Lord of the Rings' FX drives storage spending

The digital effects employed in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy are gobbling up storage space so quickly that special effects producer Weta Digital is investing heavily in network-attached storage hardware.

The digital effects employed in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy are gobbling up storage space so quickly that special effects producer Weta Digital is investing heavily in network-attached storage hardware.

Wellington-based Weta has spent about $US750,000 on storage and network infrastructure for the trilogy over the past year, says technical chief Jon Labrie.

It installed two Network Appliance F840 "filers" at the end of June and may need a third as storage requirements for digital data from the film trilogy increase. Labrie says the company has to date been using systems from SGI and other vendors, including Network Appliance.

Weta's purchases are part of a deliberate strategy of using network-attached storage (NAS) rather than a storage area network (SAN), Labrie says. “My staff and I did a pretty extensive evaluation of SANs and I didn’t feel SAN technology was where it needed to be in terms of price and performance.”

Network-attached storage is hard disk space assigned its own IP network address rather than being attached directly to the server, so storage and applications are not competing for the same processor resources. A SAN is a special-purpose storage network.

The decision was taken more than a year ago and sticking to the plan has been no problem, Labrie says. “We will continue to scale the IP infrastructure in size until 2003.”

The second film of the trilogy, The Two Towers, will use more digital data than the first, The Fellowship of the Ring, to be released later this year. The final film, The Return of the King, will use more again. “We’ve already created 20TB of data, including scanned frames, models and animation, and when all three films are finished there will be more than 100TB.”

A “substantial part” of the film trilogy will “see digital treatment”, Labrie says, “but it has been and will be shot on film and it will be released on film. In all senses, it’s a film made in the traditional fashion.”

He acknowledges that the choices available for digital special effects are much wider than when Weta first embarked on the Lord of the Rings, particularly NT and Linux-based applications.

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