What is SGI CEO Mark Barrenechea not telling us?
What is SGI CEO Mark Barrenechea not telling us?
There’s long been a rumour going round that the Silicon Graphics laptops in Twister were a real product, developed internally, and killed off without seeing the light of day. An SGI laptop is one of those recurring urban legends that everyone wishes was true. You could indeed get a Silicon Graphics laptop, but not in the way everyone thinks.
The laptops in Twister were fakes. They were mockups made by the special effects department, build around a Silicon Graphics Presenter display wired off-screen into an SGI Indy.
You can read the full story of the effects in Twister on Banned From The Ranch’s website – have a look at http://www.bftr.com/Pages/projects/twister.html
SGI product placement dictated that ALL of the computers in the film had to be SGIs, so we had the task of making not only two distinctly different sets of graphics for nearly every scene, but different-looking EQUIPMENT between the two teams. This was nowhere more evident than with the SGI “laptops,” which of course didn’t exist. With the tireless dedication and help of Dan Evanicky at SGI, we were able to design and build two different fake laptop shells around the SGI Corona LCD flatscreen displays, with seven functional and seven dummy cases for each design, we had a handful to take care of; each “laptop” had a powerful custom backlight run off a separate 12-volt DC power supply and multiple cables which ran back off the set (often through mud and puddles) to the Indy CPUs which fed them.
Silicon Graphics Indys were used throughout Congo. The TraviCom datacentre featured Indys on the desks – complete with Indycam – as well as the 17″ SGI granite CRTs embedded in the walls and littering the desks.
There was also a mockup Indy laptop that was used in the field by Laura Linney’s character. Again, this was rigged up by the special effects team.
When the O2 was being designed and built, some of the team decided to build a laptop around the O2 parts. You can see some screenshots, pictures of the machine, and some background story on the project at http://www.jumboprawn.net/jesse/projs/laptop.html
This was a one-off special build by the engineers working on the O2, and sadly never made it into production.
CRI are a company that build ruggedised military spec machines – essentially taking high performance Silicon Graphics kit, and giving it the full industrial makeover. At the moment they do rugged rack mounted Fuels, but back in the past they also created a rugged Indy laptop.
The old product page has been archived – check out the LinC3D 75-FS Indy laptop.
They were all destined for military use, and doubtless will one day show up at government surplus auctions. Popular rumour has it that one has been up in the space shuttle to the ISS, and that they were also used in ships by the US Navy.
These were the only production SGI laptops made, and they weren’t even made by Silicon Graphics. Given the high price of the Tadpole SPARCbook machines in the 1990s, I shudder to think how much these would have cost. Damn cool though.
Films rarely depict computing accurately – largely because, let’s face it, sitting in front of a terminal hacking away is hardly the most exciting thing to watch. Back in Jurassic Park, when Lex was trying to hack into the computer system to get the power back online, she used a 3D file manager. Lots of people liked to cite this as a great example of how Hollywood just ‘didn’t get’ computers.
What most people fail to realise is that FSN, the File System Navigator, was an demo system tool from Silicon Graphics IRIX. You use to be able to download it direct from the (now sadly defunct) Serious Fun freeware pages on the Silicon Graphics website. Hey, this is Silicon Graphics we’re talking about – who else would make a 3D file browser in with their OS?
Gerhard Lenerz has some more information and some good screen grabs on his site at http://sgistuff.g-lenerz.de/movies/jpark.php – I can recommend a good browse on there as he has some great SGI resources.
FSV, the File System Visualiser, is a re-creation of FSN for UNIX systems that have OpenGL. I can recommend grabbing it and having a play – it works under OS X for some truly silly fun.
Film appearances aside, FSN was an interesting approach to deal with ‘information overload’ and to use powerful computer graphics to provide a simpler interface to something complex (in this case, the IRIX filesystem).
After Y2K was a comic started by Nitrozac and Snaggy way way back … before Y2K in fact. Sadly it’s no longer being updated, but the archives are still available on the Joy Of Tech website.
The pinnacle of the entire AY2K comic (for me at least, anyway) was when the survivors of the Y2K disaster tried to rebuilt computing using the humble abacus – leading to Abacus World Expo!
And the comic that made me laugh out loud was this one:
You can view the full page here – I can recommend reading from the beginning, it’s good stuff.
He loves his Silicon Graphics Octane. Found this fantastic old SGI promotional video on YouTube, where Steve Jobs shares his love for the Octane.
Admittedly this was when he was CEO at Pixar – it’s not like it was last week or anything. Still worth a chuckle though.
And it’s interesting to note that WETA Digital were still using Silicon Graphics Octanes years later for effects in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.