Tag Archives: visual effects

VFX house Kevin adds three industry vets

Venice, California-based visual effects house Kevin, founded by Tim Davies, Sue Troyan and Darcy Parsons, has beefed up its team even further with the hiring of head of CG Mike Dalzell, VFX supervisor Theo Maniatis and head of technology Carl Loeffler. This three-month-old studio has already worked on spots for Jaguar, Land Rover, Target and Old Spice, and is currently working on a series of commercials for the Super Bowl.

Dalzell brings years of experience as a CG aupervisor and lead artist — he started as a 3D generalist before focusing on look development and lighting — at top creative studios including Digital Domain, MPC and Psyop, The Mill, Sony Imageworks and Method. He was instrumental in look development for VFX Gold Clio and British Arrow-winner Call of Duty Seize Glory and GE’s Childlike Imagination. He has also worked on commercials for Nissan, BMW, Lexus, Visa, Cars.com, Air Force and others. Early on, Dalzell honed his skills on music videos in Toronto, and then on feature films such as Iron Man 3 and The Matrix movies, as well as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Maniatis, a Flame artist and on-set VFX supervisor, has a wide breadth of experience in the US, London and his native Sydney. “Tim [Davies] and I used to work together back in Australia, so reconnecting with him and moving to LA has been a blast.”

Maniatis’s work includes spots for Apple Watch 3 + Apple Music’s Roll (directed by Sam Brown), TAG Heuer’s To Jack (directed by and featuring Patrick Dempsey), Destiny 2’s Rally the Troops and Titanfall 2’s Become One (via Blur Studios), and PlayStation VR’s Batman Arkham and Axe’s Office Love, both directed by Filip Engstrom. Prior to joining Kevin, Maniatis worked with Blur Studios, Psyop, The Mill, Art Jail and Framestore.

Loeffler is creating the studio’s production model using the latest Autodesk Flame systems, high-end 3D workstations and render nodes and putting new networking and storage systems into place. Kevin’s new Culver City studio will open its doors in Q1, 2018 and Loeffler will guide the current growth in both hardware and software, plan for the future and make sure Kevin’s studio is optimized for the needs of production. He has over two decades of experience building out and expanding the technologies for facilities including MPC and Technicolor.

Image: (L-R) Mike Dalzell, Carl Loeffler and Theo Maniatis.

Storage Roundtable

Production, post, visual effects, VR… you can’t do it without a strong infrastructure. This infrastructure must include storage and products that work hand in hand with it.

This year we spoke to a sampling of those providing storage solutions — of all kinds — for media and entertainment, as well as a storage-agnostic company that helps get your large files from point A to point B safely and quickly.

We gathered questions from real-world users — things that they would ask of these product makers if they were sitting across from them.

Quantum’s Keith Lissak
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
We offer a complete storage ecosystem based around our StorNext shared storage and data management solution,including Xcellis high-performance primary storage, Lattus object storage and Scalar archive and cloud. Our customers include broadcasters, production companies, post facilities, animation/VFX studios, NCAA and professional sports teams, ad agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Xcellis features continuous scalability and can be sized to precisely fit current requirements and scaled to meet future demands simply by adding storage arrays. Capacity and performance can grow independently, and no additional accelerators or controllers are needed to reach petabyte scale.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
We don’t have exact numbers, but a growing number of our customers are using cloud storage. Our FlexTier cloud-access solution can be used with both public (AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud) and private (StorageGrid, CleverSafe, Scality) storage.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
We offer a range of StorNext 4K Reference Architecture configurations for handling the demanding workflows, including 4K, 8K and VR. Our customers can choose systems with small or large form-factor HDDs, up to an all-flash SSD system with the ability to handle 66 simultaneous 4K streams.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
StorNext systems are OS-agnostic and can work with all Mac, Windows and Linux clients with no discernible difference.

Zerowait’s Rob Robinson
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Zerowait’s SimplStor storage product line provides storage administrators scalable, flexible and reliable on-site storage needed for their growing storage requirements and workloads. SimplStor’s platform can be configured to work in Linux or Windows environments and we have several customers with multiple petabytes in their data centers. SimplStor systems have been used in VFX production for many years and we also provide solutions for video creation and many other large data environments.

Additionally, Zerowait specializes in NetApp service, support and upgrades, and we have provided many companies in the media and VFX businesses with off-lease transferrable licensed NetApp storage solutions. Zerowait provides storage hardware, engineering and support for customers that need reliable and big storage. Our engineers support customers with private cloud storage and customers that offer public cloud storage on our storage platforms. We do not provide any public cloud services to our customers.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Our customers typically need on-site storage for processing speed and security. We have developed many techniques and monitoring solutions that we have incorporated into our service and hardware platforms. Our SimplStor and NetApp customers need storage infrastructures that scale into the multiple petabytes, and often require GigE, 10GigE or a NetApp FC connectivity solution. For customers that can’t handle the bandwidth constraints of the public Internet to process their workloads, Zerowait has the engineering experience to help our customers get the most of their on-premises storage.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based products (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Many of our customers use public cloud solutions for their non-proprietary data storage while using our SimplStor and NetApp hardware and support services for their proprietary, business-critical, high-speed and regulatory storage solutions where data security is required.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
SimplStor’s density and scalability make it perfect for use in HD and higher resolution environments. Our SimplStor platform is flexible and we can accommodate customers with special requests based on their unique workloads.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Zerowait’s NetApp and SimplStor platforms are compatible with both Linux (NFS) and Windows (CIFS) environments. OS X is supported in some applications. Every customer has a unique infrastructure and set of applications they are running. Customers will see differences in performance, but our flexibility allows us to customize a solution to maximize the throughput to meet workflow requirements.

