NAS Performance Acceleration for Long-Distance Rendering

Method Studios Deploys Avere for Blockbuster Effects

Winning work on major feature films like The Maze Runner means more than being able to create the best visual effects—it means delivering the best VFX at competitive price points and schedules. 

Scott Parker, head of Technical Operations at Method Studios Vancouver, says that IT infrastructure plays a critical role in ensuring artists can craft award-winning results without exceeding the time and dollar constraints of competitive bids. “We continually work to produce the highest-quality visual effects. But the challenge is to achieve those results on very limited project funds. To meet our objectives for both performance and economy, we use Avere Systems storage.” Method Studios is a Deluxe Entertainment Services Group company.

“Avere lets us put performance where we need it without having to buy more expensive disk—and surplus capacity—for our traditional NAS infrastructure. We’re able to keep compute farms and artists working productively, and as a result, deliver more iterations and ultimately a better final product to clients. Deploying the Avere more than tripled our IOPS for about one-fourth the cost of achieving equivalent performance on our core filers.”

“But Avere delivers value beyond raw price/performance. Avere’s global namespace enables a consolidated view across all of our NAS arrays and provides advanced analytics that up-level troubleshooting. Avere’s analytics give us new opportunities to simplify, improve processes, and deploy assets most effectively across our WAN for better performance and to support our studio’s evolving business requirements.”

Challenge: Highest-Quality VFX in Less Time and More Economically 

Method Studios Vancouver, renowned for its VFX work, boasts a blockbuster portfolio that includes The Giver, Thor: The Dark World, Divergent, Maleficent, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and many more major-studio features. The Vancouver team of some 200 artists routinely work on a pipeline of 10-15 commercial and film projects. The studio’s storage infrastructure must deliver sufficiently responsive performance to keep those artists and more than 500 supporting workstations and compute-farm nodes working productively. 



Parker says it was the studio’s work as lead vendor on The Maze Runner—a project that ultimately saw the creation of 150 character shots and 380 environment shots—that first pushed the boundaries of the existing NAS infrastructure. “With the heavy workload of that project, we started experiencing network timeouts that locked user workstations for as much as 30 seconds at a time. Artists were rightly frustrated, and the extra calls to IT put additional burden on our support team of just seven engineers. We had to quickly resolve performance issues—and do it with very limited funds.”

Solution: Avere for 3X Performance

Parker’s team tested an Avere solution against current workloads, deploying the Edge filers in front of Method’s existing Isilon arrays. “We saw an immediate performance gain of more than three times the IOPS. The Avere cluster boost throughput to effectively eliminate latency to artist workstations and support the full render-farm workload as well—our storage infrastructure went from crawling to blazing fast.”

Today an Avere FXT Edge filer cluster provides high-speed I/O to Method Vancouver’s 3000-core render farm and some 200 artist workstations. 

Benefits: Highest-quality Effects, Metrics for Management, Business Flexibility

Speed for Stunning VFX

Deployed for more than a year, the Avere solution has helped the Method VFX team deliver highest-quality VFX—on time and on budget—for dozens of projects. From the Maze’s menacing Griever mechanical beast and massive digital gardens, to Thor’s Greenwich-showdown sequence and Divergent’s unsettling Mirror Room, the studio’s award-winning visual effects bring fictional worlds to life and have audiences clamoring for sequels.

Parker notes, “The Avere solution, at just one-quarter the cost of adding more platters to core filers, gives us the most affordable performance to handle heavy rendering workloads and deliver local-workstation responsiveness to artists so they can focus on creating the highest-quality effects. We’re also well-equipped to accommodate short-notice projects—the current Avere cluster provides headroom to support dozens more artists and render nodes and ensures we’ll have predictable performance scalability when we need it.”

Stability and Operations Insight

“Most importantly,” continues Parker, “we have peace of mind that our storage infrastructure is safe and reliable—it’s one less thing IT has to worry about. Downtime is expensive—if our staff can’t work, we could incur lost-productivity costs of tens of thousands of dollars a day and, even more concerning, risk impacting project deadlines. Infrastructure stability is one of the reasons we only deploy enterprise-grade solutions like Avere. A lot of studios use Avere technology, it’s a tried and trusted storage architecture.” 

Parker says that Avere’s global namespace and integrated analytics also help IT more effectively manage I/O assets and performance. “Avere offers much stronger analytics than we’ve seen in other systems. The metrics help us more quickly pinpoint issues and adjust our pipeline for optimal performance. Avere also provides responsive technical support from Tier 1 engineers who are experts in the technology, as well as problem-solving.”

Long-distance Rendering and More

As you might expect from a team in the business of making movie magic, the forward-looking Method crew is already working on new infrastructure models to meet future requirements for performance and affordability. “Avere gives us tremendous flexibility to pursue virtualization, cloud computing, and as-a-service IT models,” suggests Parker. “Because we can deploy Avere Edge filers remotely from our core storage, we have the ability to take advantage of long-distance render solutions. In early testing, results show that Avere technology successfully hides WAN latency to enable the equivalent of local performance across the network. That opens new opportunities to implement as-a-service models to our business units, allowing us to achieve even greater efficiencies without compromising productivity. The Avere architecture gives us a lot of capability to leverage emerging compute models and to support our own evolving business strategies.” 


About Method Studios

Method Studios is an award-winning, international visual effects group with facilities in Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, London, Sydney, and Melbourne. As an artist-driven company known for its creativity, Method services high-end feature film, commercial, television, games, and motion-graphics clients in the global marketplace. Method facilities provide a full range of visual effects services, including conceptual design, look development, on-set supervision, 3D animation/CGI, matte painting, compositing, and finishing. Method Studios is wholly owned by Deluxe Entertainment Services Group, Inc.

About Deluxe

Deluxe Entertainment Services Group Inc. is a global leader in media and entertainment services for film, video and online content, from capture to consumption. Since 1915, Deluxe has been the trusted partner for the world’s most successful Hollywood studios, independent film companies, TV networks, exhibitors, advertisers and others, offering best-in-class solutions in production, post production, distribution, asset and workflow management, and new digital solution-based technologies. With operations in Los Angeles, New York and around the globe, the company employs nearly 6,000 of the most talented, highly honored and recognized artists and industry veterans worldwide. Deluxe is a wholly owned subsidiary of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc.