DreamWorks has a love affair

Kate Swanborg, head of technology communications and strategic alliances at DreamWorks, raves about Rob Herman, general manager of Lenovo’s workstation group, for being the perfect IT partner.

One might wonder why what a movie studio does with its computers is relevant to engineers. Doesn’t the movie industry use computers for frivolous purposes, like making the main character’s hair appear as realistically as possible in “Puss in Boots?”

DreamWorks Pictures, a major film studio, used all of its considerable computer resources at full speed to create “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”, the third in the series, which was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and awards. reviews. Choice for the animated feature, although losing in any case to “Pinocchio”. But why talk about it?

Although animating, fictionalizing, and creating talking, sword-wielding felines might be considered wasteful pursuits by pragmatic engineers (is there another kind?), the demands that modern film production imposes to computers lead to improved processing power and graphics that will benefit engineering applications. Just as sending men to the moon – perhaps seen as a futile pursuit by filmmakers – led to the advancement of technology and discovery (fuel cells, for example) , the movie industry followed suit with advanced computer technology (faster graphics, storage and processing). ).

Rendering scenes, fur, furniture, leaves on trees, illuminating the sun through windows, shadows… all of this takes a lot of computing resources. While a product engineer may choose to render a perspective of an assembly for marketing purposes, an animated film is made up of 24 rendered scenes per second. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” at 1:40 means 144,000 frames rendered.

The rendering effort alone requires near-supercomputing at every level, from animators’ offices cluttered with UNIX and Windows workstations and into rooms filled with metal cabinets inside which racks hold servers. the size of very large floor-to-ceiling pizza boxes.

We are shown around the server room “but no pictures, please”.

We understood. DreamWorks has a lot of intellectual property that is vulnerable to the prying eyes of other filmmakers.

The servers here are humming around the clock. Full speed is not fast enough. DreamWorks modifies servers to run faster, a practice called overclocking, which generates so much heat that forced air can’t remove it, so they’re water-cooled. More on that later.

The demand is so great, each cycle so sought after, that load balancing must be ruthless.

“Our system detects if a user is inactive, logs them out and transfers the resources to another user,” explains the system administrator.

refresh it

Who could love such a machine? DreamWorks, which maximizes every computer within its walls, exclusively uses Lenovo computing technology. Lenovo’s Neptune server for data centers is shown.

We are allowed to take pictures of the water cooling system manifold.

The idea of ​​having water in a server room raises a lot of eyebrows. DreamWorks answers the unasked question.

“Water has better flow and heat transfer than heat exchanger fluids,” they say.

Smooth quick disconnects on the rear of the server allow the server to be pulled or inserted from the front of the cabinet without spilling a drop. This is Lenovo Neptune proprietary technology.

Water cooling may be unique to Lenovo, but liquid cooling is not. High-end gaming systems proudly use liquid cooling – as Harley Davidson riders brag about how loud their choppers sound, another negative has turned positive. The high freezing point of the water could be considered its fault, but here we are in Southern California. Freezing was not expected.

Until it does. Our tour of DreamWorks takes place during record-breaking cold. Snow covers the mountain peaks west of Los Angeles, visible from the bus that takes us to the studio.


DreamWorks relies on Lenovo for all of its computing, whether local or in the server room.

We see one of the servers stripped bare – its copper cooling channels that carry heat from the CPUs, GPUs, and RAM. A kind of gray plastic presses against the RAM, which is both a thermal conductor and an electrical insulator. Only the power supply is air-cooled and Lenovo is “working on that”.

Liquid cooling was required for all the power dissipated by each server running hard, the DreamWorks representative explained.

“Before, we had 10 KW per rack. With water cooling we can handle more than 60 KW per rack.

Lenovo remembers its last IT supplier. Whether HP is not mentioned to be polite to our hosts. But it is clear that the link established between Lenovo and DreamWorks is much more specific.

“Lenovo has been with us through the pandemic,” said Kate Swanborg, technology communications and strategic alliances manager at DreamWorks.

“It was Thursday morning,” says an IT administrator from DreamWorks. “We were told to go home right away. We grabbed our laptops and left. But 4 hours later we were up and running. We connect remotely to computers on our campus. Lenovo took care of making sure we could work from anywhere.

What’s stopping DreamWorks from creating even more compute-intensive media, like virtual reality, asks one of the assembled media.

“Well, it’s not the technology. Lenovo has the best technology,” Swanborg says with an affection not normally seen between the IT company and the customer.

Rob Herman, General Manager of Lenovo’s Workstation Group, can’t help but smile at the compliment.

“DreamWorks is a passionate company,” she adds. “Lenovo matches us.”

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