Signiant’s Mike Nash
What kind of storage works with your solution, and who is the main user or users of that storage?
Signiant’s Media Shuttle file transfer solution is storage agnostic, and for nearly 200,000 media pros worldwide it is the primary vehicle for sending and sharing large files. Even though Media Shuttle doesn’t provide storage, and many users think of their data as “in Media Shuttle.” In reality, their files are located in whatever storage their IT department has designated. This might be the company’s own on-premises storage, or it could be their AWS or Microsoft Azure cloud storage tenancy. Our users employ a Media Shuttle portal to send and share files; they don’t have to think about where the files are stored.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their use or the bandwidth of their networks (or both)?
Media Shuttle is delivered as a cloud-native SaaS solution, so it can be up and running immediately for new customers, and it can scale up and down as demand changes. The servers that power the software are managed by our DevOps team and monitored 24×7 — and the infrastructure is auto-scaling and instantly available. Signiant does not charge for bandwidth, so customers can use our solutions with any size pipe at no additional cost. And while Media Shuttle can scale up to support the needs of the largest media companies, the SaaS delivery model also makes it accessible to even the smallest production and post facilities.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with cloud storage (i.e. AWS or Microsoft Azure)?
Cloud adoption within the M&E industry remains uneven, so it’s no surprise that we see a mixed picture when we look at the storage choices our customers make. Since we first introduced the cloud storage option, there has been a constant month-over-month growth in the number of customers deploying portals with cloud storage. It’s not yet in parity with on-prem storage, but the growth trends are clear.

On-premises content storage is very far from going away. We see many Media Shuttle customers taking a hybrid approach, with some portals using cloud storage and others using on-prem storage. It’s also interesting to note that when customers do choose cloud storage, we increasingly see them use both AWS and Azure.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
We can move any size of file. As media files continue to get bigger, the value of our solutions continues to rise. Legacy solutions such as FTP, which lack any file acceleration, will grind things to a halt if 4K, 8K, VR and other huge files need to be moved between locations. And consumer-oriented sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive become non-starters with these types of files.

What platforms do your system connect to (e.g. Mac OS X, Windows, Linux), and what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Media Shuttle is designed to work with a wide range of platforms. Users simply log in to portals using any web browser. In the background, a native application installed on the user’s personal computer provides the acceleration functionality. This App works with Windows or Mac OSX systems.

On the IT side of things, no installed software is required for portals deployed with cloud storage. To connect Media Shuttle to on-premises storage, the IT team will run Signiant software on a computer in the customer’s network. This server-side software is available for Linux and Windows.

NetApp’s Jason Danielson
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
NetApp has a wide portfolio of storage and data management products and services. We have four fundamentally different storage platforms — block, file, object and converged infrastructure. We use these platforms and our data fabric software to create a myriad of storage solutions that incorporate flash, disk and cloud storage.

1. NetApp E-Series block storage platform is used by leading shared file systems to create robust and high-bandwidth shared production storage systems. Boutique post houses, broadcast news operations and corporate video departments use these solutions for their production tier.
2. NetApp FAS network-attached file storage runs NetApp OnTap. This platform supports many thousands of applications for tens of thousands of customers in virtualized, private cloud and hybrid cloud environments. In media, this platform is designed for extreme random-access performance. It is used for rendering, transcoding, analytics, software development and the Internet-of-things pipelines.
3. NetApp StorageGrid Webscale object store manages content and data for back-up and active archive (or content repository) use cases. It scales to dozens of petabytes, billions of objects and currently 16 sites. Studios and national broadcast networks use this system and are currently moving content from tape robots and archive silos to a more accessible object tier.
4. NetApp SolidFire converged and hyper-converged platforms are used by cloud providers and enterprises running large private clouds for quality-of-service across hundreds to thousands of applications. Global media enterprises appreciate the ease of scaling, simplicity of QOS quota setting and overall maintenance for largest scale deployments.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
The four platforms mentioned above scale up and scale out to support well beyond the largest media operations in the world. So our challenge is not scalability for large environments but appropriate sizing for individual environments. We are careful to design storage and data management solutions that are appropriate to media operations’ individual needs.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Seven years ago, NetApp set out on a major initiative to build the data fabric. We are well on the path now with products designed specifically for hybrid cloud (a combination of private cloud and public cloud) workloads. While the uptake in media and entertainment is slower than in other industries, we now have hundreds of customers that use our storage in hybrid cloud workloads, from backup to burst compute.

We help customers wanting to stay cloud-agnostic by using AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, and Google Cloud Platform flexibly and as the project and pricing demands. AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM, Telsra and ASE along with another hundred or so cloud storage providers include NetApp storage and data management products in their service offerings.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
For higher bandwidth, or bitrate, video production we’ll generally architect a solution with our E-Series storage under either Quantum StorNext or PixitMedia PixStor. Since 2012, when the NetApp E5400 enabled the mainstream adoption of 4K workflows, the E-Series platform has seen three generations of upgrades and the controllers are now more than 4x faster. The chassis has remained the same through these upgrades so some customers have chosen to put the latest controllers into these chassis to improve bandwidth or to utilize faster network interconnect like 16 gigabit fibrechannel. Many post houses continue to use fibrechannel to the workstation for these higher bandwidth video formats while others have chosen to move to Ethernet (40 and 100 Gigabit). As flash (SSDs) continue to drop in price it is starting to be used for video production in all flash arrays or in hybrid configurations. We recently showed our new E570 all flash array supporting NVM Express over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) technology providing 21GB/s of bandwidth and 1 million IOPs with less than 100µs of latency. This technology is initially targeted at super-computing use cases and we will see if it is adopted over the next couple of years for UHD production workloads.

What platforms do your system connect to (Mac OSx, Windows, Linux, etc.), and what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
NetApp maintains a compatibility matrix table that delineates our support of hundreds of client operating systems and networking devices. Specifically, we support Mac OS X, Windows and various Linux distributions. Bandwidth expectations differ between these three operating systems and Ethernet and Fibre Channel connectivity options, but rather than make a blanket statement about these, we prefer to talk with customers about their specific needs and legacy equipment considerations.

G-Technology’s Greg Crosby
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Western Digital’s G-Technology products provide high-performing and reliable storage solutions for end-to-end creative workflows, from capture and ingest to transfer and shuttle, all the way to editing and final production.

The G-Technology brand supports a wide range of users for both field and in-studio work, with solutions that span a number of portable handheld drives — which are often times used to backup content on-the-go — all the way to in-studio drives that offer capacities up to 144TB. We recognize that each creative has their own unique workflow and some embrace the use of cloud-based products. We are proud to be companions to those cloud services as a central location to store raw content or a conduit to feed cloud features and capabilities.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Our line ranges from small portable and rugged drives to large, multi-bay RAID and NAS solutions, for all aspects of the media and entertainment industry. Integrating the latest interface technology such as USB-C or Thunderbolt 3, our storage solutions will take advantage of the ability to quickly transfer files.

