If the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz were released today, it would flop. Modern moviegoers wouldn’t be able to get past the film’s now-primitive special effects. But it’s not just 80-year-old films that look dated; films made 10, 5, or even 2 years ago often do as well. The technology driving the way movies look and feel is evolving that fast (and furious), and the tech infrastructure—especially storage—must keep up.
“Lately we have been seeing unprecedented demand for infrastructure, and that’s stemming from the very fact that filmmaking dynamics have changed,” says Sanjay Das, chief operating officer at Tippett Studio. “At the same time, we’re looking at how we can do things faster, cheaper, and better.”
Tippett Studio was founded in 1984 by Phil Tippett, just after he had received his first Academy Award for his work on Return of the Jedi. Tippett has a background in stop-motion animation, and as a character and creature designer for Star Wars and other science-fiction movies of the early 1980s, such as Dragonslayer. Tippett Studio’s early digital effects were for movies such as RoboCop and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and later for Jurassic Park, for which Phil Tippett received a second Academy Award. Today, Tippett Studio is a high-end character and creature animation media production company.
“We create animations, we create film, television, virtual and augmented reality,” says Corey Rosen, vice president of creative marketing at Tippett Studio. “Most recently, we entered the theme park development and creation world, where we create end-to-end experiences for large theme parks around the world.”
Rosen notes that the studio has between 120 and 150 artists working mostly in computer graphics. And while the studio’s primary medium used to be cinema, it is now also creating effects for end points as diverse as IMAX screens and mobile phones.
As demand for richer experiences on more-diverse viewing platforms has increased, so too has the demand for more sophisticated and robust technology.
We have so many films that we’ve worked on and still need to maintain for a number of years—the data and all the images.”
–Sanjay Das, Chief Operating Officer, Tippett Studio
“If you look at the whole process of storytelling or filmmaking, technology has played a very integral, very crucial part in the filmmaking process,” Rosen says. “This is true especially when you’re talking about visual effects and animation. We are heavily reliant on technology, and we have always been pushing the boundaries and innovations of technology year after year.”
COO Das explains that the visual richness and specification that viewers see onscreen is continually increasing.
“Every director wants a new unique look and style of the movie, whether it’s a technical-based movie or whether it’s just a drama with background effects in it or it’s computer animation,” he says. “It’s a very techno-creative process. If you look at it holistically, we are talking about software tools, and we are talking about algorithms and trying to mimic reality through physical simulation.”
Such innovations require infrastructure capable of storing and rendering huge amounts of data. For example, Das says, if an artist changes the light in a scene, the content has to go back to the render farm. There, it takes anywhere from 3 to 10 hours per frame to render, depending on the complexity.
The move from 2K to 4K resolution and other technological advances, such as more-sophisticated cameras, are placing increasing demand on production company data centers. Companies have a couple of on-premises choices: (1) upgrade their systems often, or (2) overprovision their systems in anticipation of future demand. Both options are costly, and that’s why studios and other businesses are turning to the cloud and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
Tippett Studio evaluated a number of IaaS options. Providers at the low and middle tier were not able to satisfy the company’s needs, Das says. Amazon came close, he explains, but its prices were too high.
When Tippett Studio looked at Oracle Cloud storage services, Das was impressed with the price and scope of the offerings.
“What appealed to me was the structure of the storage solutions that Oracle was providing,” he says. “There were two tiers. The first tier is what they call the object store, where you have instant access to the data that you put in the cloud into your active production. And then you have the second tier, the archive store or the archive tier. Those tiers work well for us because we have so many films that we’ve worked on and still need to maintain for a number of years—the data and all the images.”
Movies that Tippett Studio has not worked on in more than five years go into the archive store, while movies that the company has worked on in the last five years go into the object store. This two-tier system allows the studio to repurpose content, and it also provides a level of disaster protection—especially as the studio expands its distribution and operations globally.
Tippett Studio is putting systems and networks in place to support a staff of artists working together from locations worldwide. “Our use of Oracle technology allows us to recruit people and let them work remotely,” Das says. “So this is becoming a global content infrastructure for us.”
Tippett Studio is leveraging Oracle technology “at the bottom of the stack,” he notes, but the company plans to move beyond IaaS to the next levels of the cloud stack: platform as a service and software as a service.
“I’m not just looking at Oracle as a vendor,” Das says. “I’m looking at them as a partner that has the willingness to understand our needs and our workflow, and the ability to tailor solutions to our needs.”
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Photography by Gerrie van der Walt,Unsplash