Genetic Engineering at FotoKem

By Witmer, Jon D. | American Cinematographer, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Genetic Engineering at FotoKem


Witmer, Jon D., American Cinematographer


"It's a dark story mostly based on revenge," muses FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto, referring to the film Death Sentence, the first project to go through FotoKem's recently upgraded digital-intermediate (Dl) pipeline. Fortunately, FotoKem's integration of Quantel's Genetic Engineering shared-storage architecture presents a much brighter vista.

FotoKem has provided Dl services for almost five years, and during that time it has used the traditional SAN-based system. As Quantel Strategic Marketing Manager Mark Horton notes, the SAN left plenty of room for improvement: "The SAN shared architecture had some fundamental flaws. It couldn't play back 4K, it couldn't reliably play back 2K once it was more than half full, and it had lots of problems with metadata handling."

Perhaps the "Achilles' heel" of the SAN architecture is sharing media across multiple workstations, a process that requires time-consuming copying of files that in turn clog disk space. According to Bill Schultz, senior vice president and general manager of FotoKem's Digital Film Services, within the SAN-based workflow "we had to export from one machine to the SAN so we could then import [the media] into another machine. We spoke to Quantel on numerous occasions about the difficulty of this."

Naturally, FotoKem was not alone in desiring a better system, and, fueled by similar feedback from other post facilities, Quantel dedicated a team to circumventing the limitations of the SAN architecture. Around the end of 2006, the company emerged with Genetic Engineering. "They came up with their own idea of what a shared storage architecture should be, and it solved all the problems but was also a completely different approach," says Schultz. "It takes a little while to get your head around exactly what they've done. It's a better way of utilizing technology that was already available. Most of the product is software; the hardware is essentially the same as what we had before. We just added a little bit more disk, and then we connected it in a different way." (Loaded-up Quantel storage won't have playback issues because of Quantel's patented intellectual property relating to the management of fragmentation and scatter.)

Central to Genetic Engineering's design is its easy interoperability with third-party products. "It rather helpfully confuses some of our friendly competitors," says Horton. "There isn't any development you need to do for it - there's no API [application programming interface] and no licensing - so basically it's plug-and-play for third-party vendors." For example, using MTI Film's Correct Digital Restoration System (DRS) previously required a workstation and storage outside of the Quantel. Genetic Engineering allows the MTI Correct system to dust-bust images directly on the Quantel storage pool with no need to copy or export.

To accomplish this feat, Quantel has introduced the "Sam" data server, which Horton describes as "the way of hooking everyone in together. Sam's got a very unusual trick in that it doesn't behave like it's a Quantel device. Essentially, it fools a third party into thinking it's working with its own local 10-GigE network-attached storage."

Within the Genetic Engineering architecture, media is stored in what is called the GenePool, which Sam links to all of the in-house, non-Quantel work-stations. (Quantel workstations have their own additional direct connections that don't require Sam.) Rounding out the new workflow is the Max assist station, which frees the creative suites by tackling such tasks as conforms, quality control and playout. …

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