We make it easy to take a ton of storage into the field. The G-Speed Shuttle XL drive is available in capacities up to 96TB, and an optional Pelican case, with handle, is available, making it easy to transport in the field and mitigating any concerns about running out of storage. We recently launched the G-Drive mobile SSD R-Series. This drive is built to withstand a three meter (nine foot) drop, and is able to endure accidental bumps or drops, given that it is a solid-state drive.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Many of our customers are using cloud-based solutions to complement their creative workflows. We find that most of our customers use our solutions as the primary storage or to easily transfer and shuttle their content since the cloud is not an efficient way to move large amounts of data. We see the cloud capabilities as a great way to share project files and low-resolution content, or collaborate with others on projects as well as distribute share a variety of deliverables.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Today’s camera technology enables not only capture at higher resolutions but also higher frame rates with more dynamic imagery. We have solutions that can easily support multi-stream 4K, 8K and VR workflows or multi-layer photo and visual effects projects. G-Technology is well positioned to support these creative workflows as we integrate the latest technologies into our storage solutions. From small portable and rugged SSD drives to high-capacity and fast multi-drive RAID solutions with the latest Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C interface technology we are ready tackle a variety of creative endeavors.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.), and what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Our complete portfolio of external storage solutions work for Mac and PC users alike. With native support for Apple Time Machine, these solutions are formatted for Mac OS out of the box, but can be easily reformatted for Windows users. G-Technology also has a number of strategic partners with technology vendors, including Apple, Atomos, Red Camera, Adobe and Intel.

Panasas’ David Sallak
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Panasas ActiveStor is an enterprise-class easy-to-deploy parallel scale-out NAS (network-attached storage) that combines Flash and SATA storage with a clustered file system accessed via a high-availability client protocol driver with support for standard protocols.

The ActiveStor storage cluster consists of the ActiveStor Director (ASD-100) control engine, the ActiveStor Hybrid (ASH-100) storage enclosure, the PanFS parallel file system, and the DirectFlow parallel data access protocol for Linux and Mac OS.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
ActiveStor is engineered to scale easily. There are no specific architectural limits for how widely the ActiveStor system can scale out, and adding more workloads and more users is accomplished without system downtime. The latest release of ActiveStor can grow either storage or bandwidth needs in an environment that lets metadata responsiveness, data performance and data capacity scale independently.

For example, we quote capacity and performance numbers for a Panasas storage environment containing 200 ActiveStor Hybrid 100 storage node enclosures with 5 ActiveStor Director 100 units for filesystem metadata management. This configuration would result in a single 57PB namespace delivering 360GB/s of aggregate bandwidth with an excess of 2.6M IOPs.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Panasas customers deploy workflows and workloads in ways that are well-suited to consistent on-site performance or availability requirements, while experimenting with remote infrastructure components such as storage and compute provided by cloud vendors. The majority of Panasas customers continue to explore the right ways to leverage cloud-based products in a cost-managed way that avoids surprises.

This means that workflow requirements for file-based storage continue to take precedence when processing real-time video assets, while customers also expect that storage vendors will support the ability to use Panasas in cloud environments where the benefits of a parallel clustered data architecture can exploit the agility of underlying cloud infrastructure without impacting expectations for availability and consistency of performance.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Panasas ActiveStor is engineered to deliver superior application responsiveness via our DirectFlow parallel protocol for applications working in compressed UHD, 4K and higher-resolution media formats. Compared to traditional file-based protocols such as NFS and SMB, DirectFlow provides better granular I/O feedback to applications, resulting in client application performance that aligns well with the compressed UHD, 4K and other extreme-resolution formats.

For uncompressed data, Panasas ActiveStor is designed to support large-scale rendering of these data formats via distributed compute grids such as render farms. The parallel DirectFlow protocol results in better utilization of CPU resources in render nodes when processing frame-based UHD, 4K and higher-resolution formats, resulting in less wall clock time to produce these formats.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Panasas ActiveStor supports macOS and Linux with our higher-performance DirectFlow parallel client software. We support all client platforms via NFS or SMB as well.

Users would notice that when connecting to Panasas ActiveStor via DirectFlow, the I/O experience is as if users were working with local media files on internal drives, compared to working with shared storage where normal protocol access may result in the slight delay associated with open network protocols.

Facilis’ Jim McKenna
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
We have always focused on shared storage for the facility. It’s high-speed attached storage and good for anyone who’s cutting HD or 4K. Our workflow and management features really make us different than basic network storage. We have attachment to the cloud through software that uses all the latest APIs.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Most of our large customers have been with us for several years, and many started pretty small. Our method of scalability is flexible in that you can decide to simply add expansion drives, add another server, or add a head unit that aggregates multiple servers. Each method increases bandwidth as well as capacity.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Many customers use cloud, either through a corporate gateway or directly uploaded from the server. Many cloud service providers have ways of accessing the file locations from the facility desktops, so they can treat it like another hard drive. Alternatively, we can schedule, index and manage the uploads and downloads through our software.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Facilis is known for our speed. We still support Fibre Channel when everyone else, it seems, has moved completely to Ethernet, because it provides better speeds for intense 4K and beyond workflows. We can handle UHD playback on 10Gb Ethernet, and up to 4K full frame DPX 60p through Fibre Channel on a single server enclosure.

What platforms do your systems connect to (e.g. Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
We have a custom multi-platform shared file system, not NAS (network attached storage). Even though NAS may be compatible with multiple platforms by using multiple sharing methods, permissions and optimization across platforms is not easily manageable. With Facilis, the same volume, shared one way with one set of permissions, looks and acts native to every OS and even shows up as a local hard disk on the desktop. You can’t get any more cross-platform compatible than that.

