Creating an Interconnection Highway for Digital Media Production

Phil Schwarzmann

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Based on actual events on 9/11, the short film “Suitcase,” tells the story of a baggage handler at Logan International Airport in Boston who discovers the contents of one of the hijacker’s bags that never made it on to American Airlines’ Flight 11 to Los Angeles. The 20-minute movie, written and directed by Abi Corbin, details the man’s moral dilemma: Should he turn the bag over to the authorities or hide the fact that he was looking for things to steal, and lose his job?

But there is more to this movie than the drama unfolding on screen. The film was produced by the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California (ETC@USC) as part of its “Project Cloud” initiative, which brings technology leaders and studio executives together to accelerate the use of cloud-based resources for film and media creation, production and distribution. As a proof-of-concept, cloud services touched every phase of the Suitcase’s production.

One of the ETC’s goals was to demonstrate that the digital media production process could address key issues such as interoperability and scalability as the entertainment industry migrates to the cloud.

One critical interoperability requirement is accurate and consistent data identification among different participants in the workflow. The ETC developed an open-source framework for media production called the, “Cinema Content Creation Cloud” (C4), which enables interoperability within globally distributed workflows of media production. The framework, written by Joshua Kolden, provides an unambiguous, universally unique ID for any file or block of data, enabling identical files to reside in two different organizations without the need for a central registry or any other shared information. This allows organizations to communicate about digital assets consistently and unambiguously, while managing those assets however they choose.

“We wanted to have a universal way to identify the media transferred by different means from different organizations,” Josh said. “This removes the coordination aspect of the file identification process and takes a huge burden away from the cloud to process and transmit the data.”

In the production of Suitcase, Technicolor added C4 identification to it’s ingest process, so raw footage, and all of the resulting files from it, were uniquely identified. Anyone accessing those files knew where the file was and that it was the right file, regardless of its name.

The second aspect of the Suitcase proof-of-concept was demonstrating cloud scalability in the production of the film. ETC transferred 2.0 – 2.5 terabytes of data to the cloud per day during the film’s production over a 1 gigabyte link, so the network was an issue. The ETC created a combined, distributed network with Technicolor that aggregated bandwidth to complete these file transfers. The ETC’s C4 framework completely automated the coordination of the file transfers.

The Suitcase proof-of-concept has helped many studios and their media creation partners realize that cloud computing is essential to their future success.

Equinix is proud to be a Project Cloud and Suitcase funding and physical infrastructure partner. Moving forward with its cloud migration initiative, the ETC has created a data lake within Equinix to use as a central cloud migration repository, and is leveraging Platform Equinix™, Equinix Data Hub™ and Cloud Exchange™ for quick and secure connectivity between digital media data and multiple clouds.

“We set this environment up in Equinix for greater performance and security, and the ability to provide studios with the freedom to be multi-cloud,” said ETC project manager Erik Weaver.

Josh added that studios often struggle with latency as they work to migrate what they are currently doing in film production to the cloud. However, the ETC’s C4 framework allows them to create a more rich and complex network topology that can orchestrate these file transfers and take advantage of the low-latency interconnection services that Equinix provides.

“Equinix is providing the interconnection highway where all of these different cloud services can meet over high-performance connections and give us the ability to coordinate digital media production processes without limits,” Josh said.

Results of this testing will be covered in future Interconnection articles. Until then, learn more about the Equinix Cloud Media Ecosystem for Entertainment.

Learn more about the short film, “Suitcase” and the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California.

Phil Schwarzmann
Phil Schwarzmann Senior Social Media Manager / Social Media Engagement Manager