NZ at animation forefront: IBM visitor

Animation industry will drive supercomputing technology, says Cell Broadband Engine expert

Bruce D’Amora, senior technical staff member in the emerging systems software group at IBM’s TJ Watson Research Centre in New York, says New Zealand is well-placed to stay at the leading edge of the animation sector.

“My thought is that the whole [visual animation] industry, which, obviously, New Zealand is in the middle of, is going to drive supercomputing technology,” he says.

D’Amora, who visited New Zealand earlier this month, says the industry requires a tremendous amount of computing power, a lot of storage and high bandwidth connectivity, and is collaborative. Weta Digital, for example, works with people all over the world and they all utilise those supercomputing characteristics, he says.

D’Amora was one of the speakers at the AnimfxNZ animation and visual effects symposium held on November 4-5 in Wellington. Over 200 visitors came to the symposium, which is the first of its kind in New Zealand. It was organised by Positively Wellington Business and the Los Angeles-based Visual Effects Society (VES).

Warner Brothers Animation, DreamWorks, Pixar and Weta Digital were among the companies that gave speeches and held workshops at the symposium.

D’Amora has been with IBM for 23 years but for the last five he has been working specifically with a new technology, Cell Broadband Engine, co-developed by IBM, Toshiba and Sony. His job is to assess and evaluate the jointly-developed microprocessor technology and to create new algorithms that can exploit the technology for visual animations and visual effects, which can be used in video games, films and advertising.

The Cell Broadband Engine microprocessor technology is a big leap forward, according to D’Amora.

“You can think of it as multiple microprocessors on a single chip.”

There are nine microprocessors on the chip, which is about the size of a drawing pin, he says.

“To have that much microprocessor power on a single chip opens up a lot of possibilities for creating applications that can do some very sophisticated types of animation and visual effects.”

But the technology can be useful in other fields, such as medical imaging, seismic processing for oil exploration and financial services, says D’Amora.

“In the medical field, one of the areas we think that Cell might be very useful is surgical planning. Basically, [it could be used for] virtual surgery where you would start with an MRI scan of a patient, and [then] create a whole virtual world of that patient and let the surgeon interact with that virtual world and kind of practise the surgery before actually [doing it] on the patient,” he says.

During his time at IBM, D’Amora has had many different roles. Prior to working at the Watson research centre, he was the chief software architect for IBM’s 3D graphics development group.

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