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Fox, Compaq Deal Makes Blue Sky Top 3D Studio

Blue Sky Studios, a unit of Fox Filmed Entertainment, has signed an agreement with Compaq Computer Corporation that will make the 3D animation studio into one of the top 50 super computing facilities worldwide, according to the Linpack-based "Top 500 list." Planning to use the new computer equipment on the upcoming ICE AGE, the Oscar-award winning company will now have more than 50 times its previous computing power, and double the power of any industry competitor to date. "The agreement with Compaq cements 20th Century Fox's commitment to making Blue Sky a world class animation studio," said Chris Meledandri, president of 20th Century Fox Animation. "To that end, we are providing the studio with the technology that will enable it to compete successfully in a dramatically changing marketplace. We have the utmost confidence in the talent and ability that has gathered under Blue Sky's roof and we are looking forward to the results of this expansion." Blue Skys new computer power will be derived from 512 Compaq AlphaServer DS10L systems configured into 13 render walls. The AlphaServer DS10L systems ("L" stands for low profile) are one-third the size of their AlphaServer DS10 counterparts. The machines are constructed around high-speed Alpha processors of 600MHZ each. This computing power is serviced by an additional 3.5 terabytes of disk storage. They have already received several of the machines, and will gain the remainder in late July when the studio moves to its new, larger facility in White Plains, New York. "This system will allow us to fully explore the studios capabilities with respect to the film, as well as give us the ability to develop anything that we can imagine visually," said Carl Ludwig, Blue Skys VP of research and development. "This tremendous increase in power will place the studio firmly in the forefront of digital content creation and innovation." Blue Sky decided on the Compaq computers for a number of reasons including reliability, their cost/performance ratio and their compatibility with the operating system that Blue Sky already had in place, said Ludwid. "Cost/performance and the cost of production are extremely important to anyone in the business of making movies. The bottom line is that were a business," said Ludwig. "We found that Compaq provided a very good, cost-effective solution for our needs. The system gives us computational strength on a reasonable number of processors at a cost that makes economic sense, and they support the Compaq Tru64 UNIX operating system which allows us to network all these processors together." Blue Sky is known for its highly complex lighting software CGI studio, which uses raytracing, a technique based on the physics of natural light. Examples can be seen in movies such as FIGHT CLUB, ALIEN RESURRECTION, STAR TREK: INSURRECTION and Blue Skys Academy-award winning short film BUNNY. Chuck Richardson, Blue Skys General Manager/Sr. VP, said, "Blue Sky Studios has waited 10 years for the computer industry to catch up to our vision for computer animation, and Compaq crossed the finish line first. Their machines enable our scientists and artists to realize our companys primary goal: the production of raytraced, fully-animated CGI features, efficiently, economically and reliably." This deal comes on the heels of Foxs closure of their traditional animation studio in Phoenix. It looks like 20th Century is putting all their animation dreams in one basket hoping they can ride the 3D wave of hits like Disney/Pixars TOY STORY and DreamWorks/PDIs ANTZ.

Blue Sky's Andre Mazzone recounts a trip to Japan taken by a group of Blue Skys artists in Animation World Magazine.

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Rick DeMott
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