Industrial Light and Magic Replacing Unix With Linux

The master of illusion in the entertainment industry, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)?George Lucas’s visual effects and 3-D animation studio?is undergoing its own metamorphosis and sloughing off longtime partner SGI in the process.

According to Andy Hendrickson, director of research and development, San Rafael, Calif.-based ILM is in the process of replacing its 600 Unix-based SGI O2 workstations?which it used to render such characters as the gauze-clad antagonist in The Mummy, the fearsome velociraptors in the Jurassic Park flicks and Jar-Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode I?with Pentium Four Linux machines. It is also replacing SGI’s Unix-based Origin 2000 server with a combination of a Pentium Four computer and Alpha processors that will run Linux from Red Hat.

Hendrickson thinks Linux is the best operating system for the visual effects industry. "It builds distributed computing well. It has rock-solid stability, a very low administration cost, and many years of robustness and testing behind it," he says. ILM counts on its new system getting movies in the can quicker with lower production costs.

ILM’s transformation doesn’t bode so well for SGI of Mountain View, Calif., whose entire business, especially its workstation business, is ailing. In April, the company reported a $141 million loss and cut 15 percent of its workforce. Salomon Smith Barney downgraded SGI’s stock from neutral to underperforming in July.

It’s a tragic downfall for a company that once dominated the visual effects market, and a classic story of a sluggish industry giant blindsided by newcomers. "It’s been a long and fruitful relationship," says Hendrickson of ILM’s work with SGI. "[But] right now we need more power. We need more simulation. We need to do more work. They don’t have a Pentium in their offering, which is unfortunate for them."

The irony here is that SGI has helped the Linux cause in the past by serving up some of its own proprietary Unix code to the open-source community. Now Linux seems to be biting the hand that fed it.

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