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Mythical mayhem finds a home on NetApp filers

The upcoming film "The Lord of the Rings" chronicles a young Hobbit's quest to save civilization. But before the stars could fight the forces of evil, the film's special effects team had to conquer its data storage foes.

A fantastic tale of elves and orcs has been brought to life with a little help from advanced storage technology.

Wellington, New Zealand-based Weta Digital Effects has deployed a trio of filers from Network Appliance Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., for use in the making of New Line Cinema's upcoming film, "The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring", the first in a trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's popular series of books.

Big names like Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Sir Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood star in the mythical tale of a young Hobbit's quest to save civilization, but before the stars could battle the forces of evil, the Weta Digital team had to conquer its data storage problems.

To support the film project, Weta deployed three NetApp F840 filers in a server-centric SGI and Mac environment. The initial capacity of the configuration was 5T Bytes, but grew to 12T Bytes within six months.

Weta said the three-year project called for a scalable, speedy configuration, which it found on the NetApp filers running the NFS (Network File System) protocol.

NFS is a client/server application that lets a user view and optionally store and update file on a remote computer as though they were on the user's own computer.

More than a million images for the first of the three films were scanned, said John Labrie, Weta's CTO.

Each image had to be scanned and stored for manipulation by Weta's 143 graphic artists. A single frame, said Labrie, can fill as much as 12M Bytes of storage space.

The issue for Weta was the need for shared storage and getting the bulky images off of the disk and onto the network for all of its graphic artists to use.

Steve Bracken, a systems engineer that worked on the NetApp deployment said that Weta's original approach to storing its post-production work was unsuccessful.

"They had a single SGI server and tried attaching storage to it," he said. A configuration that Bracken said would not scale.

"Incrementally it's cheaper to add a little bit of disk, but then you end up with a management headache," he said.

Weta considered other options, namely a SAN, but Bracken said SANs can prove to be too complex and too pricy for a small scale operation.

The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of three films and will be released before Christmas this year. The second and third films will be released at similar dates in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Weta expects to be engaged in post-production work until mid-2002.


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Check out the Lord of The Rings homepage

Webcast: NetApp plans (Dan Warmenhoven, Network Appliance)

Network Appliance continues the "Global Data Fabric" initiative

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