CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE 8K KIND
Gradient Effects reveal how they pushed the limits of their infrastructure, increasing processing power to handle 8K, for their action-packed short film Megan
“While building out the infrastructure We decided to increase our bandwidth and processing power to handle 8K, since that’ll be the industry standard one day” Olcun Tan, visual effects supervisor/gradient Effects owner
I n the constantly evolving world of VFX, the studios that last are the ones that move with the times. After moving to their new facility in Playa Vista, Gradient Effects have done just that. “While building out the infrastructure we decided to increase our bandwidth and processing power to handle 8K, since that’ll be the industry standard one day,” explains owner and visual effects supervisor Olcun Tan. “As a company that does a lot of digital effects and simulation work, the bandwidth requirements are pretty intense, so thinking ahead helps.”
To test this powerful new infrastructure Gradient began work on Megan, a fiveminute short that takes the audience deep into the heart of an alien hot zone, where monsters lie in wait. From a technical perspective, the short was tailor-made to put the new 8K infrastructure through its paces. Creatively the team took influence from the likes of Black Hawk Down and Cloverfield, going so far as to include numerous Easter eggs for hardcore fans to spot.
Discussing the studios’ approach Olcun says: “Our artists utilised fast, networked workstations to connect our storage, which is distributed over ten different individuals servers, making up close to a petabyte of high-performance storage. Compositing is done in Nuke and rendering is done with Arnold and Mantra. Once a VFX shot is ready, it will be imported into our HDR Pablo Rio grading system for review and colour correction.”
Getting to grips with their new toolset wasn’t all plain sailing for Olcun and the team however. “With 8K you can run quickly into IO bandwidth issues,” he explains. “Generally, rendering with a
single machine doesn’t represent any big issues. These days most workstations can handle 8K. The challenges start when you are reading and writing with a hundred machines at the same time.”
He continues: “We learned that we need to have systems in place that can handle the bandwidth requirements. It’s not just storage, it’s also how you set up your network to maintain high speeds. To really get the speeds consistent, you need shielded cables that don’t magnetically interfere with each other. Going faster means you also have to reconsider a lot things which were a nonissue with a standard 1GB network.”
Gradient also collaborated with their sister company secret labs in order to bring
Megan to life; where the former specialises in VFX television the latter lends its talents to feature film. “The benefit of having these two companies in-house is that when secret lab design a custom tool or piece of technology for a project, they can pass it down to us to help accelerate the TV workflow,” Olcun explains. “This allows Gradient to deliver the same quality of work you’d see on a feature film, at the pace of a TV schedule, which is always very fast.”
Megan begins in the aftermath of an extraterrestrial occurrence, with a group of soldiers rushing to the scene in Black Hawk helicopters, for which Gradient were able to repurpose assets from their work on television drama series The Last Ship. The hot zone is populated by mysterious spores, created using a Houdini-driven tool that secret labs developed for The Revenant and later used by Gradient on Stranger Things.
Olcun adds: “The tool helps fill in large areas of falling dust, snow, rain, etc. If you want control over every aspect, it can quickly become an involved process. We learned very quickly that snow also deforms and changes its shape. When you study the motion blur of filmed snow, you can see it has some inconsistencies. We were only able to match it once we added a deformation to each individual digital flake. Every professional FX artist will know that this adds up to an insane amount of data. With a significant increase in data, any 3D application will start choking, therefore we needed a clever culling system to remove snow and any unneeded geometry.”
Although they are constantly looking ahead, Gradient are remaining tight lipped about where they plan to take their powerful new infrastructure next. But Olcun sounds very excited about the future: “unfortunately we can’t go into details, but we have some really great stuff in development.” Find out more about Gradient Effects’ work at www.gradientfx.com
“by having two Companies in-house… this allows Gradient to deliver the same quality of Work you’d see on a feature film, at the pace of a tv schedule, Which is always very fast” Olcun Tan, visual effects supervisor/gradient Effects owner