Arraiy 4.11.19

Category Archives: Special Edition

postPerspective’s Storage Update: Selected Highlights, Dell EMC

Virtual Roundtable: Storage – Dell EMC

The world of storage is ever and complicated. There are many flavors that are meant to match up to specific workflow needs. What matters most to users? In addition to easily-installed and easy-to-use systems that let them focus on the creative and not the tech? Scalability, speed, data protection, the cloud and the need to handle higher and higher frame rates with higher resolutions — meaning larger and larger files. The good news is the tools are growing to meet these needs. New technologies and software enhancements around NVMe are providing extremely low-latency connectivity that supports higher performance workflows. Time will tell how that plays a part in day-to-day workflows.

For this virtual roundtable, we reached out to makers of storage and users of storage. Their questions differ a bit, but their answers often overlap. Enjoy.

Dell EMC‘s Tom Burns 

What is the biggest trend you’ve seen in the past year in terms of storage?
The most important storage trend we’ve seen is an increasing need for access to shared content libraries accommodating global production teams. This is becoming an essential part of the production chain for feature films, episodic television, sports broadcasting and now e-sports. For example, teams in the UK and in California can share asset libraries for their file-based workflow via a common object store, whether on-prem or hybrid cloud. This means they don’t have to synchronize workflows using point-to-point transmissions from California to the UK, which can get expensive.

Tom Burns

Achieving this requires seamless integration of on-premises file storage for the high-throughput, low-latency workloads with object storage. The object storage can be in the public cloud or you can have a hybrid private cloud for your media assets. A private or hybrid cloud allows production teams to distribute assets more efficiently and saves money, versus using the public cloud for sharing content. If the production needs it to be there right now, they can still fire up Aspera, Signiant, File Catalyst or other point-to-point solutions and have prioritized content immediately available, while allowing your on-premise cloud to take care of the shared content libraries.

Users want more flexible workflows — storage in the cloud, on-premises, etc. Are your offerings reflective of that?
Dell Technologies offers end-to-end storage solutions where customers can position the needle anywhere they want. Are you working purely in the cloud? Are you working on-prem? Or, like most people, are you working somewhere in the middle? We have a continuous spectrum of storage between high-throughput low-latency workloads and cloud-based object storage, plus distributed services to support the mix that meets your needs.

The most important thing that we’ve learned is that data is expensive to store, granted, but it’s even more expensive to move. Storing your assets in one place and having that path name never change, that’s been a hallmark of Isilon for 15 years. Now we’re extending that seamless file-to-object spectrum to a global scale, deploying Isilon in the cloud in addition to our ECS object store on premises.

With AI, VR and machine learning, etc., our industry is even more dependent on storage. How are you addressing this?
AR, VR, AI and other emerging technologies offer new opportunities for media companies to change the way they tell and monetize their stories. However, due to the large amounts of data involved, many media organizations are challenged when they rely on storage systems that lack either scalability or performance to meet the needs of these new workflows.

Dell EMC’s file and object storage solutions help media companies cost effectively tier their content based upon access. This allows media organizations to use emerging technologies to improve how stories are told and monetize their content with the assistance of AI-generated metadata, without the challenges inherent in many traditional storage systems.

With artificial intelligence, for example, where it was once the job of interns to categorize content in projects that could span years, AI gives media companies the ability to analyze content in near-realtime and create large, easily searchable content libraries as the content is being migrated from existing tape libraries to object-based storage, or ingested for current projects. The metadata involved in this process includes brand recognition and player/actor identification, as well as speech-to-text, making it easy to determine logo placement for advertising analytics and to find footage for use in future movies or advertisements.

With Dell EMC storage, AI technologies can be brought to the data, removing the need to migrate or replicate data to direct-attach storage for analysis. Our solutions also offer the scalability to store the content for years using affordable archive nodes in Isilon or ECS object storage.

In terms of AR and VR, we are seeing video game companies using this technology to change the way players interact with their environments. Not only have they created a completely new genre with games such as Pokemon Go, they have figured out that audiences want nonlinear narratives told through realtime storytelling. Although AR and VR adoption has been slower for movies and TV compared to the video game industry, we can learn a lot from the successes of video game production and apply similar methodologies to movie and episodic productions in the future.

Can you talk about NVMe?
NVMe solutions are a small but exciting part of a much larger trend: workflows that fully exploit the levels of parallelism possible in modern converged architectures. As we look forward to 8K, 60fps and realtime production, the usage of PCIe bus bandwidth by compute, networking and storage resources will need to be much more balanced than it is today.

When we get into realtime productions, these “next-generation” architectures will involve new production methodologies such as realtime animation using game engines rather than camera-based acquisition of physically staged images. These realtime processes will take a lot of cooperation between hardware, software and networks to fully leverage the highly parallel, low-latency nature of converged infrastructure.

