How Dell technology 'played a major role' in production of Free Birds movie

By Danny Palmer
04 Dec 2013 View Comments

Award-winning visual effects studio Reel FX recently released its first feature length film, Free Birds, an animated comedy about time travelling turkeys attempting to get themselves off the Thanksgiving dinner menu.

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Reel FX's technology doesn't quite have the capability to propel staff at its Dallas and Santa Monica studios through time. However, the studio says the deployment of Dell servers, networks, desktops and laptops did help it to beat the initial Free Birds target release date of late 2014.

High-performance computer clusters are just some of the 1,000 Dell systems that  Reel FX has deployed.

"The render farm is comprised of the Dell PowerEdge C Series servers," Scott Correll, IT director at Reel FX, told Computing. "All are at least dual quad core processors, some of the newer ones are dual hex core processors. Right now it's upwards of 8,000 cores in total in the farm."

Lead technical director Ross Moshell explained how rendering artists' work is one of the most important elements of producing an animated motion picture.

"We use the render farm to upload the final imagery, so that's the most processor-intensive part of the film-making process," he said. "We need the 8,000 cores to render the 91 minutes of final footage.

"Also, every single frame of the film probably gets rendered seven or eight times as artists try different things and the director gives feedback, so that's a lot of rendering to do," Moshell added.

According to Correll, the Dell C servers represent Reel FX's "bread and butter for the last few years, simply because [Dell does not] incorporate a lot of redundancy into those servers made for cloud computing farms.

"So their value is good for us because they don't have all those extra pieces that we don't really need," Correll continued.

Moshell added that scaling was simple: "In the middle of the film we were able to scale up a number of those servers within just a couple of weeks without any issues. That particular portion was incredibly easy," he said.

Tied into rendering, Reel FX's networking is based around a Dell Force 10 solution, which Correll described as "a great product", offering "high speed, low latency and great value". It's increased overall network speeds, he said, allowing artists and production staff to be more productive.

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