VFX Work on 'Gravity' Required a Huge Hardware Upgrade to Finish
Thanks to a mesmerizing first trailer, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is one of our most anticipated movies coming later this year. It was filmed in early 2011, and has been in post-production ever since, with a release delay pushing it from November 2012 to October 2013. I heard from a friend a few weeks ago that Cauron said he "could work on the visual effects [in Gravity] forever", alluding to how it looks better the more time they spend on it. But obviously they have to finish it and get it released once and for all, and Framestore, the UK-based VFX company working on the sci-fi movie, had to upgrade their hardware to make it happen.
I stumbled across this very technical, but nonetheless somewhat fascinating article in The Register (via @Framestore), outlining the exact computing upgrades they've needed at Framestore to pull of the VFX in Gravity. The UK studio had to upgrade their processing systems to include "a central file pool based on 1.2PB of a 6-node clustered HDS (BlueArc) filer system using SAS and SATA drives." If that doesn't make any sense to you, that doesn't really matter, as here's the most poignant Gravity quote in the entire article:
Framestore's Chief Technical Officer is Steve MacPherson. He says Gravity is "the most computationally demanding film Framestore has ever done ... Framestore had an unprecedented level of CG imagery being created and a huge number of people working on this material simultaneously.”
The firm began working on Gravity more than two years ago and saw that it would need more than 15,000 processor cores working at the peak rendering load. Framestore's IT setup has a central storage resource providing file access both to the render nodes and also to artists' workstations.
As the rendering workload builds up it can suck up all the system's storage bandwidth leaving nothing behind for the artists. This isn't acceptable; they were working on things like Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and Lincoln which couldn't simply stop. But nor is it OK to buy a whole new storage setup just for the rendering.
They go on to explain the exact technical arrangement needed to achieve this, highlighting a certain type of Avere 4500 Edge Filers, in order to achieve the "production efficiency" to finalize the work on Gravity. The rest of the article contains technical details and nothing new about the movie itself, but there is something particularly exciting about hearing that Gravity is pushing the VFX industry forward as much as I'm hoping it pushes the entire science fiction genre forward. While I've heard from friends who went to test screenings that it's great but not that groundbreaking, maybe the CGI VFX, once finished, will push it over that edge.
Another great quote from the article that it ends with: "So MacPherson ended up turbo-charging his turbo-charged filer and we all get to enjoy perfectly rendered International Space Station fragments blasting across the screen while Gorgeous George and Sexy Sandra gyrate between the flying bits." Sounds good to me. Warner Bros currently has Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi Gravity scheduled for release October 4th this fall.