Purdue research computing grid is no Toy Story, but a new animated video about it is close

November 12, 2009

If Purdue University computer graphics technology student Micah Bojrab gets his dream job with a Hollywood animation studio, a system for harnessing unused computers to do cutting-edge research will have played a part. The DiaGrid system developed by Purdue inspired a video combining computer animation and real-life scenes that would make Pixar proud.

See the DiaGrid video at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH_YHGYQl2g.

“This is the most complex thing I’ve ever done,” said Bojrab, a Purdue master’s student who graduates next spring. Bojrab led the team that created the animation, which took more than 750 hours to render. The team also included Purdue students Chris Sprunger and Pan Wen.

The project gave the students real-world experience beyond anything possible in the classroom, said David Braun, who heads the visualization facility operated by ITaP, Purdue’s central information technology organization. ITaP, which also operates DiaGrid, employed the students for the video project. Jason Doty, a producer/director for ITaP’s video and multimedia unit, shot the live footage and combined it with the animation.

DiaGrid pools computers over the Purdue campus network and off campus via the Internet and fast research networks. Whenever machines in the pool are idle—at night, when their owners are at lunch and otherwise—the system sends work to them. Campus Technology Magazine selected DiaGrid for a 2009 international Campus Technology Innovators Award. Purdue is promoting DiaGrid, and premiering the DiaGrid video, at SC09, the world’s largest high-performance computing conference, which opens Monday in Portland, Ore., and ends Friday Nov. 20.

The video mixes animated computer chips, stamped with the DiaGrid logo, arrayed like an extremely long row of dominoes. When the inevitable happens, and the chips begin to fall, they travel from Purdue’s supercomputing center into the world at large. The dominoes move through Purdue campus scenes, past high-tech windmills in central Indiana and down rustic railroad tracks, among other things. The line also rolls by scenery on the campuses of Purdue’s DiaGrid partners, including Notre Dame’s “Touchdown Jesus.” In the end, the domino chips cover a map of the U.S. forming DiaGrid’s logo.

The video highlights two key elements of DiaGrid: the nearly 30,000 computer processors the system makes available to researchers nationwide and Purdue’s goal of a national partnership to push the total over 100,000. Current partners include Indiana University, Indiana State University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Louisville, the University of Wisconsin, Purdue’s Calumet and North Central campuses, and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. DiaGrid has been used for everything from imaging viruses at an atomic level to probing the formation of the Solar System.

While high-tech computer graphics are central to the video, clever low-tech tools enabled finishing touches. Doty couldn’t find a good sound effect for the falling domino chips, until he hit on the idea of recording two CD jewel cases clacking together. Braun found the reflective chrome ball, used to capture lighting information at the live scenes so the animation could be realistically lighted—for $11 in the aisle devoted to garden ornaments at a local home improvement store.

Writer: Greg Kline, science and technology writer, Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), 765-494-8167 (office), 765-426-8545 (mobile), gkline@purdue.edu

Sources: Micah Bojrab, 260-402-2476, mbojrab@purdue.edu

David Braun, 765-496-7888, info@envision.purdue.edu

Jason Doty, 765 -494-7091, rjdoty@purdue.edu

Originally posted: November 12, 2009