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May 21, 2012

HP Cloud Helps Build Dream Movies

Robert Gelber

Since the introduction of feature-length digitally-animated films like Toy Story and Shrek, animation artists have been trading in their paintbrushes for software. As demand continues to grow for these films, animation studios require more compute power and storage to handle their workloads. Recently, DreamWorks announced a continuation of their decade-long partnership with HP as they look to take advantage of HP’s cloud services.

DreamWorks logoDerek Chan, head of digital operations at DreamWorks, spoke with CloudPro about the technology behind its digitally-animated features. Chan explained that a feature film for the studio would generate roughly 500 million files and consume 200 terabytes of data. Beyond the storage requirements, an estimated 70 million CPU hours are needed to develop and render a film.

Chan mentioned in an interview at CloudBeat 2011 that DreamWorks was implementing grid computing and private cloud infrastructures with HP as far back as 2003. The deployments were made because the studio simply didn’t have enough physical space to house necessary processing power.

In 2010, the animation studio again looked to HP cloud technology to build continuity between their three production facilities, two in Redwood City and Glendale California, as well as one in Bangalore, India. They replaced point-to-point connections in favor of HP’s Switch Cloud in Las Vegas. Both California facilities are attached to the switch via 10Gb fiber.

Ideally, the Bangalore studio would have the same bandwidth, but it’s physical distance makes installing the pipe unfeasible.

“It is pretty cost prohibitive to get a 10Gb line between there and the US, so there we run at 500ms. We would love to have a global system that could provide a single view of that same data across all of this, whether private or public cloud. This is one of our big targets – the next evolution of the cloud for us is to make this a viable reality,” said Chan in an interview with Datacenter Dynamics.

One of the company’s largest challenges comes from demand to create more films, placing additional stress on their compute capacity. Since producing two feature films from 1998-2001, the studio has increased output considerably, creating five features between 2008-2010. To continue to making films at this pace, DreamWorks will be relying on a hybrid cloud setup. In 2010, the cloud processed five percent of the company’s rendering workload, while now that figure is up to 20 percent – it’s an evolution says Chan.

For entertainment companies, and especially digital animation studios, cloud storage and rendering services are becoming a viable alternative to managing private datacenters. As the industry continues to push the boundaries of technology, cloud providers can expect to receive more attention from content creators.