NCHC and Xanthus Elevate Taiwanese Animation on the World Stage with GIGABYTE Servers
Created by Greener Grass Production, the Taiwanese sci-fi mini-series “2049” made its debut on Netflix and various local TV channels. The animated spin-off “2049+ Voice of Rebirth”, crafted by Xanthus Animation Studio, premiered on the streaming service myVideo. The CGI show was created with the NCHC Render Farm’s GIGABYTE servers, which employ top-of-the-line NVIDIA® graphics cards to empower artists with industry-leading rendering capabilities. The servers can take on multiple workloads simultaneously through parallel computing, and they boast a wide range of patented smart features that ensure stability and availability. With all it has going for it, “2049+ Voice of Rebirth” may garner enough attention to become the breakout hit that will introduce Taiwanese animation to international audiences.
A futuristic metropolis shrouded in a green haze, viewed as if through a glass darkly, where larger-than-life holograms out of a Philip K. Dick novel loom above the cityscape. A yawning chasm between ultramodern skyscrapers and the imposing figures of ancient temple guardians, through which the vortex of everyday life ebb and flow, reminiscent of the style of Japanese director Mamoru Oshii. All this rendered in vibrant, cel-shaded CGI, crafted with the polish and sophistication of a theatrical release that’s made by a world-class animation studio.
These are scenes from the computer-animated feature “2049+ Voice of Rebirth”, produced by the Taiwanese company Xanthus Animation Studio. Founded in 2004 by a team of kindred spirits, Xanthus is the creative force behind the popular Taiwanese children’s animated series “Yameme”, as well as a frequent collaborator in global franchises such as “Final Fantasy” and “Monster Strike”. For many years, Xanthus worked with Taiwan’s award-winning Greener Grass Production to launch an animated spin-off of the latter’s science fiction mini-series “2049”, which debuted on Netflix and other platforms in October 2021. “2049+ Voice of Rebirth” featured original music provided by Taiwan’s famous record label HIM International Music Inc., and it premiered on myVideo, a streaming service owned by the telecom giant Taiwan Mobile. The story focused on Taiwan in the not-so-distant future of 2049, and how artificial intelligence would affect pressing social issues such as affordable housing.《Glossary: What is Artificial Intelligence?》
The pairing of a star-studded live-action TV show with an animated companion piece is a bold new experiment for Xanthus. With any luck, it may be the breakout hit that introduces Taiwanese animation to the international market. “Taiwanese animation has the talent and technology to make a splash on the world stage,” says Bruce Yao, CEO of Xanthus Animation. “Our animation techniques surpass Southeast Asian or even European competitors. Taiwanese animators are often headhunted by Chinese digital media companies. Now, with streaming platforms like Netflix, HBO GO, and Disney Plus, there’s a golden opportunity for Taiwanese animated shows to attract a wider audience overseas.”
The fact of the matter is, animation has a long and lauded history in Taiwan. Starting in the 1970s, the Taiwanese animation company Wang Film Productions (also known as Hong Guang Animation) did outsourcing work for big American conglomerates like Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., and Walt Disney, collaborating on major projects such as “Tarzan” and “The Lion King”. Another animation studio, CGCG Inc., was famous for its work on the “Star Wars” and “How to Train Your Dragon” franchises; purportedly, George Lucas himself came to Taiwan to visit CGCG. More recently, Moonshine Animation gained critical acclaim for its use of GPU servers and artificial intelligence to render authentic, life-like animation.
Yet, the industry as a whole has had its ups and downs. Taiwanese animation has generally struggled to transition from doing outsourcing work to creating their own intellectual properties. One commonly cited reason is the limited size of the domestic market. Another hurdle is the lack of capital to finance blockbusters. Last but not least, Taiwan faces stiff competition in the international arena, where American franchises dominate the theaters, while animated shows are the forte of Japanese studios. How to emerge on the world stage despite these limitations—similar to how Korea has succeeded with “K-pop” and “K-dramas”—is a question for all aspiring Taiwanese animators.
