Weta Digital is spending millions of dollars doubling its processing capacity as it gears up to produce the special effects for the third instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.


Supplier IBM has begun delivering 1174 blade servers, each with dual 2.8 gigahertz Xeon Intel processors and 6 gigabytes of memory.

Weta technical head Scott Houston says about 3200 processors will be running flat out next month on The Return of the King, making Weta Digital the largest Intel-based high-performance computing centre in the world by Intel's estimation.

Mr Houston says the film will be more technically challenging than the first two instalments of the Peter Jackson blockbuster. "This is the culmination of the trilogy. It involves more complex shots and big battle scenes."

He says Peter Jackon's vision for The Return of the King will put Weta Digital to the test, and it could use more computer power if it had the space to put it.

"I do have concerns about processing capacity it sounds ridiculous given the number we have but we have some really challenging shots to do."

A fourth computer room has been tacked on to Weta Digital's existing facilities in Miramar to house some of the new equipment, which also includes five additional Network Appliance file servers and a further 27 terabytes of hard disk storage.

Weta Digital has also developed its own disk allocation system to avoid log-jams and ensure the workload generated by dozens of special effects artists perfecting shots is spread across its file servers.

The IBM blade servers were chosen because of their small size 168 processors can be squeezed into a single steel rack.

They are more powerful than the 2.2GHz 4 gigabyte processors used on The Two Towers and IBM has done a great job rushing delivery, Mr Houston says.

The new computer room includes three powerful air conditioning units. Keeping everything cool while thousands of virtual orcs and elks engage in the heat of battle on the blade servers has been a "real challenge", he says.

The company, and its 30-strong IT team, appear to have a more certain future following Universal Studio's decision to give the green light to a Peter Jackson remake of King Kong.

Shooting will begin next year, but work will start beforehand in Wellington designing models and creatures, Mr Houston says.

Weta Digital is also increasingly been considered for other post-production work, he says.

Will the extra computer hardware really show through to movie goers when The Return of the King is released?

"Yes", promises Mr Houston, unequivocally.

"I hope people will think, 'how the hell did they do that?'."
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I can't wait to see this movie!!! It's gonna be GREAT! :big grin: