A new storage for a new VFX and post environment

Simone Grattarola at work
Janet Lafleur, Quantum
May 4th 2017 at 9:59AM : By

How can different post production departments share and optimise their storage. Janet Lafleur, Quantum senior product marketing manager, offers her view

Visual effects and animation can be powerful storytelling tools when integrated into dramas, comedies and other productions. They can enhance the human element, add a touch of magic or illustrate actions or events in a way that a human actor simply couldn’t. With these tools at their fingertips, editors and other artists can be more creative in developing richer, more engaging content. However, while VFX/animation give live action productions a visual boost, they also put added pressure on the storage infrastructure supporting creative processes.

Special requirements

VFX/animation workflows require random access and high IOPS performance for a large number of clients, and it is neither practical nor cost-effective to try to scale traditional network attached storage (NAS) to deliver the performance sufficient for these operations. The differing performance requirements of VFX/animation work and editorial work typically have led post facilities to maintain separate silos of storage for each department.

On the VFX/animation side, hybrid disk/flash systems increasingly are being used to meet performance requirements while also enabling storage content on the most economical medium. Using integrated tier-management technology, such a solution can almost continuously score, scan and sort data, moving it between spinning disk and flash as access patterns change, and so optimising system performance while maximising use of flash storage.

Storing media files on a single storage system with a single name space, facilities can eliminate the inefficiencies of less connected storage silos


True NAS access and connectivity give VFX artists and animators the speed and availability they need at a fraction of the cost of an all-flash solution. On the editorial side, fixed and predictable bandwidth between workstations and shared storage is offered by fibre-channel storage area network (SAN) connections, while more affordable Ethernet-based NAS connections, which require time-consuming processing overhead, support those other operations which will remain unaffected by small delays.

In today’s 4K workflows, facilities must deal not only with immense volumes of data, but also with a substantial increase in the bandwidth and processing power needed to work effectively with higher-resolution content. While flash offers impressive speed and is possibly a tempting option, spinning disk systems offer greater price-to-performance benefits when disk operations are sequential reads and writes of individual frames and files.

Maintaining these two distinct storage environments presents workflow complexities, particularly in today’s creative environment, in which collaboration is an essential part of meeting tight deadlines and handling high project loads. When it is necessary to transfer content from one department to the other over the network, the time- and resource-consuming nature of reading and writing data on both sides of the divide has the potential to bring all other operations to a halt.

Fortunately, powerful workflow storage platforms are now enabling facilities to overcome this challenge and realise radical gains in efficiency. Using a sophisticated file system, such a platform can provide a unified backplane for all storage, effectively giving facilities a single-namespace NAS/SAN, ideally with IP and Fibre Channel connectivity optimised for centralised media creation and distribution.

Unified environment

Storing media files on a single storage system with a single name space, facilities can eliminate the inefficiencies of less connected storage silos.

This approach allows facilities to streamline the overall storage environment and to ensure that they can supplies the type and degree of connectivity required by across the content creation workflow. This approach also makes it easy for a facility to streamline playout operations. When, during the production cycle, the focus shifts to conforming/editing and the completion of deliverables, a secondary storage volume can be used for playout, allowing media to be moved from the content creation volume over high-speed fibre backbone at GB/sec speeds — still within that single namespace. This workflow configuration facilitates high-speed playout while limiting traffic on LAN connections that would slow down content creation for other productions.

By taking advantage of hybrid storage, robust disk-based systems and a powerful workflow storage platform, post facilities with a variety of disciplines — motion graphics, 3D animation, 2D animation, editing, colouring, and more — can reclaim hours of productivity every day.

The efficiency gains provided by storage optimised for both VFX/animation and editorial workflows are much greater when all storage is managed in a unified environment.

The growing number of post facilities that use VFX and animation to enhance live action productions can depend on this model to enable their creatives to do more work, more quickly, and to support smart business and infrastructure growth.