Dell Technologies is heavily invested in next-generation technologies that include NVMe cache drives, software-defined networking, virtualization and containerization that will allow our customers to continuously innovate together with the media industry’s leading ISVs.

What do you do in your products to help safeguard your users’ data?
Your content is your most precious capital asset and should be protected and maintained. If you invest in archiving and backing up your content with enterprise-quality tools, then your assets will continue to be available to generate revenue for you. However, archive and backup are just two pieces of data security that media organizations need to consider. They must also take active measures to deter data breaches and unauthorized access to data.

Protecting data at the edge, especially at the scale required for global collaboration can be challenging. We simplify this process through services such as SecureWorks, which includes offerings like security management and orchestration, vulnerability management, security monitoring, advanced threat services and threat intelligence services.

Our storage products are packed with technologies to keep data safe from unexpected outages and unauthorized access, and to meet industry standards such as alignment to MPAA and TPN best practices for content security. For example, Isilon’s OneFS operating system includes SyncIQ snapshots, providing point-in-time backup that updates automatically and generates a list of restore points.

Isilon also supports role-based access control and integration with Active Directory, MIT Kerberos and LDAP, making it easy to manage account access. For production houses working on multiple customer projects, our storage also supports multi-tenancy and access zones, which means that clients requiring quarantined storage don’t have to share storage space with potential competitors.

Our on-prem object store, ECS, provides long-term, cost-effective object storage with support for globally distributed active archives. This helps our customers with global collaboration, but also provides inherent redundancy. The multi-site redundancy creates an excellent backup mechanism as the system will maintain consistency across all sites, plus automatic failure detection and self-recovery options built into the platform.

 

Storage for VFX Studios – Zoic Studios

A Culver City-based visual effects facility, with shops in Vancouver and New York, Zoic Studios has been crafting visual effects for a host of television series since its founding in 2002, starting with Firefly. In addition to a full plate of episodics, Zoic also counts numerous feature films and spots to its credits.

Saker Klippsten

According to Saker Klippsten, CTO, the facility has used a range of storage solutions over the past 16 years from BlueArc (before it was acquired by Hitachi), DataDirect Networks and others, but now uses Dell EMC’s Isilon cluster file storage system for its current needs. “We’ve been a fan of theirs for quite a long time now. I think we were customer number two,” he says, “back when they were trying to break into the media and entertainment sector.”

Locally, the studio uses Intel and NVMe drives for its workstations. NVMe, or non-volatile memory express, is an open logical device interface specification for accessing all-flash storage media attached via PCI Express (PCIe) bus. Previously, Zoic had been using Samsung SSD drives, with Samsung 1TB and 2TB EVO drives, but in the past year and a half, began migrating to NVMe on the local workstations.

Zoic transitioned to the Isilon system in 2004-2005 because of the heavy usage its renderfarm was getting. “Renderfarms work 24/7 and don’t take breaks. Our storage was getting really beat up, and people were starting to complain that it was slow accessing the file system and affecting playback of their footage and media,” explains Klippsten. “We needed to find something that could scale out horizontally.”

At the time, however, file-level storage was pretty much all that was available — “you were limited to this sort of vertical pool of storage,” says Klippsten. “You might have a lot of storage behind it, but you were still limited at the spigot, at the top end. You couldn’t get the data out fast enough.” But Isilon broke through that barrier by creating a cluster storage system that allotted the scale horizontally, “so we could balance our load, our render nodes and our artists across a number of machines, and access and update in parallel at the same time,” he adds.

Klippsten believes that solution was a big breakthrough for a lot of users; nevertheless, it took some time for others to get onboard. “In the media and entertainment industry, everyone seemed to be locked into BlueArc or NetApp,” he notes. Not so with Zoic.

Fairly recently, some new players have come onto the market, including Qumulo, touted as a “next-generation NAS company” built around advanced, distributed software running on commodity hardware. “That’s another storage platform that we have looked at and tested,” says Klippsten, adding that Zoic even has a number of nodes from the vendor.

There are other open-source options out there as well. Recently, Red Hat began offering Gluster Storage, an open, software-defined storage platform for physical, virtual and cloud environments. “And now with NVMe, it’s eliminating a lot of these problems as well,” Klippsten says.

Back when Zoic selected Isilon, there were a number of major issues that affected the studio’s decision making. As Klippsten notes, they had just opened the Vancouver office and were transferring data back and forth. “How do we back up that data? How do we protect it? Storage snapshot technology didn’t really exist at the time,” he says. But, Isilon had a number of features that the studio liked, including SyncIQ, software for asynchronous replication of data. “It could push data between different Isilon clusters from a block level, in a more automated fashion. It was very convenient. It offered a lot of parameters, such as moving data by time of day and access frequency.”