The industry veterans at Xanthus think they may have a solution. “No one had even heard of Pixar before it revolutionized the industry with its first computer-animated film, ‘Toy Story’ in 1995. Exciting new technology, coupled with easy access to the market via streaming services, may be what Taiwan needs to make a comeback,” says Marketing & Planning Director Mason Yao, who is Bruce’s younger brother.
To infuse its magnum opus with the creative spark that may capture the imagination of a wider audience, Xanthus called upon the services of Taiwan’s National Center for High-performance Computing (NCHC), as well as its crowning jewel—the Render Farm powered by GIGABYTE’s server solutions.
NCHC Provides Tech, Nurtures Talent to Enhance Taiwanese Animation
As part of the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs), the NCHC built the Render Farm to provide high performance computing (HPC) and cloud computing services for Taiwan’s content creators, such as animators and filmmakers. It hosts the annual “HPC NCHC Animation Challenge” to encourage the younger generation to enter the animation industry. In this way, the NCHC hopes to help Taiwanese animation maintain its edge in terms of technology and talent, while reducing the barriers to entry by offering a rendering platform that’s accessible to professionals and amateurs alike.
“2049+ Voice of Rebirth”, the animated magnum opus by Xanthus Animation Studio, hopes to wow viewers with its sophisticated CGI, which was created with the help of the NCHC Render Farm. Streaming platforms like Netflix may be the springboard that will catapult Taiwanese animation to international success.
By tapping into the Render Farm’s incredible processing power, Xanthus has crafted an animated show filled with dazzling imagery and poignant artistry, worthy of being the companion piece to the acclaimed “2049” mini-series. “2049+ Voice of Rebirth” evokes the style and ethos of the cyberpunk genre, with design choices and story beats paying homage to classics such as “Blade Runner” and “Ghost in the Shell”. At the same time, it recounts a distinctively Taiwanese narrative, touching upon the themes of folk religion and discussing pervasive societal issues, such as urban redevelopment and grassroots activism. The result is a refreshing take on the near-future sci-fi genre that manages to be at times bewildering and fantastical, while remaining firmly rooted in realism and radiating genuine empathy for its flawed and complex human characters.
Artistically, Xanthus was able to walk a fine line between fact and fiction by utilizing scenes and settings from the real world as much as possible. To recreate the area of Nanjichang in central Taipei, where the story takes place, the Xanthus team used point cloud technology to scan and render the century-old community. The character models were intentionally converted from 3D to 2D, and then lit with normal mapping to achieve an authentic cyberpunk “feel”. The textures are a substantial upgrade over Xanthus’s more child-oriented programs to appeal to an older audience. As a result, “2049+ Voice of Rebirth” has the production value of a world-class theatrical release.《Glossary: What is Point Cloud?》
A lot of this was made possible by the NCHC Render Farm and its array of GIGABYTE servers. “Our production capacity was effectively doubled by using the Render Farm; even big, flashy sequences could be animated in a relatively short time. Not to mention the quality and reliability—we have rented services from other render farms before, and have even tried building our own. Needless to say, nothing compares to what the NCHC has to offer us,” says Bruce Yao.
Xanthus utilized “point cloud” technology to recreate the historical area of Nanjichang in central Taipei. They imagined a not-so-distant future where AI applications may intersect with social issues such as affordable housing and urban renewal. Will we use technology to create a better tomorrow, or will we languish in the dystopian future often envisioned in the cyberpunk genre?
The Render Farm’s Secret Weapon: Server Solutions by GIGABYTE
Owing to its cluster of GIGABYTE G-Series GPU Servers, the NCHC Render Farm is able to give content creators access to cutting-edge animation techniques, while remaining cost-efficient, reliable, and available. Specifically, the NCHC chose theG191-H44, which features four GPU card slots in a slim 1U chassis, and the G481-S80, which can fit up to eight NVIDIA® Tesla® V100 SXM2 modules in a 4U chassis. Both models run on 2nd Generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors.
