“PixStor is cost-effective as there is no hardware vendor lock-in and you are free to use a number of supported options… it’s also very scalable”  –  Adam Coles Electric Theatre Collective

Electric Theatre Collective has earned itself a reputation as one of the industry’s most creative and forward thinking vfx houses. The company has kept pace with technological change in vfx thanks to its relationship with Pixit Media, as Adam Coles reveals.

Soho’s visual effects house Electric Theatre Collective has very quickly established itself as one of the country’s most admired facilities. The company has already landed itself a place inside Televisual’s top 10 listing of commercials producers’ favourite post houses and the calibre of its recent productions is testament to its status.

These include high-profile spots for Nike, Axe, Nivea and Film 4 and much lauded pop promos for The War on Drugs, La Roux, Metronomy and Alt-J. While Electric Theatre Collective has grown from a staff of five to more than 40 in little over three years, one thing that’s stayed consistent throughout this period of growth is the company’s versatile, powerful and cost effective centralised storage system Pixit Media’s PixStor.

The Beating Heart

“The PixStor is very much the beating heart of Electric Theatre Collective, explains Adam Coles, Head of Engineering. “We were one of the first post production houses in Soho to choose PixStor. We started with a baby system comprising a server and drives providing 30TB of storage, using a cost-effective and scalable 1Gb infrastructure which balances the throughput from the storage.”

“After a period of rapid growth at Electric Theatre Collective, we realised we had outgrown our initial setup,” says Coles. “Our system then naturally evolved from our first PixStor. We’ve grown quickly and so has our PixStor – a year or so into setting it up, we were able to upgrade the server layer to next generation technology easily with little impact on licencing or support costs, systematically replacing the server nodes whilst keeping the system operational (PixStor isn’t tied in to any particular hardware, which makes it easy and affordable to swap it out). In the process we doubled our capacity and bandwidth, and added redundancy to the set up. This provided 60TB of usable storage, and capacity for 72 render nodes, 30 3D workstations and six Flames over a 10GB network with an additional failover server to ensure zero down time,” he adds. With the business continuing to grow rapidly, the partnership between Electric Theatre Collective and Pixit Media has continued to work well because PixStor technology means that rapid expansion and required increases in performance can be accommodated on a manageable cost basis.”

Huge Benefits

Coles says the decision to go for PixStor over any other centralised storage for Electric Theatre Collective has proven beneficial on many levels. “PixStor is cost effective as there is no hardware vendor lock-in and you are free to use a number of supported options. In essence you understand more clearly what you are buying into. It’s also very scalable – a lot of storage systems make claims to being easily scalable but aren’t in practice – we can scale up our PixStor with no down time.”

“Another thing that’s very beneficial is performance degradation is extremely minimal. We’ve run it up to 95% capacity and not seen any noticeable loss of performance. On top of this,” continues Coles, “the support from Pixit Media is very good – from day one we’ve had a very personal level of support and know the people there by name.”

“There’s no complex licensing structure with PixStor. It’s a very simple model. With other storage systems, if you want this number of clients, you have to pay this amount, and so on, but there’s nothing like that with PixStor. And it can also be tuned to support many different workflows and can handle 3D graphics, Flames and Baselight from within a single storage namespace, which is unique.”

The workflow at the facility is built around vfx and grading. A typical job begins in Baselight, where an initial grade is done. This is then rendered out to PixStor where the company’s Flames/vfx can pick up the project. The Flames then use local storage and conform back to the PixStor-stored renders. PixStor enables a highly flexible, collaborative workflow, reducing the need to have multiple islands of storage for different bits of the workflow. “Some of our projects only stay on the PixStor for a short period of time, while others hang around on there for a while,” says Coles. “But either way, we have far more live projects than ever before and are currently running at capacity.

These days, we have over 30 live projects at any one time and all this places an ever increasing demand on our storage.” Overall, the great thing about PixStor is its flexibility.

Any future requirement for higher bandwidth access for the Nukes, Flames and the grading department, as higher resolution and higher frame rates become increasingly common, can be done easily without incurring huge cost.

A Welcome Escape

From the start, Electric Theatre Collective has worked with Escape Technology  to plan, source and install its PixStor system and upgrades.

“Escape were known to Electric Theatre Collective due to their visual effects background,” explains Coles. “They specced out and supplied the hardware for our PixStor, and, with our planned upgrade, we’re in regular contact with [Director of Business Development] Richard McGuinness at Escape. We pretty much speak on a daily basis. Escape really go the extra mile to help us out, and we have a very good relationship with them.”

Escape Technology’s MD Mark Cass adds: “Our relationship goes way back to when one of the founders, James Sindle, trained with us when we were part of Escape Studios. Starting up a new facility, James and the team came back to us for advice and obviously to source some of their kit. Working alongside the team at Pixit Media for many years, they have a similar philosophy to us when it comes to providing the right tools and second-to-none support,” says Cass.

“The solutions are designed to fit exactly what the customer’s pipeline demands. We had no hesitation in recommending PixStor to Electric Theatre Collective.”

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