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Dell Helps Soho VFX Siege the Castle in Time for 'Jack the Giant Slayer' Premiere

3/21/2013 12:48 PM Eastern

Dell’s comprehensive media and entertainment solutions helped Soho VFX deliver 214 visual effects for Jack the Giant Slayer, a fantasy—adventure film based on the Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tales.

A scene from New Line Cinema’s and Legendary Pictures’ action/adventure
Jack the Giant Slayer. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Using a combination of powerful, scalable Dell solutions including Dell Precision T3500 workstations, Dell PowerEdge blade servers and Dell UltraSharp U2410 monitors, Soho VFX created the castle-siege scene, realistic environment replacement shots, dynamic characters and other action scenes with burning trees and intensive fire simulations.

“With the short deadlines and pressure from the movie studios, we relied on both the Dell workstations and render farm to keep production running 24 hours a day while we continued creating different scenes,” says Keith Sellers, 3D supervisor, Soho VFX. “Despite the stress on the systems, Dell’s solutions provided both the stability and processing power we needed to get quality shots done in time.”

Dell workstations and servers helped power the creation of vast environments, including realistic flaming trees and water juxtaposed against the backdrop of the castle. The studio also delivered a complex CG forest comprising more than 2.5 million fully modeled trees. This :30 shot was so intensive that it required more than 125 hours across 192 systems to be fully rendered. Even with such a taxing lift, the Dell PowerEdge servers “were rock solid and enabled us to meet our deadline,” says Todd Michael Smith, head of information technology, Soho VFX.

Nicholas Hoult as Jack. Photo by Daniel Smith

To film the castle shots in Jack the Giant Slayer, Soho VFX started with concept art that was provided from the movie studio to build the 3D model of the castle. The texturing department then used different materials and shaders to build on top of that model, which was followed by a tracking artist who used the background plates shot on set to match the movements of the camera digitally. The dynamics team then added any smoke, fire or water elements that the shot required. From there, a lighting technical director set up lights to match the lighting of the background plate, and sent the shot to the Dell-based render farm. Once the renders were done, the shot went to a compositor who integrated all the different layers together, color-corrected and applied the final look of the shot. If the workstations’ memory were to fail or the servers were to go down while rendering, delays could have vastly derailed months of tight planning and could have cost Soho VFX substantial monetary loss.

To help ensure this didn’t happen and to achieve these data-intensive visual effects, Dell helped Soho VFX expand its render farm of Dell PowerEdge M610 blade servers by 20 percent in less than 10 days. The studio also upgraded the blade servers with four core Intel Xeon 5500 processors at 2.26GHz to six core Intel Xeon 5600 processors at 3.06GHz to better handle the intense needs of the project. Dell met and exceeded Soho VFX’s timeline goals by one day and enabled the company to decrease lengthy render times by approximately 55 percent.

Ewan McGregor as Elmont. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Soho VFX artists also credit the purchase of 18 additional Dell Precision T3500 workstations in helping the dynamics, modeler and animator teams push through deadlines and complete the project. They leveraged the systems to manage extremely heavy data sets and to run high-performance and multi-threaded applications like Autodesk Maya for 3D animation and The Foundry’s Nuke for digital compositing. Certified for the top digital content creation applications, Dell workstations have been Soho VFX’s workstations of choice for more than eight years due to, according to Smith, “the systems’ unflagging performance and reliability.”

“We are extremely proud to have Soho VFX as a customer and partner for more than eight years,” says Chad Andrews, Dell Media & Entertainment vertical strategist. “Soho VFX’s success with Jack the Giant Slayer serves as a great example of the benefits Dell delivers to growing customers in the media and entertainment industry. The visual effects production process is becoming increasingly complex and requires high-end, reliable technology more now than ever.”