“Qumulo’s file system performed flawlessly and has exceeded our expectations.”

Sebastian Bilbao, Chief Technology Officer

ABOUT

Monsters Aliens Robots Zombies (MARZ) is a Toronto-based VFX studio that efficiently delivers feature film-quality visual effects for premium television series, and specializes in character creation, alteration and replication.

USE CASE
  • High-quality GPU rendering within tight TV production timelines
  • Support for fast and efficient VFX workflows
  • Efficient storage and protection of massive datasets
REQUIREMENTS
  • High performance
  • High density
  • Easy scalability
  • Small footprint
  • Real-time analytics

Qumulo’s modern storage platform tames monsters,
aliens, robots and zombies for MARZ

Out-of-this-world storage innovation enables GPU rendering with high performance, scalable capacity, and real-time analytics

Special effects production for feature films and television used to be different creatures. Feature films typically had the big budgets to hire editorial and post-production specialists and leverage top-of-the-line equipment for visual effects (VFX), while episodic television programming teams often had to make do with fewer resources and limited budgets.

But now, original high-end content with sophisticated and spectacular visual effects on broadcast and cable networks, as well as streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Hulu, are blurring the line between feature film-caliber content and television programming. Studios and producers want feature film-quality VFX on a television production timetable – either distributing content week-after-week for episodic programming, or multiple episodes dropping on a single day.

Very few VFX studios have the technology or expertise to consistently produce high-quality effects on this demanding schedule. The few that do maintain massive amounts of storage infrastructure and rendering equipment in warehouse-sized spaces, with big staff and high costs to match.

Image of teach and students

The MARZ distinction

MARZ is a different type of studio, starting with its name. Monsters Aliens Robots Zombies (MARZ) is a Toronto-based VFX studio that efficiently delivers feature film-quality visual effects for premium television series, and specializes in character creation, alteration and replication. To view the studio’s portfolio, tune in to shows such as HBO’s Watchmen, Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys, and Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy.

MARZ’s fast turnaround times for its visual effects are radical for traditional TV production schedules. To achieve this, the team depends on an IT infrastructure centered around efficiency, performance and innovation.

MARZ uses high-speed GPU rendering clusters, game engine technology and artificial intelligence to produce its sophisticated effects. Leading VFX applications such as RedShift software accelerate its high-end production rendering. MARZ primarily uses Houdini, Maya, Z-brush, and Substance for animation, simulation, modeling, look development, lighting, and more.

“The post-production schedule provides a very short timeline to create quality effects. We chose Qumulo because its software allows us to deliver higher quality visual effects on a shorter timeline, and ensures that we fulfill our promise to our customers.”


Farnia Fekri, Director of Marketing

Mission-critical VFX rendering not keeping the pace

MARZ was under pressure with its aging legacy storage environment. The existing Isilon system was straining to support resource-intensive workloads, and turnaround times on projects were suffering. MARZ needed to accelerate GPU rendering performance and real-time VFX production, and they needed it urgently.

The challenge was to find a high performance, high density file storage solution that was highly available and linearly scalable, and that provided advanced analytics for storage capacity management. The right solution also shouldn’t require a warehouse-sized physical space to house the infrastructure. That level of power and efficiency, at a smaller size, doesn’t often come off the shelf, and most storage vendors are unable to meet those requirements.

MARZ’s founders had used Qumulo’s hybrid cloud file storage at their previous company, Intelligent Creatures. They liked Qumulo’s software but wanted to be sure that the vendor could meet MARZ’s extraordinary performance requirements, while also staying within MARZ’s targeted budget.

Qumulo and its partner IC Technology met with the MARZ team and discussed Qumulo’s file storage, as well as its recently-launched C-72T hybrid SSD/disk storage platform. The C-72T is purpose-built for high-performance, high density environments with massively-sized workloads, just like those at MARZ.

In other words, the new scale-out NAS file system was smaller, faster, and offered increased performance and capacity. MARZ was sold.

“Scaling up is also a major challenge for us, or rather it was. We don’t have to worry about that since scaling on Qumulo is so easy.”


James Morgan, System & Support Administrator

“We designed our pipeline to produce feature film-quality visual effects for television, and to support the incredibly fast pace demanded by weekly episodes or a full season of episodes dropping on the same day,” said Farnia Fekri, MARZ’s Director of Marketing. “The post-production schedule provides a very short timeline to create quality effects. We chose Qumulo because its software allows us to deliver higher quality visual effects on a shorter timeline, and ensures that we fulfill our promise to our customers.”

“Our rendering turn-around speeds are radically fast. We selected Qumulo’s file storage to support the imminent 8K standard, and immediately put it to the test on our 4K shows, with more than 30 artists hitting the system hard, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Qumulo’s file system performed flawlessly and has exceeded our expectations,” said Sebastian Bilbao, MARZ’s Chief Technology Officer. “With our fast-paced growth, we would have been dead in the water if we had not taken rapid steps to upgrade to a storage system that met our challenging requirements.”

MARZ deployed the new file system on Qumulo’s Capacity Series C-72T platform. The studio purchased four nodes for its new high-performance, high-density rendering environment, for a total storage capacity of 288TB.

The C-72T, part of the Capacity Series of Qumulo platforms, is extremely dense and stores 72TB of capacity in a 1U form factor that can scale up to 3PB. Its high-density, block-level architecture delivers 100 percent usable capacity. Hybrid SSD/HDD media supports fast performance with efficient storage, and 6-core, 2.2 Ghz CPU and 64GB memory.

“Qumulo’s distributed file system has allowed us to scale with ease without disrupting production, and deliver premium TV projects with speed and quality, which are two critical requirements for our fast-growing company.”


Sebastian Bilbao, Chief Technology Officer

Qumulo gives MARZ wings

Installation of Qumulo’s file system was easy and problem-free. MARZ seamlessly migrated 90TB of data from its legacy Isilon to Qumulo during the implementation. The new rendering environment was set up in a day, and within a week the MARZ development team had all of their scripts running on the new file storage system.

“Having enough storage and keeping throughput at its highest are big challenges for any VFX studio,” said James Morgan, System and Support Administrator at MARZ. “Scaling up is also a major challenge for us, or rather it was. We don’t have to worry about that since scaling on Qumulo is so easy.”

Since deploying Qumulo’s software, MARZ has more than tripled its previous storage capacity and doubled its performance.

In addition to its increased performance and capacity, Qumulo’s high availability helps to support MARZ’s post-production and VFX workflows. If the studio’s infrastructure experiences a disruption, Qumulo’s software ensures continued operations without data loss or interruption. At MARZ, Qumulo has supported a constant, uninterrupted production workflow since deployment.

Further, Qumulo’s real-time analytics allow the MARZ team to pinpoint problems and effectively control how its storage is being used, instantly. Bilbao’s team is able to see usage, activity and throughput at any level of the unified directory structure.

“Our mission at MARZ is to deliver feature film-quality visual effects on television timelines,” said Bilbao. “Qumulo’s distributed file system has allowed us to scale with ease without disrupting production, and deliver premium TV projects with speed and quality, which are two critical requirements for our fast-growing company.”

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