SwiftStack’s Mario Blandini
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
We offer hybrid cloud storage for media. SwiftStack is 100% software and runs on-premises atop the server hardware you already buy using local capacity and/or capacity in public cloud buckets. Data is stored in cloud-native format, so no need for gateways, which do not scale. Our technology is used by broadcasters for active archive and OTT distribution, digital animators for distributed transcoding and mobile gaming/eSports for massive concurrency among others.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
The SwiftStack software architecture separates access, storage and management, where each function can be run together or on separate hardware. Unlike storage hardware with the mix of bandwidth and capacity being fixed to the ports and drives within, SwiftStack makes it easy to scale the access tier for bandwidth independently from capacity in the storage tier by simply adding server nodes on the fly. On the storage side, capacity in public cloud buckets scales and is managed in the same single namespace.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Objectively, use of capacity in public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform is still “early days” for many users. Customers in media however are on the leading edge of adoption, not only for hybrid cloud extending their on-premises environment to a public cloud, but also using a second source strategy across two public clouds. Two years ago it was less than 10%, today it is approaching 40%, and by 2020 it looks like the 80/20 rule will likely apply. Users actually do not care much how their data is stored, as long as their user experience is as good or better than it was before, and public clouds are great at delivering content to users.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Arguably, larger assets produced by a growing number of cameras and computers have driven the need to store those assets differently than in the past. A petabyte is the new terabyte in media storage. Banks have many IT admins, where media shops have few. SwiftStack has the same consumption experience as public cloud, which is very different than on-premises solutions of the past. Licensing is based on the amount of data managed, not the total capacity deployed, so you pay-as-you-grow. If you save four replicas or use erasure coding for 1.5X overhead, the price is the same.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
The great thing about cloud storage, whether it is on-premises or residing with your favorite IaaS providers like AWS and Google, the interface is HTTP. In other words, every smartphone, tablet, Chromebook and computer has an identical user experience. For classic applications on systems that do not support AWS S3 as an interface, users see the storage as a mount point or folder in their application — either NFS or SMB. The best part, it is a single namespace where data can come in file, get transformed via object, and get read either way, so the user experience does not need to change even though the data is stored in the most modern way.

Dell EMC’s Tom Burns
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
At Dell EMC, we created two storage platforms for the media and entertainment industry: the Isilon scale-out NAS All-Flash, hybrid and archive platform to consolidate and simplify file-based workflows and the Dell EMC Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS), a scalable enterprise-grade private cloud solution that provides extremely high levels of storage efficiency, resiliency and simplicity designed for both traditional and next-generation workloads.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
In the media industry, change is inevitable. That’s why every Isilon system is built to rapidly and simply adapt by allowing the storage system to scale performance and capacity together, or independently, as more space or processing power is required. This allows you to scale your storage easily as your business needs dictate.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Over the past five years, Dell EMC media and entertainment customers have added more than 1.5 exabytes of Isilon and ECS data storage to simplify and accelerate their workflows.

Isilon’s cloud tiering software, CloudPools, provides policy-based automated tiering that lets you seamlessly integrate with cloud solutions as an additional storage tier for the Isilon cluster at your data center. This allows you to address rapid data growth and optimize data center storage resources by using the cloud as a highly economical storage tier with massive storage capacity.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
As technologies that enhance the viewing experience continue to emerge, including higher frame rates and resolutions, uncompressed 4K, UHD, high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut (WCG), underlying storage infrastructures must effectively scale to keep up with expanding performance requirements.

Dell EMC recently launched the sixth generation of the Isilon platform, including our all-flash (F800), which brings the simplicity and scalability of NAS to uncompressed 4K workflows — something that up until now required expensive silos of storage or complex and inefficient push-pull workflows.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
With Dell EMC Isilon, you can streamline your storage infrastructure by consolidating file-based workflows and media assets, eliminating silos of storage. Isilon scale-out NAS includes integrated support for a wide range of industry-standard protocols allowing the major operating systems to connect using the most suitable protocol, for optimum performance and feature support, including Internet Protocols IPv4, and IPv6, NFS, SMB, HTTP, FTP, OpenStack Swift-based Object access for your cloud initiatives and native Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS).

The ECS software-defined cloud storage platform provides the ability to store, access, and manipulate unstructured data and is compatible with existing Amazon S3, OpenStack Swift APIs, EMC CAS and EMC Atmos APIs.

EditShare’s Lee Griffin
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Our storage platforms are tailored for collaborative media workflows and post production. It combines the advanced EFS (that’s EditShare File System, in short) distributed file system with intelligent load balancing. It’s a scalable, fault-tolerant architecture that offers cost-effective connectivity. Within our shared storage platforms, we have a unique take on current cloud workflows, with current security and reliability of cloud-based technology prohibiting full migration to cloud storage for production, EditShare AirFlow uses EFS on-premise storage to provide secure access to media from anywhere in the world with a basic Internet connection. Our main users are creative post houses, broadcasters and large corporate companies.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Recently, we upgraded all our platforms to EFS and introduced two new single-node platforms, the EFS 200 and 300. These single-node platforms allow users to grow their storage whilst keeping a single namespace which eliminates management of multiple storage volumes. It enables them to better plan for the future, when their facility requires more storage and bandwidth, they can simply add another node.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
No production is in one location, so the ability to move media securely and back up is still a high priority to our clients. From our Flow media asset management and via our automation module, we offer clients the option to backup their valuable content to places like Amazon S3 servers.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than HD resolutions?
We have many clients working with UHD content who are supplying programming content to broadcasters, film distributors and online subscription media providers. Our solutions are designed to work effortlessly with high data rate content, enabling the bandwidth to expand with the addition of more EFS nodes to the intelligent storage pool. So, our system is ready and working now for 4K content and is future proof for even higher data rates in the future.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
EditShare supplies native client EFS drivers to all three platforms, allowing clients to pick and choose which platform they want to work on. If it is an Autodesk Flame for VFX, a Resolve for grading or our own Lightworks for editing on Linux, we don’t mind. In fact, EFS offers a considerable bandwidth improvement when using our EFS drivers over existing AFP and SMB protocol. Improved bandwidth and speed to all three platforms makes for happy clients!

And there are no differences when clients connect. We work with all three platforms the same way, offering a unified workflow to all creative machines, whether on Mac, Windows or PC.

Scale Logic’s Bob Herzan
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
Scale Logic has developed an ecosystem (Genesis Platform) that includes servers, networking, metadata controllers, single and dual-controller RAID products and purpose-built appliances.

We have three different file systems that allow us to use the storage mentioned above to build SAN, NAS, scale-out NAS, object storage and gateways for private and public cloud. We use a combination of disk, tape and Flash technology to build our tiers of storage that allows us to manage media content efficiently with the ability to scale seamlessly as our customers’ requirements change over time.

