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Weta Digital and NetApp Bring Avatar to Life


NetApp Helps Reduce Weta’s Data Management Overhead by 95% and Increase Storage Price-to-Performance Ratio By 40%

Sunnyvale, Calif. - NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) announced today that Weta Digital, a world leader in digital effects and animation, relied on NetApp® storage for the production of the record-breaking film Avatar.

Avatar was filmed with revolutionary new motion-capture techniques, which generated more data than any other movie in history (more than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy combined), creating a new set of challenges never before faced by the digital effects industry. The key data storage challenge for Weta Digital during the production of Avatar was how to efficiently manage the huge amounts of data generated and rendered during production. They also needed to provide the artists with fast access to that data when changes were made to the master texture files. (A texture file is a picture of an object used in Avatar, such as a leaf or a thread of hair, which is wrapped around a 3D model during the rendering process.)

Because reliability and data management were of paramount importance, Weta used its NetApp storage arrays to store all of the high-value, artist-generated data. Weta had to deal with a large number of unique data hosts, a read-heavy workload, and very high numbers of medium-sized files. Weta worked with NetApp and Fujitsu New Zealand to develop a scalable storage solution, which reduced the amount of manual data management required in the process of rendering files and maximized the price-to-performance ratio for its storage environment.

Together, NetApp and Weta devised a system that allowed Weta to automatically balance the throughput requirements of the renderwall (the computer system used for real-time rendering) to provide more than 35,000 rendering cores with the fastest possible access to frequently used texture files. This solution was based on NetApp FlexCache® to maintain high-speed access to the updated texture files to all users simultaneously. By taking advantage of NetApp FlexCache systems, Weta Digital reduced manual data movement and management by 95%, greatly reducing pressure on technical staff and speeding production time.

“A traditional storage approach would have made it very difficult to manage the workload required for Avatar,” said Paul Ryan, CTO of Weta Digital. “Having partnered with NetApp successfully for 10 years, we were delighted they delivered an innovative, efficient storage environment that reduced our data management overhead costs by 95% and increased our storage price-to-performance ratio by over 40%. Most importantly, this led to faster rendering time and more productive artists.”

Weta’s complete storage solution includes a NetApp FAS6000 series storage system with four SA600 FlexCache cluster units running NetApp Data ONTAP® and connected to 450GB Fibre Channel drives. This is supported by two 16GB solid-state Performance Accelerator Modules in each system, which maximizes read performance and allows more artists to access the same information simultaneously without the need for more expensive disk. This system is then linked to the renderwall via two 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections so that processed artwork can be rendered and finalized immediately.

“Our relationship with Weta is an example of how NetApp continues to meet the market’s demand for solutions that address real business challenges and enable business breakthroughs,” said Patrick Rogers, vice president of Solutions and Alliances at NetApp. “Our solutions are efficient, powerful, and smarter, and they help our customers achieve exceptional storage results while delivering end products that can be faster and cheaper.”

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