Jellyfish Pictures is a leading UK post-production house, specialising in visual effects (VFX) and animation for feature films and TV series. With credits including Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Watchmen, DreamWorks Animation’s, How to Train Your Dragon: Homecoming and Gangs of London, the company has established itself as a specialist in imaging, handling large quantities of image data to produce striking VFX, title sequences and animated feature films, series and commercials.
To deal with the huge amount of footage generated on productions such as Solo: A Star Wars Story, Jellyfish needed a networked storage system that allows technicians, creatives and producers working at any of its five facilities to load in and access material easily and efficiently. Founded in 2001 and originally with premises in Soho, Jellyfish opened a new facility – The Edge – close to its three existing south London premises in 2019. These four sites work in conjunction with a virtual animation studio in Sheffield, which moved into a new building at the beginning of 2020.
Rather than take up valuable floor space by housing storage servers locally, Jellyfish contracted broadcast IT specialist ERA to provide, initially, disaster recovery (DR) services and, latterly, a full, managed infrastructure at its data centre in London. The Edge and Jellyfish in Brixton and the Oval are linked to this facility over individual 10GB fibre connections, with 1GB internet backups. Jellyfish Sheffield works on a 1GB internet connection.
The hardware used for Jellyfish is based on a core Seagate Cloud-Scale Storage Array. A software-defined layer is provided by Pixit Media PixStor. The Seagate high-density arrays are made up of four systems each of 600TB, making for a total of 2.4PB. ERA has a long working relationship with Seagate and recently became a Gold Partner, which means it will be working directly with the storage giant’s enterprise division.
Sean Baker, commercial director of ERA, comments that the Seagate Cloud-Scale Array provides the performance and density necessary to host major post-production clients such as Jellyfish. “Seagate systems also have the reliability, market presence and the ability to be scaled and expanded according to a customer’s needs,” he adds. “Another key feature is being able to deal with a through-put of up to 7Gb per second, which is now common in modern film and TV post-production.”
Andrew Palmer of the Enterprise Data Solutions Group at Seagate Technology commented, “The broadcast and facilities sector is an important market for Seagate and has very specific requirements in terms of storage. ERA is highly experienced in this field and we recognise its expertise in utilizing our systems to suit the needs of a specialist client such as Jellyfish Pictures. We are pleased to play a part in the production of some of the most creative and imaginative effects and images produced for films and television today.”
There is a growing trend now for facilities to hand over the management of their storage infrastructures to third party providers. In the case of Jellyfish, there were a number of reasons behind the decision. “Space and power are always at a premium in London and we need to be able to expand capacity easily when the demand is there without worrying about space, power and cooling issues,” says chief technology officer Jeremy Smith.
Another driver in moving to a flexible centralised operation that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week was being able to bring together and better control the four independent facilities. Jellyfish also has animators working in various locations around the world who feed their contributions to the UK offices. “We can also bring in additional workstations and servers on the ERA infrastructure when we need them without worrying about connectivity or bandwidth,” says Smith. “There’s also the option of public cloud services because ERA can offer on-demand capacity from the major cloud providers.”
ERA’s managed service has full TPN (Trusted Partner Network) approval. The TPN scheme was jointly devised by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Content Delivery and Security Association (CDSA), with the aim of raising awareness of the need for security and preparedness in the media and broadcast sectors.
The ERA/Jellyfish installation includes: a containerised workflow running on the Seagate/PixStor storage system; DR services; high-end animation workstations designed by ERA, which work on PCoIP (PC over IP) for remote access; managed security services for firewall design and management, using Cisco and Fortinet products; and network infrastructure management and control, including Mellanox Core switching with Dell Edge gateways.
The service is managed by ERA from its data centre, while Jellyfish, which pays a monthly subscription for the service, runs all the applications. Jeremy Smith says that as well as the flexibility of a centralised workflow, a major consideration in opting for a managed service was the increased security: “As part of this ERA has included TPN approval for the data centre services and also provides completely managed firewalls and networking to meet the TPN requirements expected by the likes of Netflix and Disney.”