The EMC Tech behind the movie Avatar

The EMC Tech behind the movie AvatarThe EMC Tech behind the movie Avatar

“We will solve our last problem on the day we finish shooting” Avatar’s Director James Cameron told Jon Landau, Avatar’s producer as they embarked on the journey to tell the story of the digitally produced blue-coloured Na’vi tribe which face extinction on Pandora.  Jon knew that they had a challenge on their hands as they had plans to shoot using technology that had not existed yet. 

The movie is not animated. Actors act and not simply lend their voices to the script which is what makes this movie so incredibly rich.

At EMC World in Las Vegas, Jon explained that choosing the right technology partners such as EMC was key to allow the movie to come to life. Even though the team had no idea how to they would overcome software hurdles to shoot the digital motion capture, EMC offered the backbone that could deliver a robust system which could be scaled up to accommodate new processes whenever they would be required and in whatever shape they would happen to be.

The EMC Tech behind the movie Avatar

“The entire movie creation is based on end-to-end software. Once the script is themed for the story to be told, the design is digital, the production is virtual and the distribution is digital which underscored the need for the Avatar team to choose tech partners correctly. Spontaneity can only happen once but if we capture it digitally, then we can create it in a close up or in a wide shot where the actor could never recreate it.” says Jon and he quickly adds “but remember that Technology doesn’t make a bad movie good.”

Really Big Data

Everyone can be director as anyone can create content but where does one store such large data and for how long remains the Big Data nightmare.  The first Avatar used 180 terabytes of storage. New Avatar has up to 2 petabytes and the Digital effects company will have 10 petabytes. “How do we manage that ?” Jon asks as clearly distribution channels such as Netflix and mobile  can not handle 2 petabytes of data to distribute Avatar.  Jon explains that “The studio looked at the codex and some were not approved as they could not distribute the content of good enough quality. So if Netflix is only presenting their content on the TV screen then it only has to be good enough for that screen same as if someone is doing it for a mobile device – so the size is manageable.”

In the Clouds Security

Historically there are two types of Cloud systems. Private Cloud where everything is controlled and owned by the business or Public Cloud where a service providers provides the hardware and software and you simply use their services to share data, email, store info etc. The concept that EMC introduced is a Hybrid Cloud where some of the Cloud is owned by the business and some is owned by a service providers.  

In the Studio there is no mistaken which Cloud services they use – Private Cloud “for now and foreseeable future “We need to protect our IP. The Avatar team  needs collaborate with their New Zealand based company, Weta Digital. In order to do that, they use EMC’s Vplex to set up a private cloud to share data

We need to keep wizard behind the curtain, if people see the first pass of Avatar and criticize that we cant adapt . Once it is out we can go to Public Cloud.”  Jon cites two cases for when the Studio can use the Hybrid Cloud such as the Pendopedia which is an encyclopaedia / Wikipeadia about the world of Pandora which could be opened up to let people contribute to it or the “The prefect opportunity for a public cloud could be in a game play where someone can influence the game for someone else.”

Its too risky to have Avatar’s IP accessible on someone else’s system. n fact, Jon warns that “In terms of security of content we do it internally. We create networks within networks to protect access to content. We no longer have to worry about big brother, we have to worry about little brother.”

Tech Budgets

Tech has a price and just like every other company even Avatar  has to fight for the Studio to spend money “We don’t have an open cheque book – rather the opposite. The first Avatar movie did not get the green light as the studio was worried about the financial risk. Its hard to justify to someone in the studio IT spend. They can understand if you need more money for a star or visual effects or a bigger set but when you say you want 3 different EMC Isilon servers they don’t understand why you need any of that.”

So in Summary

Avatar  had gone on to be the highest-grossing film of all time, surpassing Titanic using revolutionary techniques however the goal at the outset was not set to disrupt the industry. “Our results in success is disruption. Look historically. The businesses that succeed in creating disruption are successful.”

Jon summarises that “Regardless of industry, people never get fired for not trying something new. People get fired for trying something new and failing which therefore means that people  are hesitant and afraid to innovate.”

In the past the rules was Plan, Build, Run which was a cycle that took years. Too slow. With virtualisation and the ability to deploy hundreds of servers at a touch of a button, trying something new and failing does is no  a disaster and so the envelop is being pushed.

“There should always be a market gap – that is what spurs us to fill it”

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