"Despereaux" posed steep challenge for clustered storage system

The 90 million images from the animated film "The Tale of Despereaux" generated 200 TB of data, putting the clustered storage system used by the post-production studio to the test.

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The post-production studio that handled animation for the movie The Tale of Despereaux used an EonStor storage system from Infortrend Technology Inc. and a Lustre clustered file system from Sun Microsystems Inc. to store and manage data. During work on the move, the amount of data produced quadrupled to 200 TB.

Steve Prescott, director of technology at London-based Framestore, says the production house started with 50 TB a year ago for the project but had to add storage three times before completing work.

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Framestore has worked on The Golden Compass, The Dark Knight, Australia, and all of the Harry Potter movies. But The Tale of Despereaux was different because it was completely animated in a specific artistic style. While a typical movie may include a couple of hundred post-effect shots, this one had 1,700 shots and generated 90 million images.

With 80% of the rendering needing to be done in three months to meet an Oct. 30 deadline so the film could open the weekend before Christmas, Framestore had 278 artists working on the movie. "The look we were going for was a Dutch Masters kind of thing, not shiny or cartoony," says Prescott. "Textures were important. It had to be perfect."

Prescott suspected from the start that he would have to add storage during the project, and wanted a system that would scale easily. "Sometimes," he says, "the way to get around a problem is to throw more resources at it."

For CGI rendering, Framestore used a supercomputer system made up of a 200 TB Linux cluster, mirrored the production data to a secondary cluster and installed a 10 Gbps dark fibre network to replicate its files across four London locations each day.

"We wanted to make sure [the storage system] was as resilient as possible," says Prescott. "We built a cluster behind the primary cluster to mirror and snapshot. If we lost the primary cluster, we had another cluster we could fall back to. If somebody deleted something, we could get it back straight away. With all that material, not having to put it onto slower storage or tape was quite important."

We wanted to make sure the storage system was as resilient as possible.
Steve Prescott
director of technologyFramestore
Adding storage to the Infortrend system was simple, according to Prescott. But it had to be done in a timely fashion. "We would add another object storage server and get that to be recognized by the cluster and start to be used," he says. "We'd have to wait for churn to redistribute the data. On a cluster, some new servers may be full, and if you add a new server it might not be used efficiently for a few weeks until data is churned and redistributed."

Lustre's unified naming system allows Prescott's artists to share files across different servers efficiently. "Before, we used lots of NFS servers and linked them," he says. "We had different servers for different parts of the project, and they'd be linked together in a Byzantine web. That became difficult to manage. The server would crawl, and rendering would go slowly."

Framestore's storage setup is more common in research laboratories or other supercomputing environments than in movie production. "We're probably the only people in our industry using it," says Prescott. "The standard model is to use it to compute a large problem. We have clusters running mixed applications, render farms with people animating on the cluster. We stress the system more than anybody."

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