The movie Boyhood tells the story of a boy from Texas as he grows from a child into a young adult over the course of twelve years. In the process, it captures moments in popular culture, such as the Iraq war, the Harry Potter books, the election of Barack Obama, and the rise of Facebook. We also get a firsthand view of a millennial who grows up as the world around him transitions to digital technology.
In addition to the on-screen presence of Gameboys, Macs, iPods and iPhones, a corresponding off-screen transition was taking place as movie-makers shifted from shooting movies with 35mm film to using digital cameras. Richard Linklater, the director of Boyhood, made a decision to film in 35mm (and then edit in digital) even as the industry transitioned to digital. In an interview with the British Film Institute, Linklater said, “Had I started on the best HD camera back in 2002, I’d have been on my fifth by now. It was never even much of a decision. But I didn’t like the way digital looked back then, it looks better now, [and] I’ve shot two of my last three films on an ALEXA.”
Today, the modern movie industry is dominated by digital cinematography and only a small group of analog purists continue to use film. The benefits of digital movie-making are undeniable. Gone are the days of shooting with traditional film stock and manually splicing films, with many scenes left “on the cutting room floor.” Instead, footage shot with digital cameras can be quickly evaluated (often while the scene is still being shot) and edited with non-linear editing systems (NLE) – without waiting for film stock to be developed and processed.
The shift from analog film to digital capture has not gone unnoticed by the data storage industry. To get an idea how much storage capacity is required, consider that even feature-length motion pictures with minimal special effects, such as The Social Network (which admittedly used digital face replacement for an actor who played a Winklevoss twin), typically consume over a petabyte of storage-more than enough to run an average mid-sized enterprise. Then, multiply this by the number of movies released each year (659 last year in the U.S. and Canada alone, according to the Motion Picture Association of America).
As cinematography resolutions grow from 4K to 8K and as the popularity of 3D (which requires two independent HD streams) increases, the storage capacity requirements of the entrainment industry will continue to skyrocket. And when it comes to animated movies or CGI-heavy productions like Avatar, the rendering storage requirements can be off the charts. According to Coughlin Associates: “Between 2013 and 2019 we expect about a 5.4 X increase in the required digital storage capacity used in the entertainment industry and about a 3.8 X increase in storage capacity shipped per year (from 14,449 PB to 50,649 PB).”
So if you’re watching this year’s Academy Awards presentations and rooting for Oscar favorites like Boyhood and Birdman, keep in mind that the real winners may be the companies that feed the entertainment industry’s insatiable appetite for digital storage.