updated 9/9/2004 9:34:36 AM ET 2004-09-09T13:34:36

A supercomputer used to generate the special effects for the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy is turning to commerce, offering its power to commercial customers worldwide, backers said Thursday.

Ranked 80th among the world's top 500 powerful computers, it can perform 2.8 trillion calculations per second, said Eric Pilon, a spokesman for the New Zealand Supercomputing Center.

The center is a venture by "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson's special effects studio, Weta Digital, and Gen-i, a subsidiary of former telecommunications monopoly New Zealand Telecom.

The companies said they're offering researchers the largest supercomputing cluster available for commercial hire in the Southern Hemisphere.

Weta and Gen-i said in a statement that they hope to upgrade the computer's power by adding extra servers, putting it among the top 10 of the world's most powerful supercomputers.

Gen-i group general manager Chris Quin said universities, research organizations and businesses will be able to access the supercomputer "on demand," booking all or some of its processing capacity for as long as they need it.

The center is expected to be used for tasks such as computer-aided engineering and economic and financial modeling, he noted.

Weta Digital is jointly owned by Peter Jackson and fellow Oscar award winners Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk.

Jackson's studios began shooting a remake of the 1933 classic film "King Kong" on Monday, and the director has said the giant ape will be entirely computer-generated.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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