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Studio as a service taps virtualisation

StudioEngine, the Australian post-production film studio-as-a-service company opened by SteamEngine founder Stefan Gillard, started virtualising its infrastructure last year for clients in order to make better use of its resources.
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Written by Luke Hopewell, Journalist on

update StudioEngine, the Australian post-production film studio-as-a-service company opened by SteamEngine founder Stefan Gillard, started virtualising its infrastructure last year for clients in order to make better use of its resources.

Speaking at the launch of Intel's new Xeon processors yesterday in Sydney, Gillard said that the studio-as-a-service provider wanted to allow multiple film, television and entertainment clients to complete jobs concurrently, having learned lessons from a previous high-capacity computing venture, SteamEngine.

"When we originally set up SteamEngine, we set it up as both a [high-performance computing] and cloud provider. What we found was that that worked well for corporate but it didn't [meet] media and entertainment needs. Now we need to be more careful about how we partition and run virtual environments and workloads within a multi-tenanted environment. We actually do run rendering both as virtualised and bare metal in parallel on the same projects," he said.

By virtualising the company's infrastructure so it can be used across multiple clients, Gillard added, creative users are encouraged to be more efficient when putting scenes together to be rendered.

"What we tend to find is that if you give an artist a server node that has 64GB of RAM, they'll generate a scene file that requires 64GB of RAM to render and they sometimes get a bit lazy about optimising scenes and file [management]. Real power and real efficiencies come about when you have someone who is a data manager or a senior manager who can help optimise that process."

Gillard said, however, that this virtualisation push has come with implementation and usability issues, including problems with licensing.

"The challenge is that when you virtualise a render node licence, the [end user licensing agreement] allows you to virtualise a physical licence, but the queue manager doesn't realise that we have multiple virtual infrastructures on the single licence, so we can run into some licensing issues around that.

"Software manufacturers are now trying to deal with how to run a virtual instance of the software, which is absolutely pivotal to our pipelines and individual productions and what renderers they want to use."

While some clients opt to have smaller portions of virtualised infrastructure available to complete their post-production processes, others are still able to access a full rack of gear if they want to, Gillard said.

StudioEngine borrowed one of Intel's new Xeon-powered servers to test the capacity with a view to purchase, and Gillard noticed that there wasn't a direct increase in render speed but there was an increase in CPU efficiency. As processor technology marches forward, Gillard said, there would be no limits to what can be achieved in visual effects.

"We are getting to a tipping point now where we can throw so much resource at a problem that we're no longer technology constrained. I think we'll find over the next three years ... we're going to see far less inhibition and far less constraint coming from technology as an enabler of [film]."

Studio Engine's clients include OmniLab Media, Rising Sun Pictures, Digital Domain and Fuel VFX in its two NSW-based studio spaces. Visual effects projects including Happy Feet 2 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have been completed using Studio Engine services.

Updated at 3:08pm, 9 March 2012: altered paragraph 9 and removed paragraph 10, as it erroneously referred to an unfinished project.

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