Computer, graphics production, Silicon Graphics Onyx 1, metal / plastic / electronic components, made by Silicon Graphics Inc, Sunnyvale, California, United States of America, 1994
The Onyx-1 is a 1.5m high by 0.75m wide rack cabinet of electronics containing numerous circuit boards, a power supply and cooling system. It has a decorative front surface, grey side panels and a rear panel with numerous data and video signal connectors.
It is a specialised graphics workstation that uses the 'geometry engine' very-large scale integrated circuit (VLSI) developed by James Clark, the founder of SGI. The Geometry engine does the mathematically intensive tasks necessary for the generation of 2-D and 3-D images in a computer graphics system. These tasks are the matrix manipulations required for moving, rotating and doing perspective transformations of an object, clipping the object to fit the frame of the viewing 'window' and the scaling of the relative size of the object so that it fits the requirements of the particular type of output system utilised, e.g. film or videotape. It thus takes the load off the CPU for mathematically intensive commands. The version of the geometry engine used in this machine was known as a Reality Engine.
The processing section is a parallel multi-processor computer, capable of accommodating up to 24 processors. The processor used was the MIPS R4400, a 150MHz clock, pipelined instruction processing, 64-bit data path chip released in 1993. The basic configuration of the machine consisted in a 4 processor board with slots for an extra 5 boards. It could utilise up to 16-gigabytes of memory and included a 2-GB hard disk drive. The operating system was IRIX, a variation of Unix specially developed by SGI to maximise the functionality of their geometry engine graphics processor.
Silicon Graphics, Computer Systems, Onyx
The Onyx-1 is a specialised 'supercomputer' that marks a significant step in the development of computer graphics and animation production technologies used in television commercials and film production. Also known as a Reality Engine, the name of the graphics calculation card it used, it led the way in special-purpose computing systems using existing and newly designed devices to make the production of high-end graphics feasible within the time-frames and resolution requirements of the television and film industries. It is a good example from the short period in computing when large, very fast systems became available for commercial rather than military purposes. They were superseded by clusters of PCs. Most of the Geometry Engine's tasks are now carried out by the graphics display card of the modern PC, which has been driven by the needs of the computer game industry.
It employs specially developed hardware (the 'Reality Engine') to carry out the mathematically intensive tasks of creating both fantastic and realistic 3D computer models of objects and creatures. Up until the mid-1980s computer graphics had to be produced on large-scale general purpose mainframe computers with purpose-built application software. Smaller systems, such as the graphics workstations used in architecture or the PC based systems used in 2D paintbox image making for corporate purposes, were extremely slow and of inadequate resolution when it came to graphic and animation work for film production. As the industry grew, new technologies had to be developed to allow the production industry's demands to be fulfilled.
Australia has a significant reputation on the world stage for the quality of its graphics production and the development of high-end production software. This particular machine was imported by the Future Reality Company for Garner MacLennan Design (GMD), which at the time was a strong competitor for Animal Logic and was engaged in television commercials. When this particular machine was first brought into the country the Defence Department had to clear it as it was considered to be a supercomputer. Once it arrived at GMD it was upgraded to a 16 processor system and installed in the GMD facility in Crows Nest, Sydney.
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