We work with customers that range from small to enterprise and everything in between. We have a global customer base that includes broadcasters, post production, VFX, corporate, sports and house of worship.

In addition to the Genesis Platform we have also certified three other tier 1 storage vendors to work under our HyperMDC SAN and scale-out NAS metadata controller (HPE, HDS and NetApp). These partnerships complete our ability to consult with any type of customer looking to deploy a media-centric workflow.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
Great questions and it’s actually built into the name and culture of our company. When we bring a solution to market it has to scale seamlessly and it needs to be logical when taking the customer’s environment into consideration. We focus on being able to start small but scale any system into a high-availability solution with limited to no downtime. Our solutions can scale independently if clients are looking to add capacity, performance or redundancy.

For example, a customer looking to move to 4K uncompressed workflows could add a Genesis Unlimited as a new workspace focused on the 4K workflow, keeping all existing infrastructure in place alongside it, avoiding major adjustments to their facility’s workflow. As more and more projects move to 4K, the Unlimited can scale capacity, performance and the needed HA requirements with zero downtime.

Customers can then start to migrate their content from their legacy storage over to Unlimited and then repurpose their legacy storage onto the HyperFS file system as second tier storage.Finally, once we have moved the legacy storage onto the new file system we also are more than happy to bring the legacy storage and networking hardware under our global support agreements.

How many of the people buying your solutions are using them with another cloud-based product (i.e. Microsoft Azure)?
Cloud continues to be ramping up for our industry, and we have many customers using cloud solutions for various aspects of their workflow. As it pertains to content creation, manipulation and long-term archive, we have not seen much adoption with our customer base. The economics just do not support the level of performance or capacity our clients demand.

However, private cloud or cloud-like configurations are becoming more mainstream for our larger customers. Working with on-premise storage while having DR (disaster recovery) replication offsite continues to be the best solution at this point for most of our clients.

How does your system handle UHD, 4K and other higher-than-HD resolutions?
Our solutions are built not only for the current resolutions but completely scalable to go beyond them. Many of our HD customers are now putting in UHD and 4K workspaces on the same equipment we installed three years ago. In addition to 4K we have been working with several companies in Asia that have been using our HyperFS file system and Genesis HyperMDC to build 8K workflows for the Olympics.

We have a number of solutions designed to meet our customer’s requirements. Some are done with spinning disk, others with all flash, and then even more that want a hybrid approach to seamlessly combine the technologies.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
All of our solutions are designed to support Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. However, how they support the various operating systems is based on the protocol (block or file) we are designing for the facility. If we are building a SAN that is strictly going to be block level access (8/16/32 Gbps Fibre Channel or 1/10/25/40/100 Gbps iSCSI, we would use our HyperFS file system and universal client drivers across all operating systems. If our clients also are looking for network protocols in addition to the block level clients we can support jSMB and NFS but allow access to block and file folders and files at the same time.

For customers that are not looking for block level access, we would then focus our design work around our Genesis NX or ZX product line. Both of these solutions are based on a NAS operating system and simply present themselves with the appropriate protocol over 1/10/25/40 or 100Gb. Genesis ZX solution is actually a software-defined clustered NAS with enterprise feature sets such as unlimited snapshots, metro clustering, thin provisioning and will scale up over 5 Petabytes.

Sonnet Technologies‘ Greg LaPorte
What kind of storage do you offer, and who is the main user of that storage?
We offer a portable, bus-powered Thunderbolt 3 SSD storage device that fits in your hand. Primary users of this product include video editors and DITs who need a “scratch drive” fast enough to support editing 4K video at 60fps while on location or traveling.

How are you making sure your products are scalable so people can grow either their storage or bandwidth needs (or both)?
The Fusion Thunderbolt 3 PCIe Flash Drive is currently available with 1TB capacity. With data transfer of up to 2,600 MB/s supported, most users will not run out of bandwidth when using this device.

What platforms do your systems connect to (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.)? And what differences might end-users notice when connecting on these different platforms?
Computers with Thunderbolt 3 ports running either macOS Sierra or High Sierra, or Windows 10 are supported. The drive may be formatted to suit the user’s needs, with either an OS-specific format such as HFS+, or cross-platform format such as exFAT.

Dementia 13: Helping enhance the horror with VFX

By Randi Altman

As scary movies are making a comeback and putting butts in seats, as they say, the timing couldn’t be better for NBC Universal’s remake of Dementia 13, a 1963 horror film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The 2017 version, directed by Richard LeMay, can be streamed on all major VOD platforms. It focuses on a vengeful ghost, a mysterious murderer and a family with a secret. Jeremy Wanek was the lead VFX artist on Dementia 13, and Wayne Harry Johnson Jr. was the VFX producer. They are from Black Space VFX. We reached out to them with some questions.

Jeremy Wanek

How early did you get involved in Dementia 13?
Johnson: We were involved from the second or third draft of the script. Dan De Filippo, who wrote and produced the film, wanted our feedback immediately in terms of what was possible for VFX in the film. We worked with them through pre-production and even fielded a few questions during production. It is extremely important to start thinking about VFX immediately in any production. That way you can write for it and plan your shoot for it. There is nothing worse than a production hoping it can be fixed by VFX work. So getting us involved right away saves everyone a lot of time and money.

Wanek: During preproduction it seems incredibly common for filmmakers to underestimate how many effect shots there will be on their films. They forget about the simple/invisible effects, while concentrating on the bigger and flashier stuff. I don’t blame them; it’s nearly impossible to figure everything out ahead of time. There are always unexpected things that come up during production as well. Always.

For example, on Dementia 13 they shot in this really cool castle location, but they found out while on production that they couldn’t use as many of the practical blood effects as they intended. They didn’t want a bloody mess! So, we were asked to do more digital blood effects and enhancements.

Wayne Harry Johnson, Jr.

Were they open to suggestions from you or did they have a very specific idea of what they wanted?
Johnson: As in every production, there are always elements that are very specifically asked for, but director Richard LeMay is very collaborative. We discussed in great detail the look of all the important effects. And he was very open to suggestions and ideas. This was our second film with Rich. We also did the VFX work on his new film Blood Bound, and it has been a great creative relationship. We can’t wait to work with him again.

Wanek: Yeah, Rich has a vision for sure, but he always gives us creative freedom to explore options and see what we can come up with. I think that’s the best of both worlds.

