Cloud Rendering Is in the Mix
Ninety-minute-long 3D films made in 2011 require north of 100TB of storage capacity in the studio's data center farm, Leonard said. Because of these new requirements for Kung Fu Panda 2, DreamWorks added a cloud services center to the mix for added storage and more agile operations. "We did a lot of cloud rendering on this movie," Leonard said. "We were very aggressive in moving that massive amount of compute that we need to finish these films. It used to be that we had to have all this stuff within our walls and under our control, but with this movie, we pushed a lot of it out to the cloud.During the next year, Leonard said, the company will be moving more of its rendering to its cloud storage system (run by both DreamWorks and HP). Eventually, most of the tedious rendering duties will be done outside its walls. "This gives us the opportunity to lower our production costs, but, more importantly, it gives us the ability to -flex up' when we need it," he pointed out. "We can add or subtract some things quickly from a screening, or add a little more of something else, and we don't have to worry about buying more servers or building out our data center. We just make the call and we have more compute." DreamWorks uses HP's data center in Las Vegas and Cerelink's in Corrales, N.M. "If we build a data center somewhere and render there, it's not really the cloud," Leonard said. "We prefer to work with our partners on that." Leonard said that despite all the additional work and technology that goes into a high-quality, two-camera, 3D rendition movie like Kung Fu Panda 2, the overall costs for these movies are actually going down at DreamWorks. "That's because the process is so much faster and more efficient, [which enables] our artists to collaborate more often and get things done faster," he said. "If you can give artists 10 iterations instead of five, they can try 10 things instead of five things, and, in time, you're going to get a better film. That's what we've been doing with tools and technologies that allow us to deal with massive amounts of data and ever-increasing complexity, but do it in a way that makes the experience of the artists better." Of course, all this requires a huge storage capacity. DreamWorks, which uses mostly NetApp and HP for its data storage needs, may have actually lost count of exactly how much storage it owns. When asked how often he needs to purchase new storage, Miller told eWEEK: "Storage isn't a buying decision anymore-it's a way of life." "We have to store an awful lot of video," he explained. "For example, there are 129,600 video frames in one 90-minute movie. Most scenes are 5 minutes or less in length. But there's so much more [artwork] created that goes into the process before it's finally cut down and melded together into a cohesive movie. Basically, we're just doing file-based supercomputing every day at work."
"I would say that more than 10 million render hours were rendered in the cloud, which is about 20 percent or more of the film-and that is a pretty big deal."