Anatomy of a Modern VFX House
Recent years have proven that the vfx can be a challenging business. The good news is that the industry has seen an improvement throughout 2013 with studios expected to be busy in the years ahead.
The UK market place now looks to be in a strong position as future television and film projects line-up to take advantage of the combination of competitive tax breaks and the strong vfx talent base that exists here. This potential has seen a number of new studio start- ups, such as Milk, an independent boutique based in London, which has been built around the latest technology.
Forward Looking VFX
Milk has taken full advantage of developments in storage and networking technology, driven by companies such as PixIT Media, which has revolutionised the way in which studios manage their data workflow.
As Milk CEO Will Cohen explains: “The vfx industry has traditionally relied upon big name vendors selling proprietary technology at premium prices. This meant that increasing vfx capacity was an expensive business requiring the addition of extra clusters of capacity.“
PixIT Media has broken out of this traditional model by providing scale-out storage, archive and network solutions based around commodity hardware run by a unique file system software. “What we like about PixIT technology is it makes the installation and upgrading of vfx storage much more flexible and much more cost effective,” says Cohen.
As Milk’s head of systems Dave Goodbourn explains PixIT’s solution is based on IBM’s general parallel file system (GPFS), a file-based architecture known for its speed and reliability.
It means that PixIT technology can concurrently handle large amounts of data with no log-jams. It can also address an almost unlimited number of clients, giving you the ability to rapidly scale up your operations, says Goodbourn. Adding extra capacity – as Milk has just done – is completely seamless and doesn’t involve any downtime. It also adds significantly to speed and performance.
“Another big plus is that PixIT’s architecture really fits the deadline-driven nature of vfx,” stresses Goodbourn.“With most types of storage as you reach around 80% of capacity, performance rapidly tails off, but with PixIT this just doesn’t happen.” Milk has already used the system in production on the BBC’s Doctor Who Christmas Special and Sherlock, Sky/ Atlantic’s David Attenborough Natural History Museum Adventure – shot in 3D – and the feature Hercules. The way PixIT’s file system software organises work makes the whole system simpler and less prone to falling over. “Everything is put into one storage system – there are no separate SANs for edit and grading – with everything in one place but organised into separate pools.”
This helps spread the load, so that customers can manage vfx applications such as Autodesk’s Maya and editorial playback applications such as Adobe Premiere or Foundry’s Hiero from within the same workspace, removing the need for expensive SANs. Goodbourn reports that the support from PixIT Media was “phenomenal”, with the company offering a 24 hour hotline and service with a very personal feel. “It’s the best I have ever experienced. You can get things sorted out at 4am, plus a lot of the engineers are London based rather than on the other side of the world.”