In 2004 Watershed partnered with HP to create the SE3D project. It commissioned 12 groups of UK artists/animators and gave access to its experimental Maya® Rendering Service, a massive shared processing resource for CG rendering, which adds colour, light and texture to computer-generated frames to turn them into finished frames. Just as none of us filters our own water or generates our own electricity, utility computing such as HP’s Maya® rendering service aims to use remote computers to outsource the processing of data. As well as offering a multi-user industry test for this cutting-edge research technology, the SE3D project delivered 12 fabulous 3D animations from new UK talent.
With fantastic 3D graphics, creative storylines and natural fur and water effects, the resulting films look similar to Hollywood productions made by giants like Dreamworks. The production of a Dreamworks production such as Madagascar has a multimillion-dollar budget, requires more than 1,000 dual-processor computers and an army of professional animators. In contrast to this the 12 SE3D films were created by small companies, or even individuals, some of them working with a single home computer.
Alongside guidance from HP, an advisory board was drawn from Aardman Animation, BBC, 4:2:2, Dreamworks, Alias and Watershed. All 12 films were showcased at that year’s Cannes Film Festival and Encounters International Short Film Festival. The animators received the use of Maya licenses, training and mentoring in advance of and during production, and took part in an eight-month educative programme of workshops and film festival events.
The completed SE3D films provided HP Labs with a tangible example of utility computing that can be used to promote their services within other industries and established a model of collaboration that has attracted interest from across the UK.