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The ‘logic’ and IT magic behind animated movie making

Jennifer O'Brien | Jan. 30, 2017
An increased focus on data management is transforming the way Animal Logic makes movies.


Animal Logic's Alex Timbs

Animal Logic, the Australian-based digital studio behind movies such as Babe, The Great Gatsby and Happy Feet, knows a thing or two about data management.

Its head of IT, Alex Timbs, has plenty of experience dealing with the storage and networking demands of movie making. He chatted with CIO Australia about how an increased focus on data management is transforming the way the company makes movies.

Currently, he manages the IT demands of a team that is working on five projects, including two animated features: Lego Batman Movie, which is slated for release early this year, and Lego Ninjago Movie, which is slated for mid-year.

In discussing his ups and downs as head of IT, Timbs said he recognises the enormous responsibility he holds leading the company’s tech strategy and master IT vision. The design, animation and visual effects company employs 500 staff in Sydney, 100 in Vancouver and 70 in Los Angeles.

“It is an incredibly privileged position to be around so many creative people and working for a company that is at the forefront of animation and visual effects. It is up there globally and certainly on a path of expansion. I’m not creative in the drawing or traditional artistic sense, but we have to consider ourselves creative in the technical space,” Timbs told CIO.

“We face huge challenges and we need to find creative ways to address those issues. It is incredibly challenging because of the breadth of responsibility and size of the infrastructure. We definitely need to nurture high end IT personnel that can deal with the stress and challenges. At the end of the day, all of them are all creative because they’re finding creative solutions to crazy problems that come up every day.”

He said dealing with the ongoing demands of networking, storage and data management top the list of things that keep him up at night.

“Most of our challenges relate to resources or resourcing the cyclic nature of our business. We do very large projects in animated feature, which can take three years from story to finished images. We have a very steep ramp up and sometimes that ramp up can occur quite late in the film and can require a very significant amount of extra resources which includes storage, render (in particular), and human resources,” he said.

HR drives things like workstation needs, licensing, and dealing with the increase in network throughput (increased number of storage nodes and farm nodes).

“It is challenging in the sense that sometimes we need these massive amounts of resources for a relatively short periods of time - it is really bursty. You could go from needing double the amount of storage that you had six months ago, and you might only need that for six months and then you can start archiving.”

 

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