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How FuseFX Created a Release Valve for Rendering with Qumulo and AWS – a Chat with the Co-Founder and CTO Jason Fotter

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Working with Qumulo, FuseFX was an early adopter of cloud rendering and continues to be a VFX industry vanguard for creative studios everywhere.

FuseFX is an award-winning motion picture special visual effects company with 1,000 employees spread across 10 studios around the world. The creative studios produce visual effects (VFX) services for episodic television, feature films, commercials, and virtual reality (VR) experiences. Established in 2006, FuseFX is headquartered in Los Angeles, California, and a few of the customers of its VFX services include big studios such as HBOMax, Hulu, Disney, Sony, Netflix, Warner Brothers, CBS, ABC, NBC, BBC, AMC, FOX, Marvel Television, xFX and A&E.

Working with Qumulo, FuseFX was an early adopter of cloud rendering and continues to be a VFX industry vanguard for creative studios everywhere. Watch our video, recorded at Qumulo Qonnect West, to hear Jason Fotter, Co-Founder and CTO, FuseFX, and Bill Richter, CEO, Qumulo, share real-world stories that showcase how far the VFX studio has come enabled by its inspired use of digital technology.

How FuseFX created a release valve for cloud rendering demands

The relationship with Qumulo and FuseFX goes way back. In 2010, the Isilon NAS system FuseFX was using was holding them back so they connected with Qumulo and added a 4 node Qumulo cluster on premise that is still in production today. However, the high demand for rendering was driving the growth of large compute farms that added management complexity and the cost of maintaining all those fixed assets.

“In the creative business, things change fast, it can be very chaotic. Around 2015, I became aware of the cloud,” says Fotter. “I realized I could spin up virtual compute in the cloud and create a release valve for our render demands.”

FuseFX had a home grown Linux system but realized storage was a major bottleneck for cloud rendering. So they adopted a hybrid cloud strategy to take advantage of the unlimited capacity of the cloud.

According to Fotter, “We had an on-prem cluster that was meeting the demand of our local farm, and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we had that in the cloud too? So we talked to all the storage vendors, and got… crickets–except for Qumulo,” he says. ”A simple virtual server from Qumulo was already faster than our homegrown environment, so we made it into a cloud cluster on AWS.”

FuseFX was one of Qumulo’s first cloud customers providing the partnership with Qumulo to push the development forward. “This is a big testament to Qumulo’s customer service, to be agile and make it happen for us,” says Fotter. “It was a cool experience.”

Rendering in the Qumulo cloud cluster was the ideal compute scenario for large VFX workloads, but that’s not all. Watch the video below to hear Fotter tell a story that demonstrates the critical role data analytics plays in managing it.

Leveraging data analytics in a hybrid-cloud environment

“The cloud gives you limitless opportunity; however, you need a file system that can support the demands of all those visual systems hitting it at the same time,” explains Fotter. “In visual effects, it’s all about throughput and IOPS–those are the two main data points you get on the Qumulo analytics dashboard,” he says. “I love that dashboard because it tells you very quickly where you are with the system.”

Fotter recalls a workload where IOPS were flatlined on the analytics graphs. “You know something is wrong when you see that,” he says. “We were able to drill down and found a single file creating 65 IOPS on the file system. No file should be creating that much demand.” FuseFX reached out to cloud render partner V-Ray and found out the file was a legacy workflow that was not supposed to be in use anymore. “Low and behold, problem solved,” says Fotter.

“Without being able to quickly drill down on that file visually on the IOPS graph on the dashboard, we could have spent weeks chasing ghosts,” said Fotter. Being able to quickly identify the problem and fix it in a day shows how FuseFX uses Qumulo’s analytics software to their advantage.

Today, FuseFX uses Qumulo as their Tier 1 storage provider across all their locations with all the features Qumulo provides. For instance, replication to and from the cloud with Qumulo Shift. “I’ve talked to many storage vendors that say they support Amazon S3,” says Fotter, “but they write block level data to S3 and put their software in front of it to access the data–that doesn’t excite me.” As Fotter explains, “Qumulo Shift enables us to write files to objects and leverage S3 for the power it is, and transfer data to and from our 10 locations. We are going to take advantage of that in the future for sure.”

To hear the rest of the fireside chat, watch the video above — you’ll hear all the reasons that help FuseFX decide what to run on premise vs cloud.

“VFX is a great business,” says Fotter. “It’s really exciting to be in a free world to be able to tell any story that you can imagine,” he says. “VFX is very technical, but we are in the business of telling those stories for our customers.” If you’re curious about the VFX work coming out of FuseFX — watch the Main Show Reel that highlights the visual effects of recent work from all their locations!

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