How many shots did you provide?
Johnson: We did roughly 60 VFX shots for the film, and hopefully the audience won’t notice all of them. If we do our jobs correctly, most VFX work is invisible. As in all films there are little things that get cleaned up or straightened out. VFX isn’t just about robots and explosions. It has a lot to do with keeping the film looking the best it can be by hiding the blemishes that could not be avoided during production.

So again it is important for the filmmakers to consult on their film as they go and ask questions as they go. We all want the same thing for the film, and that is to make it the best it can be and sometimes that means painting out a light switch or removing a sign on that beautiful shot of a road.

Wanek: It’s interesting to note how many shots were intended during preproduction and how many we ended up doing in post. I’d say we ended up doing at least twice as many shots, which is not uncommon. There are elements like the smoke on Kathleen, the ghost girl, when it’s hard to know exactly how many times you’re going to cut to a shot of her. Half of the effect shots for the movie involved creating her ghostly appearance.

Ghost girl Kathleen.

Can you describe the type of effects you provided on the show?
Wanek: We did muzzle flashes, wire removal, visible breath from characters in a cold environment, frost that encapsulates windows, digital hands that pull a character off a dock and into water (that included a digital water splash), the Kathleen ghost effect and an assortment of blood effects.

You created a lot of element effects, such as smoke, water, blood, etc. What was the hardest one to create and why?
Wanek: Creating the smoke that blankets Kathleen was the most challenging and time consuming effect. There were about 30 shots of her in total, and I tackled them myself. With the quick turnaround on the film, it made for some long nights. Every action she performed, and each new camera angle, presented unique challenges. Thankfully, she doesn’t move much in most of the shots. But for shots where she picks a gun up from the ground, or walks across the room, I had to play around with the physics to make it play more realistically, which takes time.

What tools did you use on this project?
Wanek: We composited in Adobe After Effects, tracked in Mocha AE, used Photoshop to assist in painting out objects/wire removal, and I relied heavily on Red Giant’s Trapcode Particular to create the particle effects — ghostly smoke, some of the blood effects and a digital water splash.

Our artists work remotely, so we stored the shots on Dropbox to easily send them out to other artists on the team, who would then download them to their own hard drives. To review shots it was a similar process, using Dropbox and emailing the director a link to stream/download. We kept shot names and the progress info on all shots organized using a Google spreadsheet. This was great because we could update it live, and everyone was on the same page at all times.

CG hands.

Turnarounds are typically tight? Was that the case with Dementia 13? If so, how did you make it work?
Johnson: Yes, we had roughly 30 days to complete the VFX work on the film. Tight deadlines can be hard but we were aware of that when we went into it. What really helps with managing tight deadlines is all the upfront communication between us and the director. By the time we started we knew exactly what Rich was looking for so dialing it in was a much easier and faster process. We also previewed early cuts of the film so we could see and anticipate any potential problems ahead of time. Planning and preparing solves most problems even when time is tight.

So as I said, having VFX involved from the very beginning is essential. Bring us in early, even when it’s just a treatment. We can get a sense of what needs to be done, how long it will take and start estimating budgets. The thing that makes tight deadlines hard is that lots of filmmakers think about VFX last, or very late in the process. Then when they want it done fast they have to compromise because the effect may not have been planned right. So as you can see we have a theme, call us early on.

Wanek: And as I mentioned earlier, unexpected things happen. The dreaded, “we’ll fix it in post,” is a real thing, unfortunately. Filmmakers need to make sure they have additional VFX budget for those surprises.

What was the most challenging part of the process?
Johnson: Each area can have its own challenges. But making anything move like liquid and look convincing is hard. We worked on some ghostly blood effects in the title sequence of the film that were difficult, but in the end we think it looks great. It is a subtle plant for the audience to know there is a bit of supernatural action in this film. Our company is also a virtual company, meaning all of us work remotely. So sometimes communication internally and with clients can be a challenge, but in the end a quick phone call usually solves most problems. Again, more communication and earlier involvement helps alleviate a lot of issues.

CG blood spurts.

What’s next for you and your studio, and where are you based?
Wanek: We are based in Minneapolis, and just opened a second office in New York City. Wayne, myself and Adam Natrop are partners in the company. We’re currently in post production on a horror comedy zombie/hockey movie, Ahockalypse. It’s wackier than it sounds. It’s a lot of fun and pretty bold!

Wayne wrote and directed the film, and I edited it. We just handed it off to our sound designer, to our composer, and are starting work on the VFX. We’re hoping to finish before the year is up. We have several projects on the horizon that we can’t say anything about yet, but we’re excited!

Behind the Title: Framestore director of production & ops Sarah Hiddlestone

NAME: Sarah Hiddlestone

COMPANY: Framestore

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Framestore is a BAFTA-and Oscar-winning visual effects studio. We produce visual content for any screen from films and TV programs to theme park rides to large-scale installations and virtual/augmented/mixed realities.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Production & Operations

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role oversees daily negotiation and communication, and ensures that the New York office runs smoothly. I focus on creating an environment, studio culture and working process that allows teams to produce high-quality work on time and on budget. My role looks at the bigger picture, ensuring projects are run as efficiently as possible. I’m constantly problem-solving and pushing to create the best working environment for our clients and creative talent.

Framestore

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Choosing soap.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My talented production team and our talented artists — they are the life and soul of all the work we produce at Framestore.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Tantrums.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
The morning. I’m usually one of the first in, and I get a lot done as the office wakes up.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Living as a beach bum in Bali.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I fell into this profession. I always loved animation, but studied hospitality management — thought I wanted to be a chef but hated the hours. Oh, the irony. I worked my way up from a PA, learning everything I know on the job. Along the way I’ve developed vital, in-depth knowledge of the production, VFX, VR and emerging technology processes, and the ability to see Framestore as a global whole rather than at individual office or project level.

Working in VFX has allowed me to travel the world, live in different cities (Sydney, New York, London) and meet a network of firm friends that span the globe. My VFX family. I am lucky to have worked at Framestore in both the London and NY offices.