SyncIQ enabled the studio to archive the data. And for dealing with interim changes, such as a mistakenly deleted file, Zoic found Isilon’s SnapshotIQ ideal for fast data recovery. Moreover, Isilon was one of the first to support Aspera, right on the Isilon cluster. “You didn’t have to run it on a separate machine. It was a huge benefit because we transfer a lot of secure, encrypted data between us and a lot of our clients,” notes Klippsten.

Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Within the pipeline, Zoic’s storage system sits at the core. It is used immediately as the studio ingests the media, whether it is downloaded or transferred from hard drives – terabytes upon terabytes of data. The data is then cleaned up and distributed to project folders for tasks assigned to the various artists. In essence, it acts as a holding tank for the main production storage as an artist begins working on those specific shots, Klippsten explains.

Aside from using the storage at the floor level, the studio also employs it at the archive level, for data recovery as well as material that might not be accessed for weeks. “We have sort of a tiered level of storage — high-performance and deep-archival storage,” he says.

And the system is invaluable, as Zoic is handling 400 to 500 shots a week. If you multiply that by the number of revisions and versions that take place during that time frame, it adds up to hundreds of terabytes weekly. “Per day, we transfer between Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York somewhere around 20TB to 30TB,” he estimates. “That number increases quite a bit because we do a lot of cloud rendering. So, we are pushing a lot of data up to Google and back for cloud rendering, and all of that hits our Isilon storage.”

When Zoic was founded, it originally saw itself as a visual effects company, but at the end of the day, Klippsten says they’re really a technology company that makes pretty pictures. “We push data and move it around to its limits. We’re constantly coming up with new, creative ideas, trying to find partners that can help provide solutions collaboratively if we cannot create them ourselves. The shot cost is constantly being squeezed by studios, which want these shots done faster and cheaper. So, we have to make sure our artists are working faster, too.”

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Recently, Zoic has been working on a TV project involving a good deal of water simulations and other sims in general — which rapidly generate a tremendous amount of data. Then the data is transferred between the LA and Vancouver facilities. Having storage capable of handling that was unheard of three years ago, Klippsten says. However, Zoic has managed to do so using Isilon along with some off-the-shelf Supermicro storage with NVMe drives, enabling its dynamics department to tackle this and other projects. “When doing full simulation, you need to get that sim in front of the clients as soon as possible so they can comment on it. Simulations take a long time — we’re doing 26GB/sec, which is crazy. It’s close to something in the high-performance computing realm.”

With all that considered, it is hardly surprising to hear Klippsten say that Zoic could not function without a solid storage solution. “It’s funny. When people talk about storage, they are always saying they don’t have enough of it. Even when you have a lot of storage, it’s always running at 99 percent full, and they wonder why you can’t just go out to Best Buy and purchase another hard drive. It doesn’t work that way!”

For more information from Dell EMC, check out their techToolbox: Storage page.

NIM 3.0 studio management tool debuts at Siggraph

NIM Labs’ new NIM 3.0 is an all-in-one studio management platform that helps visual effects and post production houses track projects and manage their company. Created by creative directors and studio heads, NIM 3.0 helps studios do more under one roof with a redesigned review tool, grouped bidding and a live link to Adobe Premiere.

What began as an in-house toolset for Ntropic is now the studio management software in-house at Digital Domain, Logan, Taylor James and Intelligent Creatures. With NIM 3.0, studios get access tools to handle bidding, tracking, versioning, scheduling, reviews, finances and time cards in one place.

The creative review tool has been rewritten from the ground up to make screening and markup of videos, PDFs and still frames even easier. Review capabilities have also been extended to more parts of NIM, so users can do more in a single location. With Review Bins, teams can stay organized using saveable smart filters and grouped elements for later use. Review Bins come with a new Theater View, which allows for a larger viewer experience and the ability to zoom, fit, fill and pan review items during playback. Review items can also be stacked according to version, allowing supervisors and clients to quickly visualize progress.

After years of building NIM Connectors into Maya, Houdini, 3ds Max, Nuke and Flame, NIM Labs is introducing its first direct workflow for Adobe Premiere editors. With NIM 3.0, Adobe Premiere becomes a conform tool, helping VFX, VR and post houses do everything from creating timeline shots to round-tripping elements rendered in other packages, all without leaving the app. Thanks to the new NIM Connector, the entire creative review process can be conducted from within Premiere, creating a seamless experience. Premiere is NIM’s third Adobe connection, following After Effects and Photoshop.

