Attack of the Terabytes in a Super Resolution Future – How can Film Producers Deal with the Impending Data Storage Explosion?

Jan 15, 2024

As viewing resolution grows ever higher from 8k, 12k, and beyond, the amount of data storage needed is growing inexorably higher along with it, presenting a significant issue for post-production industries and filmmakers.

Whilst most broadcasting systems will not currently support anything beyond 4k UHD, it won’t be long before this is seen as a blurry substandard mess as production moves into the phase of super-resolution.

8K Resolution Shooting of Productions Already Happening

Although not currently supported on the majority of televisions or broadcast systems, top directors and cinematographers have been shooting productions in 8k as far back as 2019, getting ahead of the resolution curve with a technique known as oversampling.

The principle behind this is that a higher resolution sensor will provide a crisper image even on a lower-res output. So an 8k resolution camera will lead to better picture quality even when viewed in a lower resolution such as 4k.

Director David Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shot the Netflix series Mindhunter in 12k and Messerchmidt had this to say about this apparent cinematography hack they have been using,

“The highest resolution sensor is best for me because I can make a more measured choice in terms of what I am trying to give the audience visually. It has always led to a better image, in my opinion, when I’ve shot on a higher resolution sensor.”                                                                                              

Soon it will become the norm for productions to be broadcast in 12k or 16k resolutions and top filmmakers will be going beyond that to get the extra sharp image with even higher resolution cameras. 

This means the file size needed to store all the data is going to get astronomically high. For example, one minute of 8k filming takes up around 600 MB. So a full hour-long episode of Mindhunter would be around 36 GB and would obviously represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the raw footage and overall data transfer needed.

Data Storage Challenges for the Post-production Industry

As we move into what is being referred to as the super-resolution era, with unlimited scope for the acceleration of higher resolutions being available, this presents a number of challenges for film production in terms of the data being stored.

Memory cards are insecure and impractical for data sharing. 

On-site cameras will typically store the data onto memory cards, which need to be physically taken to the director, editor, cinematographer or whoever needs to review the footage. This in itself presents a security issue as there is the opportunity for the content to be lost, stolen or leaked in some way prior to release. When working with a combination of remote and on-site team members, it is also highly impractical to have to move SSD cards about and upload the contents onto various computers.

File sizes are large for 4k and 8k filming.  

With file sizes of around 84 MB per minute for 4k filming and a staggering 600 MB per minute for shooting in 8k resolution, this presents several issues for production houses. The capacity for storing vast volumes of data is one apparent problem with on-site facilities having limited space available. The ability to readily access, share and edit the data presents another area of concern as hard drives and other devices can slow down the process of data transfer.

Storage systems are complex. 

With varying needs in terms of the capacity, throughput and access required for data this can mean that storage systems are often complex and in some cases need a dedicated storage manager to be present on-site or additional training for staff to manage the storage solution.

What is Storage Tiering and How Does it Help Film Production?

Storage tiering is a system for assigning data to various levels of storage based on the need for availability, performance, recovery and perhaps most importantly their cost.

Tier 1—online storage such as SSD cards and other solid state memory devices that provide a high-level throughput for data that needs to be accessed and modified quickly (known as Hot Data or Mission Critical Data). Unlike hard drives, there is no physical mechanism to spin up and the data transfer is typically faster. 

Tier 2—nearline storage would typically be things like hard drives that are low-cost for data that does not need to be accessed particularly quickly e.g. backup files or episodes not currently being worked on. This is referred to as Warm Data.

Tier 3—offline storage made up of inexpensive but slow-to-access media such as LTO tapes used for archives and backup storage that does not need to be accessed as often or quickly as the previous tiers. This is for rarely accessed files known as Cold Data.

Having a tiered storage system can benefit film production crews as it allows them to make the most out of various storage types, giving them the required flexibility and performance of each whilst keeping the costs to a minimum.

Cloud Solutions and Remote Desktops—the Future of Post-production?

Increasingly film producers are leveraging the processing power and data storage facility of managed service providers offering cloud data solutions and remote desktop working.

At Lyon, we offer a variety of public cloud solutions such as Amazon AWS services, Amazon S3 and Blob, Microsoft Office 365, Mobile Device Management, Microsoft Azure, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Power BI, Google Cloud Platform GCP and Google G-Suite, among many others.

Film production and VFX studios can use these cloud-based systems either as a backup option for when their on-site storage reaches capacity or for the majority of their day-to-day activities. Not to mention, keeping the production data secure!

We also provide cutting-edge Workstation as a Service and Desktop as a Service—especially useful for creative industries as it means they can harness the processing power of high-end machines with no infrastructure costs, whilst having a secure and readily accessible workspace to carry out their day-to-day functions, on a user-friendly interface.

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