Fantastic Beasts experience

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I am behind the scenes on most of the jobs that come out of the NY office. A stand out for our New York office would include last year’s virtual school bus experience Field Trip to Mars with Lockheed Martin and McCann. It’s gone on to win over 100 awards and truly showed the strength and diversity of our staff. More recently we worked with multiple Academy Award-winner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki to visualize One Night for Absolut and BBH. Our New York office collaborated with Framestore’s film teams in London and Montreal to produce the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them experience.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
My personal all-time favorite is Chemical Brothers’ Salmon Dance, which I produced when working in the London office of Framestore for Dom & Nic at Outsider. I also love The Tale of Three Brothers (an animated storybook within Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1). It is a stunning piece of work.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
There’s just one: my iPhone.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Pilates, boxing, sitting in silence, lots of slow breathing. Thinking “calm blue ocean.”

VFX company Kevin launches in LA

VFX vets Tim Davies, Sue Troyan and Darcy Parsons have partnered to open the Los Angeles-based VFX house, Kevin. The company is currently up and running in a temp studio in Venice, while construction is underway on Kevin’s permanent Culver City location, scheduled to open early next year.

When asked about the name, as none of the partners are actually named Kevin, Davies said, “Well, Kevin is always there for you! He’s your best mate and will always have your back. He’s the kind of guy you want to have a beer with whenever he’s in town. Kevin knows his stuff and works his ass off to make sure you get what you need and then some!” Troyan added, “Kevin is a state of mind.”

Davies is on board as executive creative director, overseeing the collective creative output of the company. Having led teams of artists for over 25 years, he was formerly at Asylum Visual Effects and The Mill as creative director and head of 2D. Among his works are multiple Cannes Gold Lion-winning commercials, including HBO’s “Voyeur” campaign for Jake Scott, Nike Golf’s Ripple for Steve Rogers, Old Spice’s Momsong for Steve Ayson, Old Spice’s Dadsong for Andreas Nilsson, and Old Spice’s Whale and Rocket Car for Steve Rogers.

Troyan will serve as senior executive producer of Kevin, having previously worked on campaigns at The Mill and Method. Parsons, owner and partner of Kevin, has enjoyed a career covering multiple disciplines, including producer, VFX producer and executive producer.

Launch projects for Kevin include recent spots for Wieden + Kennedy Portland, The Martin Agency and Spark44.

Main Image: L-R: Darcy Parsons, Sue Troyan, Tim Davies

Zoic Studios adds feature film vet Lou Pecora as VFX supervisor

Academy Award-nominated Lou Pecora has joined Zoic Studios’ Culver City studio as VFX supervisor. Pecora has over two decades of experience in visual effects, working across commercial, feature film and series projects. He comes to Zoic from Digital Domain, where he spent 18 years working on large-scale feature film projects as a visual effects supervisor and compositing supervisor.

Pecora has worked on films including X Men: Apocalypse, Spider-Man: Homecoming, X-Men: Days of Future Past (his Oscar nom), Maleficent, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, I, Robot, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Star Trek, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Stealth, The Mummy: Tomb of the Emperor, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, among others.

“There has been a major shift in the television landscape, with a much greater volume of work and substantially higher production values than ever before,” says Pecora. “Zoic has their hands in a diverse range of high-end television projects, and I’m excited to bring my experience in the feature film space to this dynamic sector of the entertainment industry.”

The addition of Pecora comes on the heels of several high-profile projects at Zoic, including work on Darren Aronofsky’s thriller Mother!, Game of Thrones for HBO and Marvel’s The Defenders for Netflix.

 

postPerspective Impact Award winners from SIGGRAPH 2017

Last April, postPerspective announced the debut of our Impact Awards, celebrating innovative products and technologies for the post production and production industries that will influence the way people work. We are now happy to present our second set of Impact Awards, celebrating the outstanding offerings presented at SIGGRAPH 2017.

Now that the show is over, and our panel of VFX/VR/post pro judges has had time to decompress, dig out and think about what impressed them, we are happy to announce our honorees.

And the winners of the postPerspective Impact Award from SIGGRAPH 2017 are:

  • Faceware Technologies for Faceware Live 2.5
  • Maxon for Cinema 4D R19
  • Nvidia for OptiX 5.0  

“All three of these technologies are very worthy recipients of our first postPerspective Impact Awards from SIGGRAPH,” said Randi Altman, postPerspective’s founder and editor-in-chief. “These awards celebrate companies that define the leading-edge of technology while producing tools that actually make users’ working lives easier and projects better, and our winners certainly fall into that category.

“While SIGGRAPH’s focus is on VFX, animation, VR/AR and the like, the types of gear they have on display vary. Some are suited for graphics and animation, while others have uses that slide into post production. We’ve tapped real-world users in these areas to vote for our Impact Awards, and they have determined what tools might be most impactful to their day-to-day work. That’s what makes our awards so special.”

There were many new technologies and products at SIGGRAPH this year, and while only three won an Impact Award, our judges felt there were other updates that it was important to let people know about as well.

Blackmagic Design’s Fusion 9 was certainly turning heads and Nvidia’s VRWorks 360 Video was called out as well. Chaos Group also caught our judges attention with V-Ray for Unreal Engine 4.

Stay tuned for future Impact Award winners in the coming months — voted on by users for users — from IBC.

Pixomondo streamlines compute management with Deadline

There’s never a dull moment at Pixomondo, where artists and production teams juggle feature film, TV, theme park and commercial VFX projects between offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Shanghai and Beijing. The Academy- and Emmy-award-winning VFX studio securely manages its on-premises compute resources across its branches and keeps its rendering pipeline running 24/7 utilizing Thinkbox’s Deadline, which it standardized on in 2010.

In recent months, Pixomondo has increasingly been computing workstation tasks on its render farm via Deadline and has moved publishing to Deadline as well. Sebastian Kral, Pixomondo’s global head of pipeline, says, “By offloading more to Deadline, we’re able to accelerate production. Our artists don’t have to wait for publishes to finish before they move onto the next task, and that’s really something. Deadline’s security is top-notch, which is extremely important for us given the secretive nature of some of our projects.”

Kral is particularly fond of Deadline’s Python API, which allows his global team to develop custom scripts to minimize the minutia that artists must deal with, resulting in a productivity boon. “Deadline gives us incredible flexibility. The Python API is fast, reliable and more usable than a command line entry point, so we can script so many things on our own, which is convenient,” says Kral. “We can build submission scripts for texture conversions, and create proxy data when a render job is done, so our artists don’t have to think about whether or not they need a QT of a composite.”

