Lights, camera, data centre: Australian films take it to the edge

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Lights, camera, data centre: Australian films take it to the edge
Now we’re seeing high-spec digital stages enable critical processes. This is the way.

Blockbuster locations doubling for any scenery in the world have been driving huge demand in Australia.

Until recently, the country’s flattened COVID-19 curve was drawing major film companies to take up residence among our beautiful landscapes and state-of-the-art studio facilities. 

The international spotlight is firmly on Australia and this has seen the film industry experience a threefold increase on 2019 levels.

As we gear up for major Hollywood studios, TV productions and streaming services like Netflix and Disney expanding in Australia, the industry needs to consider the infrastructure that supports it all – both in front of and behind the camera.

Going on location, compute location

Many don’t realise that behind all the special effects and set designs of a blockbuster is the demand for compute-intensive applications and latency-free computing power.

The fast-in, fast-out IT infrastructure required to support these short-cycle projects has become a major consideration for the industry’s ambitions and ultra-high-definition (UHD) production formats.

It’s an exponentially data-hungry business, and against this backdrop production teams are often spread across four corners of the globe, with no bandwidth for slow data communications and rendering delays.

Directly moving data – including IoT sensors, footage, and audio – from the production warehouse to the cloud can create an abundance of latency issues, leading many to put the idea of performing at the ‘edge’ into practice.

Take The Mandalorian for instance. Instead of being filmed at multiple locations, it was produced in a specialised studio that allowed the filmmakers to add in special effects and make edits in real time during filming.

Supporting dynamic photo-real digital landscapes and sets, while allowing room for creative flexibility, demands production companies to scale-up their data centre capacity and power these high-density projects more efficiently on site via a ‘sense-infer-react’ loop of visibility and control.

The bigger the movie, the bigger the compute

Supporting a high-spec digital stage, fitted with floor-to-ceiling LED screens and computer-generated imagery (CGI) capabilities is no simple feat.

Not only are the compute requirements unique to each production project, but the moving parts of the data centre must also perform as quietly as possible to avoid disrupting the shoot, or the talent. 

One such Sydney-based production company, generating huge volumes of data in its football pitch-sized production warehouse, supported its filming methods with a modular, non-containerised data centre that reached just 80 decibels inside, and 60 decibels outside.

What does that sound like? It is comparable to the level of noise background music makes, and that’s just the beginning of the data centre’s future on-location. 

From 35mm film to AI

While the 35mm film was the standard for making and distributing movies for about a century, now we’re seeing high-spec digital stages enable critical processes and allow production companies to compete in the expanding market.

The transformation of the movie and TV industry is only just beginning. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already being used to automate the production of trailers and enable predictive analytics, and its role on the creative side is set to expand with algorithms currently being developed to automate scriptwriting and camera work.

But these next-generation digital investments cannot perform without latency-free computing power. With more data than ever before, production companies need to manage, store and draw value from their production assets right where it’s needed, where the director calls Action! 

Robert Linsdell is the Managing Director A/NZ at Vertiv, and Daniel Sargent is the Head of Sales at Natural Power Solutions.

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