January 4, 2007 1:57 PM PST

'Gromit' filmmaker gets animated about IT

Aardman Animations is moving its IT and communications up a gear as it looks to make feature films fully in-house and to add to its impressive portfolio.

The company is home to the Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts series and recently co-produced the CGI feature film Flushed Away with Dreamworks.

Paul Deane, head of IT at Aardman, told Silicon.com that tech has always been core to the business--for example, there has always been the need to adapt lighting, cameras and digital images, as well as use digital editing.

Over the past few years, the company has expanded into new areas that require better IT and better collaboration with partners across the Atlantic.

To cater to the company's increased data transfer requirements, its high-speed Internet connection was increased from 4Mbps to 10Mbps around six months ago by NTL:Telewest.

Animators can now transfer larger amounts of image data among the three Aardman production offices in Bristol, Los Angeles and Toronto. On average, the network transfers 100GB of data every day, with each individual frame being about 25MB--25 frames are required for each second of film.

The improved network was used extensively in the development of a new Creature Comforts series for CBS to be broadcast in February.

Deane said the company approaches IT innovation by constantly making processes faster and more efficient, rather than attempting huge shifts.

But he acknowledged that filming in high definition has meant some big changes. "The files are much bigger and hence we need more bandwidth to work with them," he said.

"Broadcasting in HD is led by the broadcasters, who commission our work, and government standards for broadcasting, not so much consumers asking for it," Deane said.

The next issue that Aardman faces is how to deal with the inevitable need to expand processor capacity to cope with the rendering needs of an in-house feature-length project.

At present, the company works mainly on co-productions and so has just 200 rendering processors in Bristol. To make a full feature film in-house would require 1,500 to 2,000 rendering processors.

Currently a feature film isn't in the pipeline, but Deane said that when the right project comes along, Aardman has its IT set up to cope.

Tim Ferguson of Silicon.com reported from London.

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