plug-and-play. We receive a server, drop it into our infrastructure, install software, and that”s it.”
Customized Workstations and Virtual Environment
ToonBox artists who work mostly with Autodesk SketchBook Pro, Adobe Photoshop, or Adobe Premiere Pro software received Dell Precision”” T3500 workstations. For artists who work primarily in Autodesk Maya, eyeon Fusion, or Pixologic ZBrush, ToonBox provided Dell Precision T5500 workstations. These machines are very powerful and facilitate the type of work the artists were doing.
Most of the company”s back-office functions run in a virtual environment enabled by VMware virtualization software. More than 30 virtual servers run on two Dell PowerEdge R710 hosts and one PowerEdge R510 host. Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (Intel VT-d) enables the processor to split up resources for different virtual machines managed by the VMware layer. Dell and Intel hardware enables them to make excellent use of the resources they have without flooding the server room with excess equipment, power consumption, and heat.
Simplified Server Administration.
The servers” built-in management controllers help simplify administration. Where earlier, too many man-hours were spent each week to install various operating systems for testing on individual computers; now, the IT staff hooks the open-source tool Extreme Cloud Administration Toolkit (xCAT) into the PowerEdge server”s baseboard management controller (BMC) to automatically deploy preconfigured operating systems and software. It deploys a new operating system across the entire server farm within minutes and takes almost no staff time.
ToonBox looked no further than Dell”s high-definition, stereoscopic animations. “In our teaser for The Nut Job, the image quality was so high that people couldn”t believe we did it in the time frame we did with the resources we had,” says computer graphics (CG) supervisor Andrew McPhillips. “That validates our decisions, because a high image quality is the top of the pyramid. To get to that level, you need great people, great technology, and fantastic hardware. Dell computers give us one level of the pyramid.” He adds “Selecting Dell as our hardware partner was one of the best decisions ToonBox has made.”