The Guardian from London, Greater London, England on November 12, 1992 · 43
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England · 43

London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
Thursday, November 12, 1992
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Qmputer THE GUARDIAN November Hollywood is using computers to create increasingly elaborate special effects PtrBOflamig) a ItoDe ttDwoaagih) (OtaMn Bob Swain On target . . . Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2, which relied heavily on computer graphics THE triumph of Terminator 2 means that for the time being at least computer graphics can do no wrong in Tinseltown. And if a computer generated co-star can work for Arnold Schwarzenegger, why can't it work for the rest of the star factory? It's not the make-up department they call on these days, but the programmers at Industrial Light And Magic. The latest manifestation of the trend is Robert Zemeckis's film Death Becomes Her, which opens in the UK in time for Christmas. It features Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn with computer special effects like you've never seen before. In the story, they've both taken a potion which means they can't die. It's an effects director's dream. Streep plays an entire scene with her head screwed on back to front, while Goldie Hawn manages to get a hole drilled through the middle of her body with views straight through her. All the effects have been created at ELM, mainly by using Soft Image and Parallax Matador software running on Silicon Graphics Iris 4D workstations. The work involved modelling and animating Streep's neck, modelling Hawn's torso and lots of digital matting sticking all of the live action and computer-generated elements together by scanning everything into large-scale framestores. ILM is working on Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, too. This promises to be next year's blockbuster. Digital matting is fast replacing the more traditional optical printing techniques which have been used to produce feature films since King Kong was made 60 years ago. Boss Film Studios is one of the top effects' houses in Hollywood with credits stretching from Ghostbusters and 2010 through to Die Hard and Alien 3. It received an Academy Award for its state of the art optical printer, but has now replaced tins with an IBM Power Visualisation System. "Most of our past effects work has been based on optical techniques but increasingly film makers are turning . to computers," says chief operations officer Alan Fetzer. "Parallel processing means that we will be able to achieve rendering much faster. But, just as important is real time access to display images through the use of disc arrays. With previous workstations we had access to only one frame at a time but now we have full motion in realtime." Before the PVS was installed, Boss worked with another specialist, Video Image, on effects for Batman Returns Jack Schof ield kEC has started shipping the 'world's fastest computers at a range of sizes from a desktop workstation to a mainframe-class server, all powered by its new Alpha AXP microprocessor. Also, Olivetti has followed Cray Research and other firms in announcing that it will also use the Alpha chip in future computers. At the European launch, held in London, DEC also previewed the Alpha PC running Microsoft Windows NT at high speed. This had an Alpha chip running at 125MHz, an EISA expansion bus and 32 megabytes of memory. When released next spring, the PC is expected to run at 150MHz. DEC claims the Model 400 AXP desktop workstation, which runs at 133MHz, is the first machine to achieve over 100 SPECmarks on the standard Systems Performance Evaluation Committee benchmarks. Prices start at 12,040 for a system with 32M of memory, 19in mono screen, and two-user Unix Motif licence. At the other end of the scale, the DEC 10000 server runs up. to six Alpha processor at the full 200MHz speed to produce the fastest available machines for "large enterprise applications". Prices start at $316,000 for a system with one processor, 256M of memory and a gigabyte of disc storage. DEC will support three strategic operating systems on its Alpha AXP machines: Open VMS, Windows NT and "Unified Unix". Olivetti says it will support Windows NT and Unix System V Release 4. MICROSOFT is plugging Windows NT's multi-processing ability, and says nine manufacturers have now demonstrated it run ning on machines with from two to 16 Intel processors. The vendors cited are Acer, AXR, AST Research, Compaq, NCR, Olivetti, Sequent, Tricord (a superserver manufacturer) and Wyse. TEN years ago last week, Compaq launched its first 29 lb mains-powered portable PC with 4.77MHz Intel 8088 processor, 128K of memory (expandable to 640K), 5.25 in floppy disc drive, three 8-bit expansion slots and a 9 in green screen. Last week, as though to