On-Demand Storage Performance for Commercial Production Workflows
The Mill VFX Uses Avere FXT Edge Filers for Faster Production Workflows
To play in the Super Bowl, you’ve got to be the best—on the field and on the small screen as well. In the high-stakes business of Super Bowl advertising, where an average media buy tops $4 million for a 30-second spot, sponsors hire only the best ad agencies and directors to produce the famed commercials that can reach worldwide viewing audiences of more than 110 million.
This year, some of the industry’s top producers collaborated with The Mill VFX studios on no fewer than eighteen Super Bowl commercials, including the topranked Anheuser-Busch “Puppy Love” ad.1 Clients engage The Mill artists in part because of their ability to deliver stunning visual effects against seemingly challenging deadlines. Group Systems Manager Jonathan Brazier says that technology plays a key enabling role. “We need fast servers, a fast network, and rendering capacity to maintain workflows. Avere Systems Edge filers accelerate data delivery to our rendering nodes, ensuring that we can run complex renders without schedule-impacting latency. As a result, The Mill artists can consistently bring the client’s vision to life, on time and on budget.”
Challenge: Meet Within-Days Project Deadlines
Brazier points out that The Mill workflows demand high-performance infrastructure with faster turnaround. “Rather than working on a single project for 12-18 months, we’re producing commercials on a weekly basis. So we require the most effective render workflow.”
Solution: Avere for Performance
Brazier contacted ERA, a London-based IT infrastructure systems integrator and solution specialist in broadcast, post production, and media. “Earlier in the year we had met with this integrator, an Avere partner, to discuss infrastructure requirements for our production workflows with our main challenge being finding a drop-in solution that didn’t require moving hundreds of terabytes of data.”
The ERA team helped size an Avere Edge filer solution to support production workflows. “Although ERA did not have available Avere filers in their offices,” adds Brazier, “they located Avere products and had them delivered to us by Friday of the same week. We racked the systems over the weekend, and installed them Monday morning.”
Today the Avere FXT 4200 Edge filer cluster accelerates some 250TB of Hitachi Data Systems NAS (formerly BlueArc) capacity in support of The Mill’s 7200 core, Linux-based render farm. Avere provides 1.6TB of high-speed Flash SSD capacity per node, accessible via both NFS and CIFS protocols. The infrastructure supports some 200 artists and an application environment that includes The Foundry’s Nuke 2D and Autodesk Maya and Softimage, Massive, and Side Effects Software Houdini 3D rendering/animation solutions.
Benefits: Drop-in Render Power and Savings
“To achieve the same performance boost with any other solution would have caused significant upheaval,” comments Brazier. “The ease with which the Avere cluster went in was one of the best benefits of the solution. Over the course of a morning we moved the whole render farm via a simple process of mirroring mount points on the BlueArcs, rebooting the render boxes, and then serving data through the Avere cluster.”
Brazier notes that although several engineers boast storage expertise, none are dedicated to storage administration. Beyond simple setup and administration, the Avere solution also allows The Mill to extend the life of its existing storage and to leverage lower-cost disks for future capacity buys.
On-demand Performance Delivers More Visual Impact at Less Cost
Avere enables The Mill artists to deliver more visual impact faster and at less cost. Whether they’re designing a stadium background framed for the eight-foot-tall camel starring in Geico’s “Hump Day” spot or making last-minute insertions of team logos, artists need performance to handle unique and often-unforeseen VFX challenges. “Our job is to create visualizations that successfully represent clients’ concepts,” summarizes Brazier. “Avere technology gives us the on-demand performance we need to deliver quality imagery within the client’s cost and delivery constraints. Avere accelerates I/O performance so we have render capacity for the most demanding workflows, even during Super Bowl and other peak commercial seasons when clients count on us to help them leverage their opportunities for maximum brand exposure.”