New and complex special effects were developed to create the hit movie Spiderman Homecoming a box office favorite. Image: Sony Imageworks
We’re all familiar with the annual awards programs given to films like the Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globe Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and others. And most movie fans also know about the accolades given for animation and visual effects (VFX). But how many recognize the critical back-end technologies that make these films possible in our digital age today?
Film and television productions continue to march ahead, incorporating more life-like animation and 3D-effects that turbocharge the viewer experience. As one might imagine, the growth and development in VFX and animation naturally changes the needs of the underlying technology infrastructure.
These enhancements generate massive amounts of unstructured data (video and image files) that strain existing storage infrastructure’s ability to respond during render jobs, which, in turn, fosters production delays and degraded rendering performance during periods of peak demand.
As a result, creative studios need infrastructure that will not only allow production teams to manage, scale and refine data easily, but also make it easier for teams to move and utilize data across studios. These studios are very often scattered across the globe due to the international and interconnected nature of today’s motion picture industry.
Increasingly, more VFX studios are turning to hybrid cloud technology to accommodate cutting-edge workflows and animation more effectively and efficiently. Studio productions like Game of Thrones, Gravity, Despicable Me, Everest and Life of Pets all used hybrid cloud storage to meet growth and performance challenges that come with bringing to life extraordinary VFX. Let’s look at some of the more critical challenges facing production studios today.
For one, increased rendering demands and the need to decrease pressure on computing resources is mandatory for studios today. Rendering can make the difference between a box-office miss and the blockbuster movie that packs the house with spectacular scenes and riveting sequences. Producing these gripping scenes demands massive high-speed storage resources—and studios must balance visual impact with the realities of tight budgets and production schedules.
Hybrid cloud network attached storage (NAS) solutions give studios maximum flexibility to store data and run applications on premises or in the cloud, wherever it makes the most sense to continue to create spellbinding visual effects that keep audiences coming back for more. This is particularly important given the distance-related latency challenges engendered by geographically dispersed production studios.
Another critical challenge facing production studios is the need to manage what has become the normal course of affairs in their business: peak workloads that occur in great bursts along with far lower workloads when studios are not in production or post-production.
Sony Imageworks Spiderman Homecomming
Spider-Man: Homecoming - Plane Battle Sequence. Credit: Sony Pictures Imageworks.
Not only that, but studios need to be able to scale, too. And when peak rendering is occurring, most often it consumes all the available storage bandwidth, creating undesirable slowdowns in workflow. Consider that it’s not uncommon for peak processing of CGI-dependent film sequences to scale up to more than 15,000 microprocessor cores.
Thanks to ongoing technology innovations, solutions are available today that deliver performance in excess of 100,000 I/O operations per second to reduce rendering times dramatically. Accelerated workflows and predictable performance help studios produce high-quality work, delivered reliably and efficiently to meet aggressive project schedules.
By moving to hybrid cloud technology and caching hot data at the edge of render farms running in the cloud, VFX studios can do more in less time, meeting tight deadlines while upholding performance and lowering costs overall. This caching permits shops to add larger numbers of cloud-based render nodes, and even multiple render farms.
One way to achieve this scalability and flexibility is through cloud bursting and the long-term cost savings of on-premises enterprise storage.
Cloud bursting allows VFX studios to quickly move or “burst” their enterprise applications from their data center into the public cloud to enable massive compute on-demand. Keep in mind, however, that for burst compute efforts to be feasible and economical, VFX studios need a complementary storage solution running in the cloud that provides seamless access to on-premises NAS while minimizing latency and eliminating throughput bottlenecks. The solution should provide dataset access to multiple cloud regions, since frequently artists are located in different parts of the world, to ensure scalability for growing workloads, and enable fast storage-resource setup and teardown for maximum agility and efficiency.
It’s also possible today to speed the performance of VFX studios’ existing architecture, avoiding the tremendous expense of forklift upgrades. Technologies are available that offload the performance from an existing NAS, enabling them to be built with cost-effective and dense nearline storage at a savings of 50 percent or more.
By separating performance from capacity, physical costs go down. VFX studios therefore need less space, less power and less cooling even as performance improves. Operating expenses can stop climbing as the infrastructure gains performance in a smaller footprint.
As we can see, there’s a tremendous amount going on “behind the scenes” beyond just the visual effects magic seen in today’s award-winning blockbusters. There is a vast technology infrastructure required to support the amazing effects we see in films today and many VFX studios are already reaping the benefits of hybrid cloud environments to meet ever-rising production demands.
Scott Jeschonek, Director, Cloud Solutions at Avere Systems