NIM’s bidding system was created to get bids out the door faster using studio-wide templates. In NIM 3.0, new organizational tools let producers define the different sections of their bid using groups, allowing greater flexibility and speed when responding to a large RFP. Through item linking, users will be able to modify multiple line items simultaneously, with the ability to attach further information like images, notes and descriptions when the need arises.

Companies with existing directory systems can now immediately integrate NIM with their users. By accessing NIM 3.0’s on-board security controls, organizations can manage permissions and security groups from Active Directory (AD) or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). Support for multiple domains will add even more authentication controls across networks.

NIM 3.0 will be available in the fall. Active user licenses cost $360 annually and $40 monthly. NIM 2.8 is currently available as a free 30-day trial.

Arraiy 4.11.19

Behind the Title: Jogger Studios’ CD Andy Brown

This veteran creative director can also often be found at the controls of his Flame working on a new spot.

NAME: Andy Brown

COMPANY: Jogger Studios (@joggerstudios)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a boutique post house with offices in the US and UK providing visual effects, motion graphics, color grading and finishing. We are partnered with Cut + Run for editorial and get to work with their editors from around the world. I am based in our Jogger Los Angeles office, after having helped found the company in London.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing compositing, visual effects and finishing. Looking after staff and clients. Juggling all of these things and anticipating the unexpected.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m still working “on the box” every day. Even though my title is creative director, it is the hands-on work that is my first love as far as project collaborations go. Also I get to re-program the phones and crawl under the desks to get the wires looking neater when viewed from the client couch.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The variety, the people and the challenges. Just getting to work on a huge range of creative projects is such a privilege. How many people get to go to work each day looking forward to it?

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The hours, occasionally. It’s more common to have to work without clients nowadays. That definitely makes for more work sometimes, as you might need to create two or three versions of a spot to get approval. If everyone was in the room together you reach a consensus more quickly.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I like the start of the day best, when everyone is coming into the office and we are getting set up for whatever project we are working on. Could be the first coffee of the day that does it.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I want to say classic car dealer, but given my actual career path the most likely alternative would be editor.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
There were lots of reasons, when I look at it. It was either the Blue Peter Book of Television (the longest running TV program for kids, courtesy of the BBC) or my visit to the HTV Wales TV station with my dad when I was about 12. We walked around the studios and they were playing out a film to air, grading it live through a telecine. I was really struck by the influence that the colorist was having on what was seen.

I went on to do critical work on photography, film and television at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. Part of that course involved being shown around the Pebble Mill BBC Studios. They were editing a sequence covering a public enquiry into the Handsworth riots in 1985. It just struck me how powerful the editing process was. The story could be told so many different ways, and the editor was playing a really big part in the process.

Those experiences (and an interest in writing) led me to think that television might be a good place to work. I got my first job as a runner at MPC after a friend had advised me how to get a start in the business.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We worked on a couple of spots for Bai recently with Justin Timberlake creating the “brasberry.” We had to make up some graphic animations for the newsroom studio backdrop for the shoot and then animate opening title graphics to look just enough like it was a real news report, but not too much like a real news report.

We do quite a bit of food work, so there’s always some burgers, chicken or sliced veggies that need a bit of love to make them pop.

There’s a nice set extension job starting next week, and we recently finished a job with around 400 final versions, which made for a big old deliverables spreadsheet. There’s so much that we do that no one sees, which is the point if we do it right.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Sometimes the job that you are most proud of isn’t necessarily the most amazing thing to look at. I used to work on newspaper commercials back in the UK, and it was all so “last minute.” A story broke, and all of a sudden you had to have a spot ready to go on air with no edit, no footage and only the bare bones of a script. It could be really challenging, but we had to get it done somehow.

But the best thing is seeing something on TV that you’ve worked on. At Jogger Studios, it is primarily commercials, so you get that excitement over and over again. It’s on air for a few weeks and then it’s gone. I like that. I saw two of our spots in a row recently on TV, which I got a kick out of. Still looking for that elusive hat-trick.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The Flame, the Land Rover Series III and, sadly, my glasses.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Just friends and family on Instagram, mainly. Although like most Flame operators, I look at the Flame Learning Channel on YouTube pretty regularly. YouTube also thinks I’m really interested in the Best Fails of 2018 for some reason.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
More often than not it is podcasts. West Wing Weekly, The Adam Buxton Podcast, Short Cuts and Song Exploder. Plus some of the shows on BBC 6 Music, which I really miss.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I go to work every day feeling incredibly lucky to be doing the job that I do, and it’s good to remember that. The 15-minute walk to and from work in Santa Monica usually does it.

Living so close to the beach is fantastic. We can get down to the sand, get the super-brella set up and get in the sea with the bodyboards in about 15 minutes. Then there’s the Malibu Cars & Coffee, which is a great place to start your Sunday.