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Lights, Camera, Digital Transformation!

Uncovering the data-driven innovations turbocharging film from creation to consumption

The Oscars are almost upon us and as we celebrate the latest top-of-the class movie productions, let’s not forget the innovative technologies that create today’s movie magic. The film industry is in the throes of an exciting digital transformation, revolutionising the creation and consumption of our favourite films.

The 91st Academy Awards is set to take place on Sunday in Los Angeles, but this year’s ceremony has already made history. The video streaming platform Netflix is up for its first ever Oscar nomination, with Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma pegged for the coveted Best Picture award. Not to mention nine other nominations… Meanwhile, another Netflix original The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, directed by the Coen Brothers, scooped three nominations – and competitor platform Hula garnered a nomination in the Best Documentary section for Mind the Gap.

This is a milestone moment for film, underscoring the shift in consumer consumption and the impact of nimble digital platforms on the content consumed. Ofcom reported that UK subscriptions to the three most popular online streaming services – Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sky’s Now TV – reached 15.4 million in the first quarter of 2018, overtaking the number of traditional pay TV subscriptions at 15.1 million. Viewers aged 16-34 watched more online streamed content (2 hours 37 minutes a day on average) than traditional broadcast content (2 hours 11 minutes). These stats might be impressive, but with 5G developments on the horizon, our streaming habits are about to be turbocharged.

Digital innovations are re-writing the rulebook for film on screen and behind the camera. In 2017, Beauty and the Beast was brought to life with a live-action re-make, and this year a string of Disney favourites will get the same treatment. Whether combining traditional and digital visual effects or going the full hog with feature length animations, a tremendous amount of data is processed in their making.

Every single element of a CG animation film is digitally crafted down to the finest detail. Whether it’s thousands of dragons flying over the ocean or exotic parrots falling in love in South America, production companies, at their core, are manufacturers of data. A single movie contains as many as half a billion files, which become digital assets that can be repurposed for future sequels.

  • DreamWorks productions provide the perfect case in point. It takes hundreds of artists to work on any given DreamWorks feature, each of which takes three to four years to create. With a release target of two features per year, this means that there are, on average, 10 films in production simultaneously. This equates to an average of 400TB to 500TB of data spread across 500 million or more files. Creating characters such as Hiccup, Toothless, and Astrid, and environments such as the Hidden World in the third How to Train Your Dragon film, requires some pretty heavy lifting, from a data and computation perspective.  
  • What do Kung-Fu Panda and Shrek have in common? They’re data-driven. But what does that really mean – and how has this evolved? When the first Shrek movie was produced in 2001, it required 6TB of data in total. In contrast, a single animated sequence from the current release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World draws on up to 50TB of data.
  • DreamWorks relies on sophisticated data management solutions to ensure 100 percent uptime – and as it grows its multimedia content creation empire, enabling engineers to focus on creative and production teams continues to be critical.


This means that optimal data storage and management is the key to keeping the production line moving, artists in progress and ultimately bringing stories to life on the silver screen. With the exponential growth of data in the movie making process, optimising data centre space, guaranteeing no down-time and reducing latency is essential for an award-winning performance.

As we celebrate another great year of innovations in film, we are certainly provided with the perfect point at which to pause and reflect on just how far we have come. While data nerds look ahead to the next-steps for data-driven film – from AI powered animations to 3D film capture and 5G charged viewing – the majority of film lovers are blissfully unaware of the magic taking place behind the screen, within the data fabric. Without it, our animations would be delayed or sub-par and our nightly Netflix binges would be peppered with frustrating downtime. This year, perhaps an Oscar should go to the data-driven technologies that make our favourite films possible?

By Grand Caley, NetApp CTO UK & Ireland