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Animated movies are much more than voiceovers and computer graphics—meet the behind-the-scenes stars of Kung Fu Panda 3

In this article...

  • Kung Fu Panda 3 relied on a hybrid cloud system that allowed seamless collaboration between studios in China, India and the United States
  • Newly implemented data tools cut down render analysis from hours to minutes during production

What’s one of the tougher technology tricks to pull off when you’re producing an animated feature film? The answer might surprise you—hugs. That is, hugs between cute, furry creatures like Po and Li from Kung Fu Panda 3.

Until recently, having two furry characters hug on screen at DreamWorks Animation—whose latest film, Kung Fu Panda 3, was released January 29—often became a roadblock in the studio’s creative process. Why? It takes a ton of CPUs to create an animated scene where two furry characters physically intertwine. Creators of 2006’s “Over the Hedge,” for instance, had to limit the number of hugs the characters exchanged because of CGI limitations in the hardware and software at the time.

But that was then. Today, DreamWorks Animation is tapping into much faster and more efficient compute capabilities through a managed private cloud that globally connects DreamWorks Animation’s artists from Shanghai, China to Glendale, California with zero down time and advanced servers that increase render efficiency to about 200,000 jobs per day. That’s an important development too, since the first two films focused on just one panda, and Kung Fu Panda 3 tells a story that revolves around an entire village of pandas who like to hug and, of course, kung fu fight.

“It takes a ton of CPUs to create a... scene where two furry characters physically intertwine.”

“This third film really pushes the boundary on the number of panda characters—fully lit, fully rendered, fully furred—that interact with each other,” says Derek Chan, head of global technology operations for DreamWorks Animation and chief technology officer for Oriental DreamWorks. “In creating the Panda Village, we significantly increased the complexity of the film.

Increasing the complexity means upping computing power, rendering time and analytics capabilities to create a film up to DreamWorks Animation’s standards.

Here’s a look at two solutions behind the latest Kung Fu Panda film.

Harnessing the cloud

It took more than 118,000 individual computer-generated frames, 240 billion pixels, 600 million files and 475 terabytes of data to complete Kung Fu Panda 3.

Tapping into the cloud for peak rendering needs through a hybrid cloud infrastructure (a combination of on-site private cloud and off-site managed private cloud powered by Hewlett Packard Enterprise) allows artists and producers to share and collaborate in real time. This gives DreamWorks Animation the flexibility and agility to meet the computing needs of the artists. For Kung Fu Panda 3, the ability to render animations through global collaboration was especially tantamount as this was the first film DreamWorks Animation co-produced with Shanghai-based studio Oriental DreamWorks.

“With the cloud, DreamWorks... created a second film: one that was voiced entirely in Mandarin.”

“Having a project that spanned a global footprint was a challenge in terms of the overall management, collaboration and data required to enable our filmmakers to create two different versions of the film,” says Chan. “One was an English version that spoke to Western audiences. The second version was reanimated and re-lip-synced for a Chinese audience.”

With the help of its cloud infrastructure, DreamWorks Animation worked in tandem with Oriental DreamWorks and effectively created a second film: one that was voiced entirely in Mandarin. Here, creators had to collaborate globally to change lip movements and even rewrite specific jokes that would appeal to Chinese audiences. The Mandarin version of the film added roughly seven percent more rendering to the film.

Animation analytics

Beyond the cloud, the second star of Kung Fu Panda 3 was data analytics. For this, DreamWorks Animation tapped Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Vertica solution: an analytics platform that allowed creative teams to look at massive amounts of render data to reveal trends and reduce query processing time. Chan says that during the production process, creative teams often construct multiple scenarios for directors to review. Real-time knowledge around how much computing time these frames required was invaluable to the creation of Kung Fu Panda 3.

“Having resource consumption data available to filmmakers enabled them to review changes and make crucial creative decisions faster,” Chan says.

The Vertica Analytics software effectively revealed trends in the studio’s large volumes of render data and dramatically reduced the time it took to analyze Kung Fu Panda 3 render data from hours to mere minutes.

Interestingly, all of this advancement didn’t actually speed up the production process for Kung Fu Panda 3 (it took the same amount of time to produce as the first film in 2008—about four years). But Chan says that’s not really the goal. Instead of releasing a film a year earlier than expected, the advancements allow for more creativity in production… and even some important last-minute changes—like more panda hugs.

“Having an enormous amount of compute power readily available to handle peak resource demands enables our filmmakers to create the best possible film,” Chan says. “In the last couple months of production, the creative teams felt confident in their ability to see eleventh hour changes fully realized in a way that wasn’t possible before we started using cloud technology.”


HPE’s infrastructure and cloud solutions empower DreamWorks Animation to accelerate film production, avoid a costly data center expansion, meet critical deadlines and support creative artists globally. And our data-driven insights enable DreamWorks Animation to understand the resource needs for compute across the enterprise.

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