Few companies push computing resources to the limits more than visual effects studios. These days, animations, renderings and other 2-D production tasks can make or break a commercial, TV show or film.
At Crafty Apes, a full-service boutique visual effects company based in Culver City, Calif., the challenge of producing stunning effects with increasingly demanding turnaround times led directly to better storage technology. “We recognized a need for more storage and better storage,” says Jason Sanford, co-founder and executive producer. “We had to prepare for the future.”
The company—which got its start in 2011 and has worked on productions such as Foxcatcher, Hidden Figures, La La Land, American Hustle, Into the Woods and The Walking Dead—was hamstrung by a collection of older storage devices that couldn’t keep up with growing demands. “Visual effects is a very competitive business, and performance cannot be an afterthought,” Sanford points out.
Yet, at the same time, the company didn’t have a big budget. “We had to adopt technology that could support increasingly large files, we required the highest level of reliability, and we had to keep cost under control,” he notes.
Turning to Network-Attached Storage
Crafty Apes turned to network-attached storage (NAS) from Qumulo, which delivers advanced data awareness capabilities that help track and manage a variety of files, including different video and film formats.
For example, when Crafty Apes created the opening scene for La La Land, it produced 8,000-plus frames and five minutes more material than the industry average of two to five seconds and 100 frames between cuts. The scene included renderings of cars, added dancers, transitions between multiple takes, wardrobe adjustments, removal of set equipment and much more. The task required immediate access to hundreds of renders and terabytes of data.
The storage network, which went online in November 2016, also had to connect to a second office in Atlanta, Ga. “We are a fast-growing company. In the past, it had been a huge endeavor to support the two offices,” Sanford explains. He says that the transition to the new storage platform went smoothly, the company can now scale up seamlessly, and the technology has been “rock-solid reliable.”
Tim Ledoux, co-founder and VFX supervisor, says that Crafty Apes has ultimately gained speed, reliability and flexibility. “We have no constraints on the technical side,” he reports. “We are able to easily sync data across the two offices.” Files often range from 48 megabytes to 120 megabytes. An entire shot can consume 10 terabytes, he adds.
The company is currently using hybrid storage arrays, but Ledoux says that it may eventually upgrade to all flash storage. “As we move forward as a company, the need for performance may eclipse the cost issue,” Sanford says. “The good thing is that we can integrate new arrays without any interruption. If we want to scale up, we just add a node.”
In fact, Crafty Apes now has about 120 terabytes of total storage, and it is continuing to add capacity. “As a company using this solution, we manage work faster and better,” Sanford concludes.