New Disney cartoon rendered on 55,000 cores


    The City of San Francisco: 83,000 buildings, 260,000 trees, 215,000 streetlights, 100,000 cars.

    A few days before the premiere of the cartoon “Hero City” (Big Hero 6), Walt Disney Animation Studios held a technical presentation and declassified some details of this interesting project. It is interesting not only because it presents 3D printing, telepathically controlled swarm microbots and other technologies of the future, but because quite unique programs have been developed specifically for this film.

    In total, the animators used about 30 programs. Some are improved versions of previous designs. But there were completely new ones. The main one is a global lighting simulator called Hyperion, its group of 10 developers has been creating for about two years.

    Walt Disney Animation Studios calls Hyperion the most risky and grandiose animated R&D project of everything they did. The main risk was that Hyperion was created on the go. The film, by and large, was rendered in beta version of the program, until its final readiness.

    Hyperion includes a global lighting simulator that performs sophisticated calculations to calculate multiple indirect reflections from all visible surfaces. In particular, Hyperion is able to calculate 10-20 reflections, which creates a realistic lighting effect in reflected light. Although most of the cartoon audience will not attach much importance to this, backlighting in reflected light is really a powerful thing that no one has done before as such.


    Comparison of rendering with the calculation of one reflection (on the right) and 10+ reflections (on the left)

    For such calculations, Disney needed gigantic computing power. A cluster of 55,000 cores was deployed geographically distributed across four render farms. Especially for managing the cluster, a separate program was written called Coda.

    Cluster capacity - 1.1 million render hours per day. The entire film (108 minutes, i.e. 155,520 frames) spent 190 million render hours.

    To assess the power of the computing system, employees explain that it could render the entire Rapunzel cartoon (2010) in just 10 days.

    But here it was more difficult: the City of Heroes of San Francisco consists of 83,000 buildings, 260,000 trees, 215,000 streetlights and 100,000 cars and thousands of people who were generated by another Denizen program. Typically, the city map is based on a real map of San Francisco.

    Employees at Walt Disney Animation Studios say that animation of such a big city is impossible on the previous generation of technology.

    The plot of the film is developing in the near future. The protagonists are the boy and the Baymax soft vinyl robot (as well as a group of his friends with superpowers). Hiro Hamada's boy is a born inventor and genius in the design of robots. Together with their older brother Tadashi, they embody the most advanced ideas at the Technical University of the city of the future San Francisco, which combines the features of San Francisco and Tokyo. After a series of mysterious events, friends find themselves in the center of an insidious plot. Desperate, Hiro decides to use the fun and good-natured experimental Beimax robot, reprogramming him into an invulnerable fighting machine.

    In the frame below, Hiro scans the robot for 3D printing of his “armor”.



    The plot of the film includes many futuristic details. When it was decided to create a story about the technology of the near future, the assistant directors paid visits to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Tokyo to get acquainted with advanced developments in robotics and related fields.

    For example, the moment in the film when Hiro prints a protective case for a robot on a 3D printer in his garage, the film producer considers it a reference to the DIY maker's movement, which is now gaining popularity around the world.



    The soft Baymax robot also has real prototypes. In particular, some hospitals in Japan now use robots to care for patients. They have something similar in appearance, although they are not made of vinyl, but of plastic.

    Swarm mini-drones borrowed from research projects at Carnegie Mellon University. Although the version from the cartoon, of course, is more fantastic than the prototypes that currently exist. Electromagnetic microbots transmit a signal in a chain to each other, moving as a whole. Since the swarm includes tens of millions of microbots, it was not initially possible to render it either, until a supercomputer with 55,000 cores was deployed.

    The creators are sure that Big Hero 6 is literally saturated with a love of technology. “The film glorifies science and technology like we never really did before,” says director assistant Don Hall.

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