Over the years, the NCHC Render Farm has offered technological support to Taiwan’s content creators, culminating in the premiere of over five hundred animated or live-action films. Case in point: the mini-series “Seqalu: Formosa 1867”, an epic historical drama conceived by Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS), features special effects created by the Render Farm. Ancient ships, storms on the open sea, and other cinematic elements were rendered to great effect. Another recent collaboration with Xanthus is “Yameme Team vs. Math Demon”, Taiwan’s first educational 3D animated feature about arithmetic, which caters to tens of thousands of parents and children. The industry-leading processing power of the GIGABYTE servers have no trouble keeping up with the ever-evolving demands of animators and filmmakers.
For “2049+ Voice of Rebirth”, the G191-H44 and G481-S80 offered two key perks that helped the artists knock it out of the park: 1. The combination of CPU and GPU resources through heterogeneous computing to enable the latest animation techniques, such as motion capture, point cloud, and virtual reality. Parallel computing and low-latency performance allow multiple users to access the Render Farm’s services simultaneously. 2. Patented smart features related to power and cooling that ensure system stability, which in turn guarantees the Render Farm’s services are always available to its users.
GIGABYTE’s G481-S80 can house up to eight NVIDIA® V100 GPUs. GPU performance is enhanced by the NVIDIA® NVLink™ interconnect architecture, which improves the bandwidth and scalability of a server with multiple graphics cards. The result is maximized throughput and optimized GPU-to-GPU acceleration.
NVIDIA® GPUs and Parallel Computing Enable Creative Rendering Methods
The G191-H44 and G481-S80 are powered by Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors; they also feature additional slots for GPU cards, which are ideal for rendering CGI. The servers employ NVIDIA® V100 and NVIDIA® Quadro® RTX 8000 GPUs—some of the best options on the market. To use the G481-S80 as an example, rendering can be done forty times faster when all eight of its sockets are occupied by NVIDIA® V100 GPUs. Avant-garde animation techniques, such as motion capture, point cloud, and virtual reality, can be utilized with this set-up. Because of this, when independent studios like Xanthus connect to the GIGABYTE servers at the NCHC Render Farm, they experience an efficiency boost like never before.
What’s more, the performance of these servers is greater than the sum of their parts. The G481-S80 is equipped with NVIDIA® NVLink™, an interconnect architecture designed to maximize throughput and optimize GPU-to-GPU acceleration in a system with multiple graphics cards. NVLink™ can increase the scalability, bandwidth, and number of links between graphics cards in the SXM2 form factor. To use the NVIDIA® Volta™ Series as an example, with NVIDIA® NVLink™, a single GPU can support up to six links, each transmitting data at the speed of 25 gigabytes per second in both directions. That’s a total bandwidth of 300 gigabytes per second—ten times the average bandwidth of PCIe 3.0. Such high-density parallel computing capabilities and low-latency performance make these servers the ideal HPC solutions for servicing multiple users simultaneously.
It’s worth noting that GIGABYTE’s G-Series GPU Servers are incredibly versatile and can be used in other sectors besides animation. To use the G191-H44 as an example, its industry-leading dense configuration of four GPUs in a 1U chassis is ideal for workloads related to AI, machine learning, and deep learning, as well as technical computing applications in the fields of financial services, life sciences, and energy exploration. It has been validated for use with NVIDIA® NGC™ and can fully support cloud software provided by NVIDIA, making it ideal for data scientists and researchers who wish to create a multi-tenant AI algorithm training environment. The G191-H44 has also been officially recognized as an NVIDIA® EGX™ Platform; these are GPU-accelerated platforms designed for edge computing, which can be deployed as part of a 5G cellular base station or micro data center (MDC), providing real-time inferencing and data processing on the edge of the network.
