Digital Productions was started by John Whitney, Jr. and Gary Demos in 1982, after they left III because of a disagreement over the amount of computing power that needed to be devoted to feature film production, particularly for the movie Tron. DP was financed by Control Data Corporation, and the Cray was leased from Ramtek, the frame buffer company. Although the Cray provided DP with the computing power that Whitney/Demos desired, it was at a great price... one trade publication indicated that in addition to the cost of the lease, it required approximately $12,000 per month for electricity, and approximately $50,000 in maintenance. Many in the industry claimed that this kind of expense could not be justified by the kinds of contracts that existed in the effects industry at the time, but Whitney and Demos persisted.
At their peak, DP employed between 75 and 100 employees, and executed special effects for a number of films and advertisements. Some of the more notable projects include a whopping 27 minutes of CG for The Last Starfighter (which cost $14M (DP's contract was for $4.5M) and grossed only $21M), Mick Jagger's Hard Woman music video, Labyrinth, and the Jupiter sequence for 2010. Brad DeGraf created a connection for "Waldo" (from a sci-fi book by Robert Heinlein in the 40s), the digital puppet used by Henson Productions, to integrate motion activities in a real time sense (some belive this was the birth of motion capture). Keeping the Digital Scene Simulation process developed at III, they expanded the software to take advantage of the supercomputer architecture.
Equipment included E&S Picture Systems used for modeling, IMI vector graphics displays for defining the animation, and the Ramtek framebuffers used for raster display. Images were calculated and filmed at 2000x2560, and were recoreded on the modified PFR at speeds that could reach 12 seconds per image, due to a fast interface to the Cray. Some excess Cray cycles were sold to companies such as General Motors and Ford Motor for their own use.
In 1984 or 1985, the expenses of running the company, including the high cost of running the Cray, resulted in the need to discontinue the lease on the Cray, and DP was forced to purchase it outright for $17M. Later in 1985, CDC and Ramtek were both suffering financial woes, and they began to look for ways to get out of the movie making business. In June of 1986, they agreed to terms, and DP was bought in a hostile takeover by Omnibus Computer Graphics from Canada. Whitney and Demos sued Ramtek for part of the sale proceeds, and were subsequently locked out of their offices in July and a counter suit was filed alleging that W/D started a competing company (Whitney/Demos Productions) and hired away employees. Omnibus changed the Digital Scene Simulation concept to Omnibus Simulation. They also took over Able and Associates that year, and the entire venture fell apart in 1987. (See the discussion in the Omnibus page.)
See DigitalOmnibusAbel list at http://www.rhythm.com/~rpaul/doa/people.html
Gary Demos and John Whitney Jr. with Cray supercomputer
The Digital Productions Cray XMP
Scene from The Last Starfighters
One of the starfighters from The Last Starfighters
Scene from Hard Woman
Clip from Hard Woman
|Name||Came from||Went to||Comments|
|John Whitney, Jr.||III||Whitney/Demos|
|Kevin Bjorke||Abel||Kroyer Films, Greenberg, deGraf/Wahrman, Pixar|