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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.

Looking back at earlier films, storage and data management was clunkier and monolithic. “There were lots of silos of storage - monolithic, large storage systems where you had a controller and a myriad of discs,” he said.

“At the end of making Happy Feet, we were running 14 silos of storage that had to be accessed by a combination of the farm and users. In order to manage those resources we had two full time people managing them around the clock.

"They were managing performance and capacity and to manage it they had to move data around. If there was a big render that occurred at night across five of these silos, and they were almost full, they would have to move the data over to ones that were less full. They were constantly moving stuff around. It was a big job and quite inefficient.”

Thankfully, he said today’s storage architecture is much more granular, enabling building blocks that can scale up in relatively small chunks.

“We don’t have these huge, chunky, monolithic whole rack type investments needed to to grow storage,” he said.

He explained that the organisation appreciates the “one bucket managed, single file system” approach and, as as result, is running EMC's Isilon network-attached storage platform with 7 petabytes of primary and DR storage.

“We are really pushing it in terms of performance,” said Timbs, adding there are new features in terms of the operating system which unlock hidden potential in the hardware via creative software development. “One of the most recent was L3 cache, which allows us to more fully utilise the SSDs that are in the appliances.”

Tech advancements

Shen asked about the main benefits to movie making from the latest technology enhancements, Timbs said the core value proposition is around iterating.

“The more you iterate in the pipeline (the more cycles you can go through the pipeline), the more you can distil the final creative product so you get a better looking image at the end of it.

“Some of the shots we work on are done hundreds of times, over and over again, either because of a fundamental creative change by the director or art director, or because we want a different camera angle - so they keep iterating until they get the best final creative output.

"The amount of iterations we can do and the speed at which we can iterate is many times faster these days - a large part of that is due to technology and automation.”

During the making of The Lego Movie, for example, he required massive amounts of data - the film peaked at 345 terabytes.

No doubt, storage has been his big focus given the escalating data demands.


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