With four GPU card slots in a 1U chassis, the GIGABYTE G191-H44 boasts industry-leading GPU density that makes it ideal for workloads related to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning, as well as HPC-related applications in a render farm used by animators and filmmakers.
Patented Smart Features Ensure Reliability and Availability for Users
The team at Xanthus has observed that although the Render Farm doubled their production capacity, the servers are clearly capable of handling much larger workloads. “I would not be surprised if the Render Farm could provide every content creator with just about as much capacity as they could ask for,” muses Bruce Yao.
The fact of the matter is, the GIGABYTE servers had been put through their paces for precisely this purpose. During the validation phase, the Render Farm conducted a battery of rigorous stress tests on the servers. A 4K ultra-high-definition video was played at the NCHC’s headquarters in Hsinchu, and then a server located in the Taichung branch was connected to begin processing the video. The video was then accessed and broadcasted on up to a hundred client devices, simulating a scenario in which the Render Farm would be pushed to its maximum capacity. The GIGABYTE servers passed with flying colors. They are fully capable of tackling many massive workloads at the same time, making it a breeze for different animation studios to use the Render Farm to complete their projects.
The G191-H44 and G481-S80 have ways of ensuring smooth and reliable operations for users connected to the Render Farm. The secret lies in the servers’ array of patented smart features, which can take care of everything from temperature control to power efficiency.
● Automatic Fan Speed Control
To achieve an optimal balance between cooling and power efficiency, Automatic Fan Speed Control is enabled in the GIGABYTE servers. This means the speed of individual fans will adjust automatically according to feedback from temperature sensors monitoring key components, such as the CPU, GPU, DIMM, memory, and storage.《Glossary: What is DIMM?》
● Cold Redundancy
To take advantage of the fact that a PSU with a higher load will run at greater power efficiency, GIGABYTE servers with N+1 redundancy are equipped with a power management function known as Cold Redundancy. When the total system load falls below 40%, the system will automatically place one PSU in standby mode, resulting in a 10% improvement in power efficiency.
● Smart Crises Management and Protection (SCMP)
SCMP is a patented feature included in GIGABYTE servers without a fully redundant power supply unit (PSU) design. In the event of a faulty PSU or overheating, the SCMP function will force the CPU to go into an ultra-low power mode to reduce the power load, protecting the system from unexpected shutdowns and avoiding component damage or data loss.
GIGABYTE’s G-Series GPU Servers help animators merge creativity with technology so they can bring fantastical visions to life. Powerful CPU and GPU resources can render epic CGI sequences in a jiffy, while parallel computing capabilities ensure multiple users can access the rendering services simultaneously.
Working with the NCHC, GIGABYTE Upgrades Taiwan’s Animation Industry
“A project like the Render Farm was made possible by the public sector, so it should be universal enough for everyone to use and enjoy,” says Dr. Chia-Chen Kuo, project leader at the NCHC Render Farm. She believes that since technology is also part of Taiwan’s culture, working with leading tech companies like GIGABYTE will go a long way towards improving Taiwan’s cultural exports. By infusing CGI shows with animation techniques that are made possible through high performance computing, the NCHC can help content creators share Taiwan's unique aesthetics and stories with the rest of the world.
The rendering capabilities of the G191-H44 and G481-S80 make cutting-edge animation techniques accessible to content creators, while the servers’ patented smart features ensure services are available and reliable. These benefits are in keeping with Dr. Kuo’s original vision, and they make it possible for local companies like Xanthus Animation Studio to enjoy a dramatic entry on the world stage. GIGABYTE’s motto is “Upgrade Your Life”. It is a sincere belief that brilliant new inventions will fundamentally change the way we live, work, and play for the better. The same holds true for Taiwan’s animation industry, which may return to—or even surpass—its glory days with server solutions by GIGABYTE.