Escape Studios details its storage solution for demanding creative pros

Escape Studios is best known as a leading training facility for visual effects artists, modellers and animators -- but the company has also taken the knowledge it’s acquired by creating a network of up to 100 users running high-end 3D tools from Maya to Nuke and sharing assets to build a business that offers solutions similar to its own to post-production companies large and small.

Escape’s business has grown organically since it was set up in 2002 as a ‘finishing school’ for 3D animators and VFX artists graduating from university, taking their raw talent and preparing them for the industry. It now offers training from its base in Shepherd’s Bush, e-learning courses from its website, and tailored on-site sessions for clients looking to gain skills for a particular project.

The firm’s relationship with leading post-houses led it take to the regular informal recommendations of talented creatives who had completed its courses, and turn them into a successful recruitment business. It also took what it had learned from the high demands of its own environment to create a ‘Technology Store’ offering hardware, software and support to post production houses and universities.

Key to what Escape Studios offers here is that the products it sells have been tried and tested in-house.

“We sell what we train on and train on what we sell,” says Escape Studios commercial director Mark Cass. “Customers like to be able to come here and see what we offer working ‘in situ’ as part of their evaluation.”

One example of this is the Isilon IQ X-Series storage platform, which provides the students with fast access to project files. These files include high-definition video, massive textures and huge renders, so it’s important that each has fast access to – and that one student’s bandwidth use doesn’t hamper another’s.

The Isilon IQ X-Series is a clustered storage architecture focussed on high-bandwidth environments where individual X-Series devices appear on the network as a single device for simple management, but guarantee individual users a set level of bandwidth.

Each X-Series 1920x Node supports up to 12 250GB SATA-II drives for a maximum of 3TB per device. Each cluster can include between three and 144 nodes for a total of between 5.7TB and 1.7PB of storage. They use Infiniband to communicate between each other at ultra-fast speeds, and attach to the rest of the network through two gigabit Ethernet ports. Data is distributed across each Node for total reliability.

Installed before Escape became a reseller of the products, business development manager Richard McGuiness says that another reason why they invested in the X-Series is its scalability.

“If we added two extra studios, we’d just add another Node,” he says. Adding one is a largely automated process, and McGuiness notes that the longest part of installing a new Node is taking the unit out of the box.

Having the IQ X-Series on its network also helps provide a working demo of the products to Escapes customers.

“Being able to see solutions working in a pure live environment with over 100 users give customers confidence in the products,” says McGuiness. “Customers want a system with a three-year minimum lifecycle. We’ve had our Isilon working here for three years and see no reason to replace it.”

Even with multiple X-Series Nodes, Escape still finds itself running out of space due the massive project files it hosts. Its innovative solution to this is to run a large NAS device as ‘nearline’ storage alongside the Nodes. Regularly run scripts take any files from the Nodes that haven’t been used for a month, and moves them to the NAS – so they’re still easily accessible if needed, but the ultra-fast storage is reserved for needed content.

Since taking on Isilon, Escape’s customers for the IQ X-Series include large post houses such as The Moving Picture Company (MPC) -- behind visual effects for films such as The Wolfman and who bought 15 clusters that its renderfarm directly attaches to -- and smaller houses such as Jellyfish Pictures.


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