11 Reasons to NOT to make an IMAX art film in your basement: #7: “Too Much Data”

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.
Popular Mechanics (1949)

#7: “Too Much Data”

If you recall from reason #5, “a 5.6k IMAX image at 32-bit color will contain 752,640,000 bits of data or nearly 1 Gb (gigabyte) for each frame.” In non-technobabble that means the finished film will require 65 terabytes of data – which is 65,000 Gigabytes of data. That does not count the many terabytes of data for all the source material in the film. 100 terabytes in all.

In 2006, the 750 gigabyte hard drive was just released, for over $500. To store 100 terabytes would have taken 133 hard drives costing $67,000 dollars. So that was near deal breaker when “Outside In” was first conceived.

Today, we have 2 terabyte hard drives for $135. That’s 50 drives costing $6,750.  So that’s getting near indie low/no budget territory right? Indeed it is, especially since you can buy storage as you go along. But there is more to just storing files, you have to make them first with gobs of data.

After a few initial tests that went very well, I started tying to do animation on “Outside In”. That 1 GB of data per frame? Well, your computer has to process that data. And film is 24 frames per second – 24 gigabytes of data per second. Things like this started to happen:

The first time you see this I thought – “okay, just another error message, no problem. Just find the fix or work around”. Several months later, after talking to the company, many expert users and lots of research I realized with a sickening feeling in my stomach that it’s not just another error message.

Turns out it’s a fundamental problem with computing.  In 2006/7, pretty  much every operating system and programs were “32-bit”. Which means basically the same computing technology based that had existing for well over a decade or two. Yes, some hardware like the processor was “64-bit” but it was basically sitting there doing very little 64-bit as all the code it ran was 32-bit.

Why is that such a problem? Well 32-bit code basically can only deal easily with about 2 gigabytes of data – and tweaks had allowed to deal with 3 or 4 GB of data but just barely. So that 1 GB of data per frame of IMAX data (that often had many gigabytes of data placed inside the frame) was simply too much. Code crashed, operating system crash – and film crashed.

But I was determined to press ahead. A few months later, Microsoft finally released a 64-bit version of Windows XP.

I installed it on a dedicated machine as it was very picky about what hardware and software I could run. I got Adobe Photoshop and Adobe AfterEffects running and despite that fact the both were still 32-bit code, running them on 64-bit XP made things better. I could do a lesser resolution that my original plan (4k instead of 5.6k) and less colors (16-bit not 32-bit) but it was good enough to create some serious test shots. My first few minutes of footage were output to IMAX film and screened in an IMAX theater. Despite the compromises, it looked much better than I could have hoped.

But, as 2008 drug on into 2009, I was faced with a fundamental crisis. The film, as scripted and storyboarded, required much more data than I could animate with the workarounds around the 32-bit memory limitations. I could either make major changes to the film – and make a much simpler, less dynamic, less visually interesting and rich film. Or I could try to raise a lot more money and move to Hollywood level animation system – and from what I could find out, none of them were true 64-bit either and had similar issues.

Neither of these seemed like good ideas. I took a hard look at the future and felt that I was only 12-18 months away from a real revolution in desktop computing – the move to true 64-bit computing. But I did not know for sure if that would save my vision for the film.

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  • Darren Landrum
    Posted at 18:19h, 10 April

    You really need to double your storage requirements for backup purposes. With that many drives spinning in the same room, the chance of any one (or a few) of them failing in the time it takes you to finish the film is quite high. High enough to be paranoid about.

    Sorry to be such a downer…

  • stephenv2
    Posted at 20:53h, 10 April

    That’s a good point, but this is the reasons not to make a film. I’m actually pretty paranoid about data backup having worked with computer for over 20 years and worked in IT for 10. The methods I used to deal with all this data, keep two copies PLUS offsite storage for less money will be in the “reasons to make a film” series later on.

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