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To move all this data between Hollywood, London and Mumbai, Prime Focus needs data transfer that’s not only fast, but secure. Specialist ISP Sohonet runs fibre between all of the major facilities houses.

I had a quick chat with Sohonet's chief operating officer, Damien Carroll, to get a sense of how the network operates. I asked him about the scope of the network, and how the major moviemaking cities were connected.

Carroll told me:

Sohonet utilises third-party fibre from major telecommunications companies throughout the world. Wherever possible we procure dark fibre which we light ourselves. This is particularly relevant for "tail" or "last mile" circuits.

In all major metropolitans we have multiple Points-Of-Presence (POP) with a highly resilient backbone connecting various parts of the city (eg, we have five POPs in LA providing a backbone linking Hollywood, Burbank, downtown LA and Santa Monica). These POPs are interconnected by multiple 10Gbit/s connectivity and customers are connected into this backbone via either single connections to one POP, or where diversity is required, customers are connected to more than one POP.

Each metropolitan is interconnected with other metropolitans (such as LA, New York, London, Sydney and Singapore). The main metropolitans are interconnected with multiple redundant 10G paths.

I was quite proud of my top-of-the menu Virgin connection until I asked the COO about transfer speeds:

Customers can connect at 100Mbit/s, 1Gbit/s and 10Gbit/s. The majority of customers connect at 1Gbit/s and we are seeing an increasing trend to 10Gbit/s within metropolitans. There are further drivers for increased bandwidth with the launch of our new private, offsite storage services where customers require an increased bandwidth to access these services for storage purposes as well as moving content around.

Generally connections between metropolitans such as London and LA are up to 1Gbit/s but we're increasingly seeing requirements for greater than 1Gbit/s where customers are looking for 3,4 or 5Gbit/s and full 10Gbit/s. Transfer speeds do not vary per location on a technical basis as customers in LA or London or Sydney can achieve the same speeds across the network. Commercial drivers dictate the level of bandwidth in markets such as Australia and Singapore where bandwidth continues to cost significantly more than in North American and European Markets and as a result we see less drive toward greater than 1Gbit/s capacity at present.

Then again, at least I know what I’m paying every month for high-speed access to all the funny cat videos I can handle. Sohonet’s pricing structure is the kind of thing that only grown-ups understand.

“Sohonet operates on a bandwidth-based business model where customers contract to a bandwidth over a contract term," says Carroll. "This bandwidth is dedicated for a customers’ usage. There are no costs for any data transferred and the contract charge is fixed and predictable. The services are usually deployed in such a way that customers can burst upwards above the base contracted rate for project based work and can drop back to the base level when the crunch is over.

"For other services such as storage and file transfer capability, the services are deployed on a pay-as-you-go basis where customers pay per month on the amount of resources consumed – eg, storage is priced at a per TB/month charge and customer only pay for their usage. This usage can be scaled up and down on a monthly basis.”

Once all the transfers are done, Prime Focus is running a more or less seamless workspace across three continents. The seams are kept tight by data security at all levels: from secure online transfers to strong bolts on the tape cupboard. Industry "police" run spot-checks on all the major post-production facilities too, checking that there are no open USB ports or default passwords in use.

Behind those carefully locked doors there’s more than just cutting and pasting of backgrounds going on. As well as off-the-shelf applications such as Shake, Nuke and Fusion, the team develop bespoke tools to handle specific jobs.

Sometimes a project will come along and it has a involve masking around lot of bouncy hair, or coruscating laser beams, so the team will build a tool to help handle that kind of content, Richard Baker, the creative director of View-D™, London, explains.

There isn’t one tool that does everything. They all have pros and cons so we use them all and we’ve written an in-house piece of translation software so that we can pass files between them.

Assuming everything has gone to plan, the seamless intercontinental workflow should result in a seamless viewing experience. Certainly when I attended a preview screening of World War Z, the star of the show, even more than main box-office draw Brad Pitt, was the 3-D processing.

There were a few "look at this" moments to make cinema-goers who had paid the extra feel like they were getting their money’s worth, but in the main the film had a natural-looking three dimensional space that was a world away from earlier headache-inducing attempts such as Alice In Wonderland.

3D films are increasingly becoming the standard, at least for summer blockbusters, and until dedicated stereo cameras get a lot lighter, more flexible post-processing will probably be the way to go.

...Even if that does mean we get a poke in the eye from Kate Winslet now and then. ®

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