Technology

Animators face 4K film technology 'challenge'

Still from Minion movie Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption Rendering animation has become a very computer-intensive task

The advent of 4K and high frame rate films presents a "huge challenge" for studios using computer-based animation, an expert has said.

Bruno Mahe, technical head at studio Illumination Mac Guff, said the resolution of animated films would have to be increased by about 2.5 times.

The time required to generate such high-resolution images could hit production schedules.

It may mean studios having to re-think the way they make movies, Mr Mahe said.

Current animated movies are made to be viewed at 24 frames per second (fps) and at resolutions of about 2K.

But the advent of technologies such as 4K and frame rates of 48fps and higher means that the resolution of animated films will have to be substantially increased, said Mr Mahe, whose studio was behind films including The Lorax, Despicable Me and Minions.

"They are both going to present a huge challenge," Mr Mahe told the BBC.

Simply scaling up existing images to bridge the gap would not work. "That just looks horrible, no-one wants that," he said.

Memory load

Instead, animators will have to produce characters and scenes that are more detailed so they look good at those higher resolutions and film speeds. This presents a problem because computer-based animation is such a time-consuming task.

Before now, directors of many animated movies have had to take tough decisions about how they tell a story because there has simply not been enough time to generate all the images needed within the film's production schedule, he said.

While higher speed computers and networks removed some of this pressure, the time it took to create or render frames was still the limiting factor in how quickly a film could be finished, he said.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Animated movies now take much longer to produce on computers

Illumination currently has 20,000 computers in a "render farm" that is used by animators to produce the individual images and scenes that eventually become a movie.

Shipping high-resolution images back and forth to animators consumes huge amounts of memory, said Mr Mahe.

In 2007 the total amount of memory used while Illumination worked on its Dragon Hunters movie peaked at about 12 terabytes, he said.

This grew substantially by the time Illumination made Despicable Me 2 when peak memory use hit 680 terabytes.

'Cost prohibitive'

The best way to solve this problem would be to use the fastest memory, known as flash, said Ron Bianchini, head of Avere which helps firms build responsive networks.

"But 600 terabytes of all flash memory would be absolutely cost prohibitive," he said.

That becomes even more true when studios have to produce movies with resolutions 2.5 times higher than they do today to cope with the new technical demands, said Mr Mahe.

"The economics just do not support it," he said. "You cannot just make your render farm 2.5 times bigger. You need to be much smarter than that."

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