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Drawing Inspiration and Data Aplenty

By: on August 16, 2012 in Backups, Data Loss, High Availability

Hello everyone! I just came off a bit of a vacation where I went to the Disney D23 Destination D 75 Years of Animated Features event out in California. Of course I didn’t give myself much of a transition – I am finishing up a 3-day private training course today.

Anyway, I’ve talked about it before in a previous blog post, but growing up I wanted to be an animator for Disney. For me, Disney has always been in my life as far back as I can remember; I mean, I can vividly remember coming home in the afternoons and watching the old Mickey Mouse Club reruns on, if memory serves me correctly, Channel 48 in Philadelphia. Disney is liked for many reasons by different people, but for me it’s always been about the animation. So the opportunity to go to an event focused on the animation and while not talked about in that link above, there was a 3rd day that was limited to a certain number of people which allowed you to tour the Walt Disney Studio (but different than the normal D23 tour they do periodically) and see things like the Animation Research Library – no brainer. Going there has always been one of my holy grails. (Before you start rolling your eyes, I promise there will be IT/SQL related content in this post. No, really.)

That third day was simply amazing and worth every penny I paid. In the AM we got to tour the Roy E. Disney Animation building where the animators put together a whole program for us showing the animation process based on the upcoming Wreck It Ralph movie. They took us through the different processes, and not surprisingly, the one that interested me the most was recording the voices and such. Don’t get me wrong, using the real Disney animation tools in a lab to mess with Wreck It Ralph was fun, but I could have sat in that recording  studio all day and absorbed info about the process and asked questions since I’m a music/audio guy.

In the afternoon, we got to do different things, one of which was visiting the aforementioned Animation Research Library – arguably the place if you care at all about Disney animation. It’s locked down tighter than Fort Knox. More than a holy grail, it’s proverbially sacred ground and something I thought I’d never see. 65 million pieces of artwork live there. They took a small selection out for us and we got to look inside a few of the vaults. Seeing things like actual pencil drawings from “Steamboat Willie” (1928), the original maquettes used by animators for various movies, the wooden Pinocchio marionette from 1940 seen here (lower right picture), and original Mary Blair artwork (among many other things) was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most Disney people can’t even get in, let alone see some of what we saw. I am still thinking about it days later.

Another standout thing was that we got various presentations, one of which was on the preservation and restoration of the Disney vault of films (animated and live action) and shorts. This was something right up my alley since I’m also a video guy (I still have and use my laserdisc player). It was clear I was the techie guy asking the questions and people were looking at me like I had two heads. It was definitely a magical day all around.

As much as I was on vacation and loving this experience, my IT/SQL mind started to creep in and come up to the foreground every now and then. When we were in the studio, some folks go to do some ADR work to see what that process was (and it was fun to observe), but I was a bit more interested in the gear and process. What was interesting to me is that besides the takes they recorded in one rig, they had a continuous session running in parallel on a different one to capture literally everything. One reason for that is simple: if something is missed, it is captured elsewhere (think backups and HA/DR – gotta love redundancy).

That begs the question: how much data is that? Well, potentially a lot for each project over its lifetime. So of course I asked the question – at what resolution do they record at? For you non-audio geeks, to put anything I’m going to say in perspective, a CD’s resolution has a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz at a depth of 16-bit (an 80 minute CD at 44/16 is roughly 700MB of data). In the audio world, higher sampling rates (48, 88.2, 96, 192, or 384 being the other common options) and more depth (either 24- or 32-bit) is generally a better thing. Not surprisingly, that all chews up a lot of space the more resolution and the higher the bit depth you go. They record at 48/24, and everything is stored on a server with a lot of space. Considering how much audio they must have for each project, that’s a lot to deal with (even at 48/24) not only in terms of needing it near term for the active movie project, but then to back it up and ultimately archive it for other uses down the road. This is not unlike a DBA needing to manage a total of giga-, tera-, or petabytes of information both in databases as well as the various copies (including backups). This is just the audio data – can you imagine all of the animation, too? Wow. Oh, and every bit of that audio needs to be meticulously cataloged, too. Much like you need to keep inventory of all of your servers, instances, and databases.

During the video restoration presentation, we (royal we here) got to talking shop a bit (probably to the dismay of the non-audio and video folks who were in my group) and I asked why they only scan in at 4K and not 8K, as well as discussed audio sample rates. The reason was similar: it’s a data problem and for some old film types, you’re theoretically not going to really get better with higher scans (MuppetVision 3D in Disneyland was scanned in at 6K if you care about such things, but that decision had a lot to do with the original format; this forum discusses this topic more if you want to see some opinions and other links). This puts a whole new spin on Big Data, eh? It may not be schemas, but it sure is a ton of information that is unwieldy to deal with.

What was also interesting about that presentation was the talk about the film stock and not only how flammable it could be (depending on its type), but no matter what they do, at some point,  the originals will be completely unusable (much like how I related backups to audio which I blogged about awhile back). Digital, film, analog tape – stored properly it will have a long shelf life, but it may not … it all depends since there are so many factors that contribute to that. If you have important data that needs to live for a long time, preserve it properly and have adequate redundancy, too. Archiving is no joke. A company like Disney is built on its history, and they need to preserve it.

Shifting gears a bit, the Animation Research Library as I said houses 65,000,000 pieces of art. I didn’t ask, but I could tell it was all cataloged and scanned in (I thought I heard someone say 150 dpi which was good enough years ago; I believe they’re working on scanning in at either 600 or 1200dpi now that tech has moved on and storage has gotten cheaper). Anyway, point is, we’ve got another data thing going on here. This is data not only used by animators today that needs to be accessible (hello HA!), but quickly and organized. Side note: cool perk of working there is you can apparently choose pieces from the archive to put up in your office. Drool. This is Art on Demand on steroids! Where do I sign up at HR for framed pencil drawings of “The Band Concert“?

Would I still love to be an animator? Maybe, but some of what goes on at Disney isn’t too far off from what I do today. I help customers ensure their data is available when they need it, be it near line or offline. Your data is your IP … and legacy. So maybe I really did choose the right career path after all – just getting a glimpse of how Disney deals with things like archiving and redundancy gives me inspiration in what I do right now, and is more than just a doodle on a page or a ride in an amusement park.


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