The ASAPnet study was dealing with the problem of the lack of an affordable glass fiber network for animation and VFX studios in the region of Stuttgart. In the focus of the study was furthermore an improvement of the access to the computational power of the High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart. The various sections of the topic, such as the short project times of the animation industry but also the obstacle of the software integration were comprehensively processed and solutions proposed. The Media Solution Center BW (MSC, www.msc-bw.de) project of HLRS was not only involved in the preparation of the study, but is also part of those solutions
In 2014 the majority of the frames for the “Maya the Bee” movie were rendered at HLRS. At that time, the large amounts of data had to be transported on hard drives via public transport to the HLRS for the rendering process. Which is especially alarming as Stuttgart is one of Germanys leading citys, when it comes to animation and visual effects. Since the described procedure, which found its way into the local press under the term “sneaker network”, not exactly matches the political aim of digitalisation, the Economic Development Corporation for the Region of Stuttgart (Wirtschaftsförderung Region Stuttgart) in cooperation with the media and film society Baden-Württemberg GmbH (Medien- und Filmgesellschaft, MFG) initiated a study in order to analyze the problem in detail. The SICOS BW GmbH was involved as a partner, in this context also as a representer for HLRS and as an expert for technology transfer towards small and medium enterprises.
The map gives an overview of the geographical distribution of the involved and participating institutions and companys:
Course of action
Through individual talks with the participating animation and VFX studios their operation manner and the need for a faster data connection were interrogated and analysed. It has shown, that almost all of the companies are interested in an expansion of their computing capacities. However, as their work is tremendously project-based, the detailed planning for a fiber optic cable infrastructur ideally including a connection to HLRS, is already beyond capacity. Apart from obvious obstacles like the mentioned time consuming planning for a fiber connection, the issues with regard of the rental situation, the negotiations with the telecommunication providers and in many cases also the expensive earthwork operations, there is another immense challenge for this specific industry: if you want to have a fiber connection and be able to use external render capacities, it also needs an adjustment of the usually very complex and unique software pipeline. A new partner for the animation and VFX studios, who is willing to join them in developing technical innovations, is the Media Solution Center BW (MSC BW): a cooperation project of the HLRS, the media university Stuttgart, the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg and the ZKM in Karlsruhe. It is the declared aim to give the companies access to HLRS, but not only for classical rendering. Rather, it is intended as part of the MSC to also give the possibilty of trying out new approaches and to support future-oriented working habits.
Fiber optics suggestions
In regard of fiber optics the ASAPnet study has explicit recommendations: Interested animation and VFX companies should form a demand pool. As a group it is more likely to get quotes for the the so-called dark fiber, which is an unlit fiber for individual and especially practically unlimited use.
The idea is that the lines of the single companies converge at a central node in the center of Stuttgart, where multiple telecommunications providers are present. The thereby increased competition within the market situations allows the achievment of better prices.
Another advantage of a central node is the reduction of the total length of cableway to HLRS. Such shortening would also have the benefit of being cost-saving, since the bulk of the costs for a fiber optic cable connection is the laying costs.
According to the study, the proposed model could be realised with a € 10,000 one-time investment and 1000 € per month operating costs per studio.
The results of the study were presented at HLRS in front of invited guests and the press. The representatives of the involved institutions agree: if the gathered recommendations get realized, a siginificant improvement of the fiber optic infrastructure can be achieved from which also sectors besides animation can benefit tremendously.
The whole study can be read here: http://wrs.region-stuttgart.de/asapnet (german version)