California Academy of Sciences Powers Visual Effects for World’s Largest All-Digital Planetarium
October 1, 2013

California Academy of Sciences Powers Visual Effects for World’s Largest All-Digital Planetarium

PITTSBURGH — The California Academy of Sciences Morrison Planetarium has enhanced the production process of computer-animated films and driven cost-saving initiatives using FXT Edge filers from Avere Systems, a network-attached storage (NAS) optimization vendor. By delivering significant efficiencies with Avere, the CA of Sciences can distribute a higher volume of content to partnering planetariums in a much shorter time frame while doing it in a footprint tremendously smaller than comparable offerings.

The world's largest all-digital dome, the Morrison Planetarium's 75-foot diameter projection screen is six times the surface area of a typical movie theater, and primarily relies on computer-generated imagery (CGI) to produce the visual effects during filmmaking. CGI however requires massive high-speed storage resources, hundreds of rendering nodes to support the workload and substantial amounts of time, which puts immense pressure on the infrastructure and the budget.

Faced with these extreme requirements, combined with the demand for high-quality imagery and budget constraints, the CA Academy of Sciences turned to Avere to meet its storage needs. Avere's FXT Edge filers delivered, accelerating the California Academy's I/O performance by 10x over its previous solution, allowing the team to meet the shifting requirements of an unpredictable visual effects workflow.

"Production demands were pushing the limits of our storage capacity and performance ability, forcing us to either build out our existing infrastructure, which would be costly, or find an alternative solution that could support our needs," said Michael Garza, planetarium and production engineering manager at California Academy of Sciences. "Avere was the only solution to meet every requirement while also assuring us scalability for future growth. Additionally, the Avere deployment was a seamless drop-in, with no disruptions. Our artists were not even aware of the switch-except for the notable performance improvements."

"Creating CGI requires enormous amounts of processing and storage, with rendering providing the most compute intensive activity," said Ron Bianchini, president and CEO at Avere Systems. "The Avere FXT Edge filer enables production teams to dramatically accelerate the rendering process, streamline infrastructure costs, and maximize productivity under extreme deadline pressures.  No one in our industry is able to provide this level of performance at the cost and footprint we provide."

Solutions from EMC, NetApp and BlueArc were considered; however, the company chose Avere's FXT 3200 Edge filers due to its ability to deliver more benefits in less time and at a lower cost, while giving them the ability to scale up and out. The Academy estimates that it would have been a 10-fold increase in cost to build out a comparable system with a competing vendor. By selecting Avere, the company was able to leverage its existing investment, leading to an overall reduction in operating costs.