Power Rangers. Images courtesy of Pixomondo.

The ability to set environment variables for renders, or render as a specific user, allows Pixomondo’s artists to send tasks to the farm with an added layer of security. With seven facilities worldwide, and the possibility of new locations based on production needs, Pixomondo has also found Deadline’s ability to enable multi-facility rendering valuable.

“Deadline is packed with a ton of great out-of-the-box features, in addition to the new features that Thinkbox implements in new iterations; we didn’t even need to build our own submission tool, because Deadline’s submission capabilities are so versatile,” Kral notes. “It also has a very user-friendly interface that makes setup quick and painless, which is great for getting new hires up to speed quickly and connecting machines across facilities.”

Pixomondo’s more than 400 digital artists are productive around the clock, taking advantage of alternating time zones at facilities around the world. Nearly every rendering decision at the studio is made with Deadline in mind, as it presents rendering metrics in an intuitive way that allows the team to more accurately estimate project turnaround. “When opening Deadline to monitor a render, it’s always an enjoyable experience because all the information I need is right there at my fingertips,” says Kral. “It provides a meaningful overview of our rendering resource spread. We just log in, test renders, and we have all the information needed to determine how long each task will take using the available machines.”

Lucasfilm and ILM release open source MaterialX library

Lucasfilm and ILM have launched the first open source release of the MaterialX library for computer graphics. MaterialX is an open standard developed by Lucasfilm’s Advanced Development Group and ILM engineers to facilitate the transfer of rich materials and look-development content between applications and renderers.

Originated at Lucasfilm in 2012, MaterialX has been used by ILM on features including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as well as realtime immersive experiences such as Trials On Tatooine.

Workflows at computer graphics production studios require multiple software tools for different parts of the production pipeline, and shared and outsourced work requires companies to hand off fully look-developed models to other divisions or studios which may use different software packages and rendering systems.

MaterialX addresses the current lack of a common, open standard for representing the data values and relationships required to transfer the complete look of a computer graphics model from one application or rendering platform to another, including shading networks, patterns and texturing, complex nested materials and geometric assignments. MaterialX provides a schema for describing material networks, shader parameters, texture and material assignments and color-space associations in a precise, application-independent and customizable way.

MaterialX is an open source project released under a modified Apache license.

Quick Chat: Filmmaker/DP/VFX artist Mihran Stepanyan

Veteran Armenian artist Mihran Stepanyan has an interesting background. In addition to being a filmmaker and cinematographer, he is also a colorist and visual effects artist. In fact, he won the 2017 Flame Award, which was presented to him during NAB in April.

Let’s find out how his path led to this interesting mix of expertise.

Tell us about your background in VFX.
I studied feature film directing in Armenia from 1997 through 2002. During the process, I also became very interested in being a director of photography. As a self-taught DP, I was shooting all my work, as well as films produced by my classmates and colleagues. This was great experience. Nearly 10 years ago, I started to study VFX because I had some projects that I wanted to do myself. I’ve fallen in love with that world. Some years ago, I started to work in Moscow as a DP and VFX artist for a Comedy Club Production special project. Today, I not only work as a VFX artist but also as a director and cinematographer.

How do your experiences as a VFX artist inform your decisions as a director and cinematographer?
They are closely connected. As a director, you imagine something that you want to see in the end, and you can realize that because you know what you can achieve in production and post. And, as a cinematographer, you know that if problems arise during the shoot, you can correct them in VFX and post. Experience in cinematography also complements VFX artistry, because your understanding of the physics of light and optics helps you create more realistic visuals.

What do you love most about your job?
The infinity of mind, fantasy and feelings. Also, I love how creative teams work. When a project starts, it’s fun to see how the different team members interact with one another and approach various challenges, ultimately coming together to complete the job. The result of that collective team work is interesting as well.

Tell us about some recent projects you’ve worked on.
I’ve worked on Half Moon Bay, If Only Everyone, Carpenter Expecting a Son and Doktor. I also recently worked on a tutorial for FXPHD that’s different from anything I’ve ever done before. It is not only the work of an Autodesk Flame artist or a lecturer, but also gave me a chance to practice English, as my first language is Armenian.

Mihran’s Flame tutorial on FXPHD.

Where do you get your inspiration?
First, nature. There nothing more perfect to me. And, I’m picturalist, so for various projects I can find inspiration in any kind of art, from cave paintings to pictorial art and music. I’m also inspired by other artists’ work, which helps me stay tuned with the latest VFX developments.

If you had to choose the project that you’re most proud of in your career, what would it be, and why?
I think every artist’s favorite project is his/her last project, or the one he/she is working on right now. Their emotions, feelings and ideas are very fresh and close at the moment. There are always some projects that will stand out more than others. For me, it’s the film Half Moon Bay. I was the DP, post production supervisor and senior VFX artist for the project.

What is your typical end-to-end workflow for a project?
It differs on each project. In some projects, I do everything from story writing to directing and digital immediate (DI) finishing. For some projects, I only do editing or color grading.

How did you come to learn Flame?
During my work in Moscow, nearly five years ago, I had the chance to get a closer look at Flame and work on it. I’m a self-taught Flame artist, and since I started using the product it’s become my favorite. Now, I’m back in Armenia working on some feature films and upcoming commercials. I am also a member of Flame and Autodesk Maya Beta testing groups.

How did you teach yourself Flame? What resources did you use?
When I started to learn Flame, there weren’t as many resources and tutorials as we have now. It was really difficult to find training documentation online. In some cases, I got information from YouTube, NAB or IBC presentations. I learned mostly by experimentation, and a lot of trial and error. I continue to learn and experiment with Flame every time I work.

Any tips for using the product?
As for tips, “knowing” the software is not about understanding the tools or shortcuts, but what you can do with your imagination. You should always experiment to find the shortest and easiest way to get the end result. Also, imagine how you can construct your schematic without using unnecessary nods and tools ahead of time. Exploring Flame is like mixing the colors on the palette in painting to get the perfect tone. In the same way, you must imagine what tools you can “mix” together to get the result you want.

Any advice for other artists?
I would advise that you not be afraid of any task or goals, nor fear change. That will make you a more flexible artist who can adapt to every project you work on.

What’s next for you?
I don’t really know what’s next, but I am sure that it is a new beginning for me, and I am very interested where this all takes me tomorrow.