Nothing uses up hard disk storage like 3D animation. The combination of video and 3D means that tremendous amounts of storage are needed for creating and rendering the film. Industrial Light and Magic buys gigabytes of storage regularly. In Hong Kong there is Imagi, a world-class animation studio that makes about one film a year. The last film the firm released was TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), a 3D animated version of the 1984 comic book series. Imagi chief executive Douglas Glen has been in the business for many years and has seen the industry move from hand-drawn 2D animated cartoons to the masterpiece he presided over, TMNT. Mr Glen said that computer generated (CG) animation had brought about tremendous changes in the industry. 'In the early days of CG animation, studios differentiated themselves in terms of technological prowess. Most studios developed their own animation and rendering tools. Now most of the shops use industry-standard third-party software and add a few special apps of their own on top. With a more or less level playing field technologically, the advantage goes to the studio with the best storytelling and character acting abilities,' he said. The need for storage, speed, capacity and more is never ending. Imagi visual effects supervisor Yan Chen said so much was needed that if it was not done right, it could cause delays in the production of the film. 'In CG animation production, additional 3D renderings and constant adding of objects are always needed and each modification requires a vast amount of data. Even the slightest hitch in the storage system can result in sub-optimal workflow. As such, having a scalable and efficient data storage system is business critical and can also cut down our capital expenditure cost,' Mr Chen said. Imagi uses several technologies to achieve the high-speed access and vast amount of storage it needs. The firm recently made a deal with Datacraft, an Asian-based IT (information technology) services and solutions company, based in Singapore. Imagi head of technical operations Johnny Mak said the company had thought a lot about how to handle the storage and networking that would be required. 'We selected Datacraft as our partner to handle this complex task because the company has a deep knowledge of storage systems and the capacity to ensure system scalability to meet current and future needs. It also provides the support services to keep our IT systems operating efficiently over the long term,' he said. Mr Mak said there were a few special requirements for Imagi. 'We need huge capacity for our movies and animations. We are probably going to use altogether about 100 terabytes of data for our next project, Astro Boy,' he said. Perhaps the most important aspect to everything the studio does is the input/output needed for the vast amounts of data it handles. The EMC disks the company used, Mr Mak said, could handle about one gigabyte per second for reading data and four times that for writing. 'We really do need this for all the rendering we do and also to take advantage of the speed of the CPUs [central processing units],' he said. A common problem with any computer system is the weakest link. If you have fast processors but slow disks, all the speed you thought you gained with the new CPU will be lost because the data stream is too slow. The reverse can also happen. Francis Pang, general manager for Datacraft in Hong Kong, said his team took great pains to achieve the goals set out by Imagi. 'The Datacraft team focused specifically on matching Imagi's exacting specifications for linear scalability so that performance remains high as data volumes increase. To achieve this, the storage system was designed so that every component has spare capacity and operates within optimum specifications,' he said. Mr Glen said all this technology gave his team a great deal of creativity. 'Animation software has become so powerful and sophisticated that if the director and storyboard artists can imagine something, our animators can deliver it. Unlike live action filmmaking, which is constrained by the limitations of the physical world, CG animation has no real boundaries. Cameras can pass through the eye of a needle, vehicles can defy the laws of physics, thousands of virtual actors can be summoned with a few software commands,' he said. Eventually, he said, the company would be able to create faster than it did now. 'Within a few years, we expect to be delivering two films a year. The gating factors are the development of great stories ready to 'green light' combined with the top drawer talent needed to bring them to life. There are no technological bottlenecks.'