DreamWorks: 3D movies to double data storage requirements

New digital library can scale out to almost 1 petabyte of capacity

DreamWorks Animation is releasing all of its films in stereoscopic 3D, more than doubling the amount of data storage capacity required to store its movies.

The move to 3D animation also requires the company's IT shop to migrate away from tape-based storage systems to disk systems in order to keep archived films online for animators to use as references for future sequels, which is the company's mainstay.

DreamWorks recently released its first 3D animated moviem Monsters vs. Aliens, which packed its newly installed disk array from Hewlett-Packard Co. with 93TB worth of images. The company plans to release five feature films every two years. In the past, each animated film averaged less than 25TB, according to Derek Chan, head of digital operations for DreamWorks Animation.

The creation of three-dimensional movies means for every film frame there will be two images instead of one: one image for the left eye and one for the right eye of a viewer. Those cheap plastic or cardboard bi-colored glasses handed out at the theater polarize the images on the screen and combine in order to give the perception of depth.

DreamWorks' philosophy on feature-length animated films is to build franchises. There are three Shrek movies, for example, Madagascar has two and Kung Fu Panda will also have a sequel, Chan said.

"Think about Shrek. We're working on the fourth version now. There are three previous versions to reference for historical accuracy and inspiration. Then you increase the amount of data with stereoscopic imaging, and you've got a much larger data archiving tier," Chan said.

Two months ago, DreamWorks installed a new online reference library for its films. The disk array, an HP StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage System (ExDS9100), has 170TB of capacity - enough to store about 36,000 DVDs. But DeamWorks' goal is to keep everything, so the ExDS9100 storage system was configured to be able to scale out to 820TB.

HP introduced a new version of its ExDS9100 this week, increasing the configuration options on the array so that the smallest capacity point is now 82TB. Previously, the array started at 246TB of raw space, according to Michael Callaghan, chief technologist for HP's Enterprise NAS Group. The ExDS9100 uses an HP C7000 server blade chassis, offering from four to 16 blades. The blade chassis can't store the data itself, but also includes "storage blocks" or arrays of disks, each of which contain 82 1TB hard drives. Each storage block is fronted by a pair of controllers configured for RAID 6 protection.

The ExDS9100 can be configured independently for CPU power and networking bandwidth depending on how many server blades are used in the C7000 chassis, and storage capacity can be increased by adding 82TB blocks. The base configuration of the ExDS9100 starts with two server blades, each of which can deliver up to 200MB/sec. of I/O performance, and can scale to a maximum 3.2GB/sec. Chan said DreamWorks paid under $US2 a gigabyte for the new digital archive library.

DreamWorks' previous archive setup, which used an LTO tape library, took animators days to retrieve movie sequences that are used for inspiration as well as to emulate characters and landscapes in new movies. The new disk archive system can retrieve video sequences in seconds, Chan said.

"Our focus was to find a cost effective bulk storage tier, optimized for capacity more than for performance. We're not going to turn our entire [image] render farm at it. So there aren't going to be 16,000 cores trying to reference this material simultaneously," Chan said. "But you will have high-demand artists who are looking into what Queen Lillian was wearing in Shrek III, and they don't want to wait to get it off tape. That breaks the creative flow."

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