Disney rendered its new animated film ‘The Bi 6’ on a 55,000-core supercomputer. They made the movie on a beta renderer (says Hank Driskill), the software Disney created from the ground up to handle the film’s impressive lighting. It’s just one of about three dozen tools the studio used to bring the robotics-friendly world of San Fransokyo to life. Some, like the program Tonic originally created for Rapunzel’s hair in Tangled, are merely improved versions of software built for previous efforts, or “shows” as Disney calls them. Hyperion, however, represents the studio’s greatest and riskiest commitment to R&D in animation technology thus far. And its feasibility wasn’t always a sure thing, something Disney’s Chief Technology Officer Andy Hendrickson underscores when he says, “It’s the analog to building a car while you’re driving it.”
It took a team of about 10 people over two years to build Hyperion. This software allowed animators to eschew the incredibly time-consuming manual effort to animate single-bounce, indirect lighting in favor of 10 to 20 bounces simulated by the software. It’s responsible for environmental effects — stuff most audiences might take for granted, like when they see Baymax, the soft, vinyl robot featured in the film, illuminated from behind. That seemingly mundane lighting trick is no small feat; it required the use of a 55,000-core supercomputer spread across four geographic locations.
This movie’s so complex that humans couldn’t actually handle the complexity. We have to come up with automated systems,” says Hendrickson. To manage that cluster and the 400,000-plus computations it processes per day (roughly about 1.1 million computational hours), his team created software called Coda, which treats the four render farms like a single supercomputer. If one or more of those thousands of jobs fails, Coda alerts the appropriate staffers via an iPhone app.
Hendrickson says that Hyperion “could render Tangled from scratch every 10 days.