Growing Pains
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 9 (September 2004)

Growing Pains

Going from garage-style start-up to producer of TV documentaries for stations such as The Discovery Channel and Fine Living can cause a few growing pains along the way. This was certainly true for Cry Havoc Productions, which had to upgrade its data storage system to keep up with an accelerating workload that now requires juggling multiple projects at the same time.

A few years ago, Dylan Weiss, now CEO and president of Cry Havoc, got together with television producer (and father) Milt and longtime film school friend Gary Copeland and launched the Venice, California-based postproduction studio, after a series of kitchen table discussions about the types of projects they wanted to create.

Today, the partners are realizing their dream, directing and editing documentaries such as Driving Design, a one-hour program about how cars of the future will be designed, which aired this spring on The Discovery Channel. The team is also handling production and postproduction work on documentaries that cover classic-car restoration and the history of Ducati motorcycles.

In a world where 30 to 35 tapes of raw film footage for one documentary can consume as much as 800tb of disk space, Weiss says it's vital to have a storage system that's up to the task. And when it came to learning about the types of disk storage that can best support rapidly growing production requirements, Weiss had plenty of challenges along the way.

Back in his college days, Weiss used an Apple Macintosh system for film editing and production. For storage, he used disk drives based on the FireWire interface, which features a high-speed serial bus capable of moving large amounts of data from computer to disk. Unfortunately, he experienced a number of drive failures, often at critical times, and a subsequent lack of support from the supplier. Weiss also noticed that as the FireWire drive neared capacity, performance suffered. "I couldn't fill it up past 15gb," he says, "or it would slow down considerably."
Digital postproduction studio Cry Havoc relies on new-generation Ultra320 SCSI-based disk arrays for its storage needs while producing TV documentaries such as Driving Design (above) for The Discovery Channel.

When selecting a storage system to meet Cry Havoc's Apple Final Cut Pro-based video editing setup, the team chose Huge Systems' SCSI-based 1.2tb MediaVault disk arrays based on a faster, latest-generation SCSI interface. After the studio optimized the array for high-speed transmission of film footage, Weiss began to notice improvements in the studio's overall workflow. For example, he was able to run multiple streams of standard-definition (SD) video for editing, effects, color correction, resizing, and so forth. He was also able to take advantage of improved rendering performance. "One thing that speeds up my work flow in the editing stream—where I'm pushing deadlines and doing real-time effects on multiple pieces of video—is that I no longer have to wait for things to render. I simply hit Play and see the effects run in real time."

Because Cry Havoc shoots and edits in SD, it only needs to process each 2k frame at between 28mb/sec and 32mb/sec, as opposed to the 120mb/sec to 180mb/sec required for HD footage. Since installing a Pinnacle CineWave HD-capable video capture card and an HD-capable disk array, the team has used the resulting boost in array performance to further streamline the editing process.

In just over a year, Cry Havoc has grown from one disk array to four. The studio now has two 1.2tb MediaVault U-320R Max (single-channel) disk arrays and two 1.2tb MediaVault U-320S Dual Max (dual-channel) arrays from Huge Systems. The devices are based on the latest-generation SCSI interface—Ultra320 SCSI, which is theoretically capable of transmission speeds of up to 320mb/sec per channel. The supplier claims that the storage subsystems are optimized for non-linear and high-bandwidth applications—such as HDTV, uncompressed broadcast video storage, content creation, and other high-performance applications—and that the arrays can be scaled up to 2.5tb per system and include dual SCSI channels.

Besides faster access speeds, reliability is crucial. "By the time a project wraps," Weiss says, "that 1.2tb system has everything that went into the show on it. It's of paramount importance for the disk system not to crash, for the data not to get corrupted, because you have a lot of original material on there that doesn't exist on videotape." Weiss, who typically puts about 800gb of raw film footage on a 1.2tb array, notes that it's not uncommon for the array to remain filled to capacity for four months or more until a documentary is completed.

To safeguard the data, Cry Havoc uses each pair of disk arrays to store footage from different documentaries, assigning one array for primary storage and the second for redundant storage. The studio backs up all changes nightly to the second array. Weiss notes that routine backups—which used to take all night with his previous disk systems—can now be completed via the SCSI connection in a few hours.

Technical support has also been essential to Cry Havoc, most notably with respect to a quirky incompatibility issue between the SCSI version on the array and a recent Mac operating system upgrade. The problem, which froze access to storage, arose 10 days prior to Cry Havoc's final delivery deadline of its first documentary for the Fine Living network. To address the problem, Huge Systems dispatched a technician, replaced the drive, and in just under two days, the studio was back in business.

Despite rapidly evolving technologies in the storage market, Weiss thinks that the studio's current storage configuration will be good for at least the next year. "Every year, there are new drive formats, new standards, and faster data rates. It's hard to say that the Apple G5 system we bought is going to be viable for us next year. There will be something bigger and faster, and we'll probably need it. But one of the things in our edit suite that won't change is our disk system."

Michele Hope is a freelance writer and owner of She can be reached at