celebrate, it launched a new, much smaller 17.6 lb mains-powered Portable 486 with 66MHz 486DX2 processor, four megabytes of memory (expandable to 32M), a 3.5 in 1.4M floppy, either a 210 or 525 megabyte hard disc, two 32-bit EISA expansion slots and either a 10.4 in monochrome or active-matrix colour LCD screen. Instead of DOS 2.0 and Basic you get DOS 5, Windows 3.1 and a mouse. But prices are more than twice as high at 5,995 to 6,695 plus VAT. Compaq also unveiled two more notebook PCs. The LTE Lite 425C is a colour-screen machine based on Intel's new 486SL processor. The Lite 25 E is a monochrome machine with a 386SL that can be upgraded to a 486SL. IOVEMBER 24 has been I renamed "Sonic 2sday", since it's the day Sega plans to launch a second game featuring its adorable blue hedgehog. Sega Europe says its initial orders are for 1.5 million cartridges, and half of those are destined for UK users. Prices will be 39.99 (Mega drive), 29.99 (Master) and 27.99 (Game-Gear), so UK advance orders for Sonic 2 are worth about 25 million at retail. CENTRAL Point has released an Anti-Virus Scan-Only Software (CPAV-SOS) program, making it available free of charge from its own bulletin board (081- 569 3324), CompuServe (Go Central) and other online systems. It uses the same virus-detection, system as Central Point Anti-Virus for DOS, and detects more than 1,300 viruses. IELICON has just published I two encyclopedias for PCs: one on CD-ROM, and one on floppy disc. The CD version is the second edition of the Hutchinson Multimedia Encyclopedia, which costs 149 plus VAT. The floppy holds the Hutchinson Concise Encyclopedia, which costs 49 plus VAT. The big one has 1.8 million words and the concise one 750,000. The big advantage of the CD-ROM encyclopedia is that it has recordings of speeches (Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Adolf Hitler, Florence Nightingale), excerpts from symphonic works (Elgar, Mozart, Beethoven etc) and more than 2,000 photographs, maps and illustrations. Tel: 0865 204204. WHAT will D3M do after its last range of traditional mainframes the current Summit (ES9000) line-up becomes obsolete? Move to cheaper, faster microprocessors, obviously. US analysts suggest parallel processing machines based on up to 100 unnamed Rise chips running MVS and DB2 are already appearing at beta test sites, according to IBM System User magazine. One of my informants claims that D3M also has MVS running on multiple Intel 486 chips It may sound silly, but back in 1983, IBM launched a PC version of its traditional mainframe, running VM on a couple of Motorola 68000 processors, one of them using custom microcode. The PC XT370 was, of course, intended for software development rather than production use, and it sold in negligible quantities. However, a fast 486 now has roughly the same processing power as a small mainframe, so the idea is feasible. using Lisp-based Symbolics XL1200 workstations. Their sequences made use of a behavioural programming routine called Boids, developed by Symbolics' Craig Reynolds. The results represent the first use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the movies. Video Image worked with bats and Boss worked with penguins, but each had the same aim to create hundreds of natural-looking animals, acting just like the real things. Basic computer models were built of the bats and penguins and copied many times over. Each was programmed with the behavioural information that it needed to simulate the real thing how to walk or fly, what to avoid, how close to go to others, what general direction to take -and so on. The computer models in the flock were then instructed to mill around and act naturally. But the animated film which claims more computer generated material than any other is FernGully: The Last Rain Forest. Director Bill Kroyer used computer generated material wherever possible, both as final artwork and as guides for artists. "The use of computer graphics in this film was significant for two reasons', because it represented their most extensive and varied application ever, and because they were used with the intention of being unrecognisable as computer graphics," Kroyer says. "It became an integral part of the animation process it wasn't just a special effect. But 80 per cent of the labour requirements of animation aren't going to change much, even with comprehensive computer graphics. A vast amount of the animation process hasn't changed much since Snow White and it's amazing how many of the processes are still not ready to change." Steve Williams of Industrial Light and Magic is the subject of The Guardian Interview at the National Film Theatre, London, at 11.30am on November 15. Tickets: 071-928 3232. c The best magazine for business. The No.f selling PC title. Available at WH Smith, Menzics and all good newsagents.

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