HA ha ha … yeah, thanks, but — Honestly, if it weren't for my connections I would not be ON this site. I love the industry, I love the franchise, I love the creator, the people working on it, the paper they use to print their boxes is my obsession, the tools they use to pass notes or comment on their scripts is my bread and butter. Honestly, I'm here because I don't have to do this for pay any more so now I'm doing it because all of this is fun and some of the people involved are my favorite thing in life.
Also you'd be surprised who got what job in the 90's. I used to carry a little separate wallet of business cards depending on whom I had to talk to, and most of my coworkers did, too.
What did you think of that Spirits Within movie?
Rendering it was SAVAGE. My company carried the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games which were in the fall of 2000, and we had to sign a 3 year contract to secure the trans-Pacific bandwidth to carry it back to LA and then to New York for broadcast in the US. Basically Southern Cross wasn't operational until November but the Olympics were done in October, so we had a fat pipe that no one else wanted because of the juicy new fiber.
I think that was Global Crossing's PC-1. Like, it might have just become available at exactly the time we needed it.
But that was no help because we couldn't get from Tokyo to Hawaii, and going from Tokyo to Sidney was just as bad. And even with the fat pipe from Hawaii to the states the job required more than three times all the bandwidth we could beg, borrow, or steal. So … we did what any rational person would do.
We stuffed some Origin 2000s
into their original boxes, and then because THAT wouldn't come CLOSE to doing the job we wrapped 170 rackmount Octanes
in bubble wrap (if it helps, imagine rolling out fifty feet of 3' wide bubble-wrap on a server room floor, and then setting approximately a 8" tall 19" wide 3' deep computer on it and rolling it over and over until it has enough bubblewrap on it that it feels 'safe'), then stuffed all of them into the ass of a shipping container and put them and a couple engineers who had earned some time someplace nice onto a plane and flew them to Hawaii where Square built a studio at the half-way point so we could get the job done.
I think only 3 of the machines didn't make the cross-Pacific journey … so … bubble-wrap: it's good stuff.
What that farm couldn't handle we shipped across the Hawaii-MPLS link and processed it at the main facility in Silicon Prairie, Minneapolis, and … it worked!
Fortunately, everything else going on that season was between LA and other places in the US or Canada and England for The Mill and companies like that, so the Pacific bandwidth being maxed out didn't show up on anyone's radar, and we got away with it! ^__^
Everything was in Maya and Renderman, and there was a bunch of … Pipeline? Is that the right word? That might have been Harry Potter or StarTrek or X-Men … hard to keep them straight sometimes. I just remember X-Men had the breasts with the flipping scales, and Harry Potter had the moon lighting tied to the candles (whoops) so in some of the hallway scenes if you can see the moon AND a candle, the moon is flickering, too. Ha ha ha but no one will ever notice something like that. Ha ha ha no. They noticed the very night the movie went public.
During the rendering of the movie, individual frames came off about once every hour and a half, but we had enough concurrency that we were seeing one new frame about every 6 minutes, and you would watch a frame come off, make sure it was … right … as if you had ANY IDEA what you were expecting to see, and then it would get shunted to the queue for delivery and the next frame would load in the farm.
Because of the all the traffic, watching an individual frame load in the main office in Minnesota took almost 2 minutes. It was unbelievably painful to watch in real time. I mean, this was the turn of the century electronics, HDTV was still $80,000 just for the CABLE for the TV studio, and the individual frames were gihugic.
It actually went a lot better than any other movie we'd rendered so far, and Square Enix was on top of all of it, so once things hit the farm they were pretty much done.
But sometimes one of the character's hair would get mathematically "stuck" on a door frame, and as the frames were coming off the farm you'd see the figure walking forward but their head would have a triangle coming off of it stuck to the door frame, and you'd have to call Square and let them know and they'd send a new sequence.
Basically, it wasn't until Pixar created the new hair algorithms for for the feathers on the owls in Harry Potter, Renderman did what it could, and the artists creating The Spirits Within did some super amazing stuff in Maya to get it looking as good as it did.
But — my favorite part was and remains the little exposed frame cars in the movie.
Those were, like, the perfect balance of metal and rubber and it was 100% exactly what Maya and Renderman were designed for. They looked and moved … perfect.
All in all, the whole job felt super fast. It feels like it was just a couple months. Like, we started in late 2000, and the movie was out in July the next summer. By comparison, Gladiator was a fucking slog. Every single night was an all nighter just trying to keep the dailies on time.
Then, when post was done, and the movie shipped, we all went out to see it the day it came out — first showing — giant screen with awesome sound — and when our credits rolled at the end and we fucking lost it!
Most of the movies we rendered or provided similar services for never even mentioned us, but there we were — in letters 10 feet tall. No one had told us we were going to get a credit, but … yeah. There it was.
We fucking lost it.
Everyone else in the theatre was all, like, 'why are you freaking out over the credits?'.
But … worth it. Totally worth it.
By the time the movie was done, the SGI rendering farm was worthless. Simple PCs were so much cheeper and faster that we literally didn't ship a single piece of equipment home, because it wasn't even worth its weight in scrap at that point. In fact during the rendering of the movie we migrated to something like 1,500 or almost 2K regular PCs and even though they were slower we could buy SO MANY of them for the same price it didn't matter.
I remember, a couple months later, watching an Origin 2000 bouncing around in the back of someone's pickup driving out the front gate of the facilities, and security asked if we cared, but everyone just shrugged … it literally would have cost us more to dispose of it than it was worth.
It's a much cooler modern world now that a laptop basically can kick the ass of any random 1990's SGI, but I do miss all that old purple iron.
Are you still in the translation buisness or have you moved on?
Not any more. Encodings make more sense now and translation is built into the creation of projects instead of being shoe-horned at the end.
So, basically I sit around and wait for something we did in the 90's to break. Like, last fall Google fucked up Japanese/Chinese/Korean text input, and that resulted in a couple months of "Ok, there's only a dozen people left on the planet who worked on this, so fix it" style work. Those are actually fascinating puzzles when the happen — watching the videos of people encountering the bug Google introduced was kind of creepy: when the error happened people would literally jerk their hands from the keyboards and shake them like there was something sticking to their fingers.
Then I figured out how to replicate the bug, and I did the exact same thing.
It was like watching it happen to someone else, but it was me, but I did it anyway because I couldn't not be creeped out by what happened.