The Jim Henson Company – the renowned animatronics, visual effects and computer-generated (CG) animation studio that brought The Muppets to television and cinema screens around the world – has turned to

Brocade to enhance its networking capabilities for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

Founded in the UK in 1979 and now based in Los Angeles, the Creature Shop’s work stretches far beyond Kermit and Big Bird and, even though Disney now owns the rights to The Muppets, it continues to develop and bring to life characters on film. Recent projects including The Hangover and Where The Wild Things Are. It has worked with performance artists including Cee Lo Green, Kanye West and Lady Gaga.

The studio relies heavily on digital technology to bring its creations to life. It has developed the Henson Digital Puppetry Studio, an Emmy Award-winning proprietary software suite, which features a workstation with advanced simulation capabilities, driven by its own animation software engine.

The workstation features a joystick and digital glove which allows animators and puppeteers to play the role of a digital puppet exactly as they would a physical one. This allows them to perform virtual characters in a real-time studio environment that replicates a three-camera live action shoot.

All of this requires an agile, fit-for-purpose network to support the production team’s need to share and access very large video files at high speed.

The Brocade-powered network was designed to remove barriers to digital content development – which these days sits at the heart of the Creature Shop’s work – while improving editing productivity.

Performance gain

The supplier deployed an IP storage network comprising two banks of Samsung SSD flash storage devices, one of 32TB capacity and one of 16TB. Both are connected by high-throughput links to a Brocade VDX switching infrastructure, to deliver data delivery at 40Gbps directly onto the network.

Each switch has four 40 gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports and 48 10GbE ports that support 20 rendering stations, 10 artists and the high-capacity flash storage drives. Brocade’s Virtual Cluster Switching (VCS) Fabric technology simplifies network provisioning and management, which means the Creature Shop will be able to expand its network across its campus when needed.

The Creature Shop said it had reduced data download time by 94% and increased efficiency by enabling multiple editors to work on the same job at the same time, maximising content lead times and achieving “higher visual and editorial quality”.

“Brocade’s technology has directly and significantly improved our efficiency,” said Steffen Wild, visual effects supervisor at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

“We reduced download times from eight hours to 30 minutes, can move data faster, communicate more effectively and we can tell stories in even more compelling, more magical ways than we’ve been able to do before.”

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