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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

October 29, 2010 at 11:04 AM

PDC10: How Pixar is using Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform

Good morning from Day 2 at Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference in Redmond.

One of the more intriguing moves into cloud computing is happening at Pixar, the animation studio behind “Toy Story 3” and “Wall-E.”

There’s some juicy Microsoft-Apple rivalry going on here, since Pixar was co-founded by Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who used to be CEO at Pixar. Apple is building a $1 billion data center in North Carolina that some have speculated could be the start of Apple’s own cloud offering.

Pixar said Thursday it is exploring turning its rendering software into a cloud service that smaller studios can use to produce their own animated movies and special effects.

RenderMan is the software that Pixar developed to render each frame of a movie. The company uses it both for its own films and licenses the software for other studios to use to produce animation and special effects. Chris Ford of Pixar said in the Thursday keynote that the software was used in the last 13 Academy Award winning films.

These films require intense computational power to produce.

” ‘Toy Story 3’, this is a 100 minute film, that is 148,000 frames. Oh you want it in 3-D? That’s 290,000 frames. Each of those frames will take 8 hours on average to render,” Ford said. “This is a big computational challenge. If we just had 1 processor it would take 272 years to render one movie.”

Studios have large data centers called rendering farms to crunch the bits that produce these frames, which most small and medium studios don’t have the resources to build.

Pixar is looking at putting RenderMan on Microsoft’s cloud platform Azure and offering it as a service. That way, smaller studios would be able to do their rendering on Microsoft’s processors in the cloud. Ford says this could open the doors for studios outside the U.S. as well.

“There is at the moment an ongoing diffusion in visual effects and graphic production,” Ford said. “Always the cost of building the infrastructure is a key limiting factor. The cloud has the power to change that equation.”

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