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Charles Vidal

Author: Student.Apodéline Club President

Arnaud Lamorlette
Arnaud Lamorlette

Research and Developpment Manager:
BUF Compagnie

Linux among artists at BUF COMPAGNIE

BUF COMPAGNIE Abstract: BUF Company, major syhthetic image maker in the film business, tells us how and why Linux was choosen for a calculation server. We'll also learn how a commercial company can cope with free software.

  • CV: Hello. Can you present the BUF company as well as your function within this company.

    I am Arnaud LAMORLETTE, in charge of research and development at BUF company. My job is to find solutions to make the images the most beautiful. BUF company is a company specialized in computer-generated images. It began 13 years ago in 85. We made the special effects of "visitors" 1 and 2 of "batman and Robin", "the city of the lost children" several clips among which the rolling stones' one, BIORK, and a lot of advertisement.

  • CV: What is your data-processing park?

    Nowadays it is mainly Silicon Graphics. we started with PC (INTEL 286) in 85 with a UNIX from INTEL. We managed to make films with much patience. Today there are 75 Silicon Graphics all networked plus a four-processor INTEL.

  • CV: What software do you use?

    Mainly home made Software (software for modeling, animation, rendering, production control, etc...). We also use several commercial software in which we make plug-in or plug-out: Softimage, flint, mental ray, alias, photoshop ...

    4 processors
    Xosview with 4 processors !!

  • CV: You have lately bought a four-processor INTEL, on which you installed Linux. Why Linux?

    Yes, we try to have a significant technological outlook, we anticipate our needs for the future years. Thus we started with PC in the years 91-92, and then decided on upgrading to Silicon Graphics because these stations met our needs. Since a year ago, the PC have increased in power and dropped in price considerably. We were very interested on the performance to price ratio of the PC. We evaluated an NT solution, and we were not satisfied, even disapointed by this system. It integrated very badly with working environment (difficulty to share data with Silicon, limited network functionality ...). It is very painful when one comes from the UNIX world. Nevertheless we were still very interested on the current PC performance. We thus assessed a LINUX solution, this system was supposed to fit nicely in our data-processing park. But, the big problem, are the commercial software running under linux: we use Mental Ray and the authors ported in-house their software under linux. We asked them for this version, and that they officially support it for linux. As several people made the same request, they decided to support a linux version officially. Therefore we evaluated their software under linux and as the result was very positive, we started to port all our home made software under linux. The linux box is used as a server for calculations. On the other hand all the computer grapics experts continue to work with silicon graphics because those have very powerful OpenGL hardware.

  • CV: How were you aware of linux?

    As soon as you search about UNIX on the WEB, it is compulsory to land on LINUX pages. I tried to install it at home, six months ago, only to find out what it was! But in my work without technical support, the technological choice is very worrying. Mental Ray ensured us of its support, and thus we took this route.

  • CV: What were the problems which you encountered?

    There were several installation problems : In connection with SCSI discs with the Red-Hat distribution (problem of formatting of the disc and installation of LILO). In connection with SMP, at the beginning the system was not stable, but after having found a patch on Internet, we have a stable system (version 2.1.77).

  • CV: What about performance?

    SGI O2 R5000 512 Megabytes of memory = $7000 with very good negotiated prices
    bi-pentium II 333 MHZ x 512 Megabytes = $3300 which is 6.66 times faster than an O2 R5000 ( this difference is not theoretical but tested with brender2 and db2 )
    conclusion : a power to price ratio of 13.827 for calculations And compared to NT, linux is faster, and seems more stable.

  • CV: SGI announced an alliance with INTEL and Microsoft, does that worry you?

    No, that consolidates us in the linux alternative.

  • CV: What do you think of the free software and more particularly of the free software running under linux. (GCC, pov, The Gimp)

    Talking about GCC, I find it very good, I will even say of professional quality. For POV and the Gimp they are good software but they do not completely meet our needs (we have quite specific needs: managements of several masks...). That shows that they were never tested in a production environment. It would be necessary for me to modify the sources of this software (the GIMP does not provide management of the alpha bitmap). Of course, I could not do such a thing with photoshop.

  • CV: What is the future of linux in the world of synthesis? I point out that most of the images of the titanic were calculated under linux.

    Linux comes as a support to make calculations at lower cost. Linux, in itself, does not have intrinsic graphic quality such as Silicons graphics.

  • CV: Would you be interested on professional commercial software under linux?

    It is clear that if softimage or flint or Maya existed under linux, the choice for this OS would be obvious.

  • CV: What do you think of the community of the free software and the ideas that it conveys?

    Philosophically it is very nice. I think that in the short run, there will be many people coming from the Unix world, who will be very disappointed by Windows NT, and linux could be an alternative. It is exactly what we did. NT was evaluated, we were disapointed by it and we turned to linux. I await a more significant commercial support under linux. At my level I seek to have drivers for the OpenGL cards under Linux; are there any? It is essential if we want to make graphic workstations from linux machines. We are concerned about software that is not supported by a company. If a software package is commercial, the company behind it has to improve it and meet the needs of its customers. However with regard to linux, it is an OS of a professional level. I find it extraordinary that we are able to test it for free.

  • CV: Do you want to add something to conclude?

    Yes, I would like to talk about the opposition between NT and Linux. Microsoft does not make excellent products, but they standardized computing, which for a general public is a good thing. They are partly the actors of a democratization of computing. However their largest asset is their power marketing. On another hand, while looking in the past of data processing, the brilliant things as NextStep did not work due to a lack of marketing. It is to be feared that the same applies to linux. The most brilliant Software that could exist, will not be able to develop without marketing.

  • CV: Thank You.

This webpage is maintained by Miguel Angel Sepulveda
© Charles vidal 1998
LinuxFocus 1998