SilverDraft and Micron bring you demons, devils, and movie magic

SilverDraft and Micron create a winning combination for filmmakers and video production professionals who need extreme performance technology.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

SilverDraft's CEO, Amy Gile, and I had an interesting phone conversation about her company's extreme video processing and rendering technology company. Amy and her team looked into existing supercomputing systems and saw the potential for advancing the digital rendering process, but none of the designs fit their requirements. But what did fit their requirements will surprise you: supercomputing. Supercomputing offers the raw horsepower to do the work, but the systems aren't well balanced and are difficult to deploy and use. The answer, she said, seemed clear: The only way to get an effective and affordable supercomputer for digital rendering is to build it ourselves.

As a former computer builder myself, I'd have to agree. By building its systems from the ground up, focusing on extreme performance for entertainment and filmmaking in mind, SilverDraft can build the industry's best performing rendering machines in the business.

It also doesn't hurt that Amy and her staff know the filmmaking business from all angles (no pun intended). In her experience, in front of and behind the camera, Amy realized that current technologies were failing the new filmmaker, but she had a solution—if you can't render the data remotely, bring the rendering on site and render the video data as it comes off the cameras. The solution sounds relatively simple, but in practice she found that it was anything but simple.

"We knew that workflow-tailored supercomputing was the key for us. We wanted to exploit supercomputing technologies, high-bandwidth interconnects, and stateof- the-art SSD storage to enable smooth delivery of time-shifted rendered frames quickly and easily; and we wanted to enhance the creative process by providing near real-time results."

To make her idea and plan a reality, she contacted Dr. Srindhi Varadarajan (Dr. V), who's best known for his pioneering work in supercomputing. Dr. V designs and builds powerful supercomputers from off-the-shelf components. His designs have the added effect of bringing massive scale computing within the budgets of a wider audience.

"We design all of our systems with balance. People are moving away from HD and into 4K. At 8 bits per pixel, the data rates are staggering—up to 48MB per frame, at 30 frames per second, resulting in an aggregate bandwidth measured in terabits per second. Our storage systems using the Micron M500 can very easily manage these tremendous data rates."

Of course this is where I digress for a moment to tell you that I'm running the same Micron M500 in my Mac mini of my four-part Mac mini mini-series posted here on ZDNet. I can tell you that the M500 is no slouch when it comes to performance. Read my post on the M500 and M550 to find out more.

OK, now I return you to the story of SilverDraft and Micron.

Wait, I have one more related diversion. While speaking with Amy, I asked her about the mobile rendering unit she calls MobileViz. So, here's the deal: It's a mobile rendering lab that you can drive onto the movie set and start work on a scene as it's being shot. Sure, you have to have the right cameras and equipment, but damn that's cool. It's basically a whole studio in a box,...well, a trailer to be exact, but still.

So, if you don't catch the full gravity of that, let me make it easy for you. You know how long it takes to make a movie? You'll see a trailer months or even a year in advance of the release date? Well, that's a thing of the past with this mobile unit. Think about it. You could shoot a feature-length film in say, 20 days, do all or most of the editing and post-production on site. What that means is that you could go from green light to silver screen in six months or maybe less if you have an aggressive crew.

I just had a great idea.

Some movie company, say Sony, Miramax, or Pixar could issue a challenge to filmmakers to compete to do just that: Create a movie, start to finish, in six months.

That would be awesome.

It would also make a great reality mini-series. You know, "The Making of...".

The Elevator Pitch

Hey, (Sony, Miramax, Pixar) my name is Ken Hess <holds up one hand in the shape of a phone and winks>, you should call me and let's talk about this idea. You need some fresh blood and some fresh ideas in Hollywood. Let's make a film in six months and make people watch us while we do it. Kind of a Truman Show with a goal. Think about it. I'm easy to contact.

And now back to the story of SilverDraft and Micron.

Oh, sorry, one more thing. I want that guy who narrated "The Super Friends" to narrate the reality show. "Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice". Yeah, that was awesome.

Seriously, no more diversions. The story of SilverDraft and Micron continues.

Of Devils and Demons

The Devil is the Supercomputer server and the Demons are workstations. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: SilverDraft's Devil and Demon Architecture.

Imagine that setup in your production studio. Now imagine it in a mobile workspace on location. Get the picture? Again, no pun intended, but funny.

According to Amy, the recent product announcement at NAB 2014 was met with a high level of interest from customers. She stated that the less (IT work) their customers have to do themselves, the better. SilverDraft's customers rely on them to make their lives easier and to enable their creativity. Their products, with the Micron M500 preinstalled, enable a shift in content generation. Several customers have migrated from providing video content created by others to creating, finishing, and delivering high-quality 4K content every day. Customers like YouTubeNation rely on SilverDraft's platforms to generate new viewer experiences, previously unachievable. SilverDraft's systems enable this next-generation media.

It was a great pleasure talking to Amy and the guys (Steve Janzen and Sam Harmer) from Micron who originally turned me onto SilverDraft, while I was at SpiceWorld 2014 in Austin. I'm excited about SilverDraft's work, filmmaking, Micron's incredibly fast SSDs, and Hollywood having my number.

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