Rendering: Eight VFX turns to the cloud
Issue: July 1, 2016

Rendering: Eight VFX turns to the cloud

Sudsy water cascades over a curvy green shampoo bottle, the star of a new commercial—until a last-minute packaging change makes an edgier, block-shaped bottle the main attraction. In the world of commercial production where an entire project can wrap in just two weeks, short-turn retakes are a challenging fact of every VFX supervisor’s life. What appears to the client a simple change often means days of re-rendering that adds load to already-stressed compute resources.

Eight VFX (, a visual effects studio that works on commercials, features, and music videos, solved its own rendering chal-lenge with an Avere-enabled Google Cloud Platform solution. Damien Ba-taille, head of development at the studio, which has locations in Santa Monica, New York, London and Paris, says, “The Avere solution lets us take full advantage of the cloud, removing all the limitations — rendering capacity, bandwidth, rental-node setup time, power, and space — that used to prevent us from expanding our project pipeline or accommodating last-minute changes. Today we can deliver the quality of artistry equal to our talent, even within the tightest of deadlines.”

Eight VFX’s list of clients includes BMW, Chevrolet, HP, Mars, Nike, Peugeot, Puma, Samsung and Toyota. The studio’s visual effects work on Kobe vs Messi: Selfie Shootout helped the commercial capture top honors as YouTube’s ad of the decade. But consistently delivering the high-end ef-fects clients expect can be particularly challenging in the condensed time-lines common to commercial work.

Philippe Chotard, in charge of IT and working closely with Yannick Le-blanc, technical director for Eight VFX, notes, “We’re managing a fast-changing production pipeline, very dynamic digital assets, and rendering workloads that can be difficult to anticipate. To handle peak demand, we frequently had to augment our on-premises render farm with rental nodes. But that process took days, required juggling equipment for rack space, and we were hitting the limits of our power and cooling systems. Because of these issues, we decided to explore cloud rendering for burst-compute capability to enable business growth. Although early tests showed promis-ing results, we found that in practice our 100Mb Internet link became satu-rated with just 150 cores online. For the cloud to work in our environment, we needed to be able to run at least 1,000 cores on demand.”

Bataille says the studio briefly considered a number of caching options, bandwidth optimization technology, and even in-house scripting to man-age data movement to and from the cloud. “Our file sizes can range from one gigabyte to as large as 40GBs. Some products work by pre-scanning as-sets required for the render. But in our dynamic environment, we can’t eas-ily determine the full set of texture files used inside a 3D frame. And any errors in the rendering process cost valuable time — in both development and rendering processes — and ultimately money. Avere was the only so-lution that did not require complex scripting or data management. It’s a seamless drop-in between our on-premises storage and Google Cloud Plat-form, hiding latency and minimizing network traffic so we’re able to run as many cores as needed without saturating our Internet link.”

Today, Eight VFX runs an Avere Systems Virtual FXT (vFXT) Edge filer cluster with Avere FlashCloud software alongside the studio’s Chaos Group V-Ray rendering engine in the compute cloud. The Avere solution with Avere FlashCloud software delivers I/O performance, high network-ing throughput to ensure peak performance for rendering processes, and automatic access to digital assets, with no complex data movement and synchronization. 

“Today it takes less than 15 minutes to fire up 1,000 nodes in the cloud,” says  Chotard. “And that’s from scratch. With the VPN and Avere’s virtual cluster defined, we can spin up everything in just four minutes. Most im-portantly, Avere integrates seamlessly into our pipeline — nothing changes for applications or our creative team of more than 30 artists. We’ve actually integrated a check-box into our software — including Autodesk Maya, Nuke, and SideFX Houdini — that lets users launch their renderings utiliz-ing both on-premises nodes and cloud compute as needed. Avere automat-ically presents the required digital assets — we don’t have to worry about finding the right files, moving data back and forth, or the technical limits of bandwidth.”

Chotard estimates that during peak production periods, Eight VFX typical-ly runs about 60 percent of its workload on the studio’s 50-node on-premises render farm and 40 percent in cloud. “In the near future, our team will be moving into a larger facility to support our fast-growing artistic team and business. Without the Avere solution, we’d have had to reserve much of that space for rendering infrastructure, making sure we had ade-quate rack space, power, and cooling. Instead, our rendering expansion will be focused in the cloud. We anticipate ultimately running as much as 80 percent of our workload in the cloud.”

According to Chotard, cloud-rendering costs are already at par with rental rendering. “That’s without factoring in data center space and cooling or taking advantage of Google Cloud Platform Preemptible Virtual Machines to further reduce per-node costs. Considering those factors and Google’s strategy of reducing prices by half every two years, we can make a compel-ling financial case for continuing to move workload to the cloud.”

“Being able to instantly spin up thousands of rendering nodes — without disrupting users or adding management overhead — frees our artists to be creative and our business to grow,” summarizes Bataille. “We can immedi-ately deliver rendering capacity to meet a critical deadline, take on larger feature-film projects, or accommodate a retake. Just recently, we were able to help a client with an overnight modification. The requested change im-pacted every shot and would have taken more than 48 hours to render on premises. We ran the job overnight in the cloud, meeting both the schedule and quality objectives of our client. Avere-enabled cloud rendering gives our artistic team on-demand access to the virtually unlimited capacity they need to continue to deliver truly inspired VFX work.”