ILM Reaches for the Cloud
December 5, 2014

ILM Reaches for the Cloud

In the November/December 2014 article “Digital Forecast: Cloudy,” the author, Alex Herrera, takes an in-depth look at the increasing role of the cloud in the digital media and entertainment industry. Here, he reveals how one major VFX studio, Industrial Light & Magic, is harnessing that power.

Industrial Light & Magic (LucasFilm) struck gold with a remote workstation hosting solution that has enabled efficient, location-independent collaboration among the studio's scattered workforce. Frustrated by WAN limitations moving large clips around – both with respect to the bandwidth required to move large data sets as well as the security risks exposed over long-haul networks – ILM deployed Teradici's PCoIP Remote Workstation Technology to stream visual content from wherever it is stored to wherever it is needed, from across the studio to across the globe. 

Kevin Clark, ILM's director of engineering, saw the urgency to find a better way. "What really drove the immediate need was that contracted graphic artists in LA needed to be up and running with real-time access to dailies from their desktops," he says. Now, producers and executives can view dailies wherever they happen to be: in the studio or satellite offices, out on location, or home after-hours. And remote workstation users in San Francisco, Singapore, and Vancouver can access project assets with all the performance and visual quality they've come to expect.

The company needed better ways to address several other challenges as well – from the seemingly mundane, like how to ease the demands on HVAC and power distribution to workspaces, to the absolute critical, such as how to maintain tight security for the mega-value content ILM artists were creating. High-performance workstations are high-wattage workstations. Put a bunch in a tight workspace, and that density creates challenges in power and cooling. Swap out the high-power local machines with low-power thin clients and PCs, and not only do both those problems fade, but also users get the added benefit of quieter workspace. 

Given both the investment and revenues associated with content, protecting IP and digital content is a huge, obvious concern to producers. But it's arguably even more critical for an effects or post-production house to which work has been farmed out. Who wants to get blamed for the breach that leaks a big-budget feature onto the Web? So for many, the single-most compelling feature of a centralized computing topology is security. 

Wait a second, security's a plus? Really? The recent high-profile hacks have been making the term “cloud security” sound like an oxymoron. That may be the perception, but it's not the reality. First, we're talking about private clouds, not public ones, and security mostly depends on the choices made in configuration and usage. Second, and more importantly, consider the alternatives. Moving big data files over unsecure WANs or WiFi? Leaving a laptop behind at a coffee shop with drives loaded with sensitive corporate data or, worse, the data of a client? It's not hard to argue that cloud vulnerabilities are the lesser of the potential evils when it comes to securing IP.

But when content is both created and stored in the cloud, data need never leave the prescribed, protected boundaries, mitigating the need to distribute sensitive data sets to remote locations. And even the pixels that do stream across the WAN are secure, as the premier codecs used to transmit those pixels – from providers like HP, Teradici, Microsoft, and Citrix – provide a variety of customizable, government-level security protocols and cryptography, while continuing to meet must-have visual requirements, like 100 percent color matching and full-HD, lossless image resolution.