DreamWorks, Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic are officially on notice: New challengers to those well-known U.S. companies in the field of computer-generated filmmaking are cropping up quickly in parts of the world far from Hollywood.
Naturally, this is all very good news for the data storage sector, because storage is where all the high-performance computing digital film files need to live until they are assembled into a movie that will sell lots of tickets. And double-digit terabytes of storage are required for each movie, so the amount of new hardware and software to be bought is significant.
In fact, digital video storage is the single fastest-growing sector within the storage industry at the moment, according to analysts at IDC, Forrester and Enterprise Strategy Group.
Another factor driving storage demand is the increasing use of video surveillance in businesses and by municipal governments.
The City and County of San Francisco, for example, recently bought a whole new set of video cameras and accompanying storage hardware and software to monitor key city intersections, so police can catch renegade drivers who run red lights.
The second-largest vertical within the video storage industry is feature filmmaking.
eWEEK recently featured DreamWorks’ storage system, which uses mostly products from NetApp, Ibrix and Hewlett-Packard. Its extremely powerful dual-core Intel “Woodcrest”-powered workstations have been supplied by HP for the last seven years.
DreamWorks, like many other studios, is continually buying new storage. “Storage isn’t a buying decision anymore,” DreamWorks Senior Technologist Skottie Miller told me. “It’s a way of life.”
Isilon Systems’ industrial-strength Linux-cluster storage is a favorite among other media and entertainment companies, such as NBC Universal. Other big buyers of this storage technology are telecommunications companies, oil and gas exploration companies, and Web 2.0 companies.
Storage hardware maker BlueArc has also become a major player in this sector in the last three years. Soho VFX Studios, an up-and-coming special effects house in Toronto, utilized BlueArc’s Titan storage system in the creation of “The Incredible Hulk,” which is now doing very well at the box office.
The Orphanage, another respected independent special-effects studio with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver, British Columbia, used BlueArc storage to power scene production for the recently released “Iron Man” action film that led box office sales for several weeks this spring. The Orphanage also helped produce “Superman Returns,” among other films.
Lastly, Scanline, a German-based special effects studio and another BlueArc user, recently worked with Walden Media to bring “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” to the big screen.
“What’s happening in terms of digital media storage is very similar to what we are witnessing for enterprise storage overall-total data deluge, and accessing specific data is more important than ever for companies’ bottom lines and quality of work,” Berj Bannayan, co-founder and software engineer of Soho VFX, told me.
Constant Flood of Data
Soho VFX turned to BlueArc storage for the Herculean task of bringing Marvel Comics characters to life in “The Incredible Hulk.” Despite the immense size and volume of files used to render fight sequences between the Hulk and his archenemy, the Abomination, the project proved to be well within the capability of the BlueArc Titan 2000 series server that anchors the visual effects studio’s production technology infrastructure.
“Certainly nobody else had done as much work on ‘Incredible Hulk,’ since we did both main characters, Hulk and Abomination,” Bannayan said. “We were one of only two companies to do that. We chose BlueArc Titan for its capacity and throughput, and ‘Hulk,’ our largest project yet, gave us the opportunity to really take advantage of Titan’s strengths.”
The scope and sophistication of the project sequences, characters and dynamics-smoke, flames and water-meant managing a constant flood of data, compounded by rendering day and night in the final weeks of production, Bannayan said.
“As we build a sequence, the sheer volume of shots could create problems of scale, but for ‘Hulk,’ as for our past projects, BlueArc and Titan never let us down,” Bannayan said.
Soho VFX generated a number of shots for major fight scenes between the Hulk and the Abomination in a bottling plant and on the rooftops of New York. Creating these sequences placed simultaneous split-second demands on Titan for hundreds of gigabytes of data-intensive image files as well as intermediate files produced in the three-dimensional animation project.
Texture-mapping work meant loading 700GB of color-related data over and over again in any given week, Bannayan said.
As long as people keep buying tickets to CG movies in high numbers, competition will remain fierce among storage vendors mentioned earlier, who will keep competing for this key storage business based on arrays with high throughput and low cost per terabyte of capacity.