A Visit to Mili Pictures, the Realization of a Chinese Animation Dream

“Arts Enlighten Technology, Technology Drives Arts.”

This famous remark of John Alan Lasseter, the founder of Pixar and winner of two Academy Awards, mirrored the importance of technology in 3D animated films. Dragon Nest: Rise of the Black Dragon, China's most expensive 3D animated feature film, has featured exquisite production that is beyond compare in many aspects in China’s animation sector. Lenovo ThinkStation workstations were the powerhouses behind the creative, with integrated solutions from front-end visual design to back-end rendering. At the eve of the launch of Dragon Nest: Rise of Black Dragon, we paid a visit to Mili Pictures’ production base in Suzhou to explore the “birth of the dragon”.

 

 

Witnessing the production of every scene

Dragon Nest's production was created using the highest standard of workstations in China’s animated film sector. Different movies (even different scenes of one movie) have different requirements for workstations. Moreover, art and image design, scene design, special effects production and composition also have different requirements for workstations. ThinkStation provides solutions for all these different needs. For instance, art work and other early stage departments don’t have a high requirement for hardware, but they need to be incredibly stable. To cater to such a need, Lenovo provided E31 ThinkStation workstations.

The animation department, the core of the animated film production, has very high graphics card requirements; for this, Lenovo’s C30 ThinkStation workstations did the job. Late-stage rendering and composition departments need CPUs with very high threads, and they also have certain requirements for memory; here, the Lenovo S30 ThinkStation was the system that fit the bill. Lenovo workstations were tailor-made for each department to meet the differing demands of each area.

 

 

Rendering farm created “China Speed”

Rendering is the most time-consuming process in 3D animated film production. It may take workstations tens or even hundreds of hours to render a scene that only lasts several minutes. Dragon Nest has very high standards for rendering. Lenovo installed 200 C30 ThinkStation workstations to help build a rendering farm. Why the C30 ThinkStation? Firstly, the C30 ThinkStation is the smallest workstation in the animation sector. With a height of only 3U, ThinkStation C30 can be directly inserted into racks for cluster deployment. When necessary, some workstations in the rendering farm can be reallocated to work as desktop workstations, bringing the team flexibility.

 

 

The Lenovo rendering farm has shouldered almost all the core rendering work of the company. Each data frame in the production of Dragon Nest is about 1-2GB, while the file size for each special effect ranges from 50GB to 100GB. There are roughly 500 special effect scenes in the film, about 30% of all scenes. Rendering these special effect scenes is painstaking and would be hard to be completed through traditional platforms. Lenovo’s rendering farm significantly improved rendering efficiency for Dragon Nest, and enabled the film production to be finished within about 18 months, much shorter than the 24 month production cycle for international animation companies such as DreamWorks. Xu Zhe, CTO of Mili Pictures, said with a smile, “we are also pursuing China speed, and with the help from Lenovo, we are faster than DreamWorks.”

 

 

They said Lenovo is a very “considerate” workstation provider

Mili Pictures’ CTO Xu Zhe and the special effect head, Song Zhiyuan, both praised Lenovo workstations’ stability: “in more than two years, failure rates of ThinkStation workstations were no more than 3%. Mili Pictures is very satisfied with the quality of Lenovo’s workstations. ” Chen Chong, the IT head of Mili Pictures, said Lenovo is a very “considerate” supplier, “Lenovo is a company making progress constantly. It accepted all advice we gave concerning the workstations, and made improvements accordingly.”

Going forward, Lenovo will continue to help Mili Pictures become a world-class animated filmmaker in China, presenting Chinese animated films on the world stage. With the technical support from Lenovo, Mili Pictures’ next blockbuster is already in progress!