It’s no secret that I’ve been a big advocate of cloud computing in media and entertainment for many years. Straight out of the gate, I was excited about the potential for cloud to ‘level the playing field’ for individual artists and studios who could now access nearly unlimited compute and storage.
Looking back at the history of VFX, it seems clear that studios have spent a lot of time on the ‘how’ part of the creation process: how to build a facility with enough space, cooling and power to house the computing infrastructure that allowed them to deliver their projects. Now studios are using cloud to focus more on ‘what’ they are delivering, leaving the undifferentiated heavy lifting of rackmounts and infrastructure to cloud providers. While I expected this shift, I’ve been surprised by how studios are using the cloud.
My vision for Deadline was to help studios make the most of their local resources and, as early as 2013, provide a conduit to the cloud so that customers could have easy access to on-demand compute and seemingly endless resources. When we were acquired by AWS in 2017, we doubled down on cloud by releasing Deadline 10 with a direct connection to Amazon EC2 Spot instances, allowing users to cost-effectively scale their infrastructure as they need it. We thought they would leverage cloud-based resources to add roughly 10 to 15 percent to their on-premises capacity, but what we’re actually seeing is users double, triple or quadruple their entire on-premises rendering infrastructure.
When studios try the cloud, they find it to be so effective that they are able to tackle larger, more complex or additional projects resulting in far more scale than we thought they would. A few customers have even gone as far as scaling 10x, which indicates that access to cloud-based resources is fundamentally transforming the way studios operate, and that is super exciting to me. All of this scale is ultimately allowing artists to focus more on what makes them great — their creativity and talent. It is also allowing them to re-think how they set up their pipeline, deploy resources and how much work they can take on at any given time.
Based on how extensively many studios have embraced cloud-based compute after evaluation, I think wider adoption of virtual workstations is imminent. VFX studios have indicated an increasing willingness to adopt cloud-based compute for the flexibility and scale it provides, and the same benefits exist for virtual workstations, which further remove the need for capital expenditures in hardware and real estate to help lower operating expenditures and provide more flexibility and scalability.
I believe it’s only a matter of time before the ‘studio-in-the-cloud’ model becomes standard practice, and, as forward-thinking studios innovate and progress their workflows, I fully expect we’ll uncover surprising trends in virtual workstations as well.
Chris Bond is the founder and director of AWS Thinkbox (www.thinkboxsoftware.com), which provides creative tools and pipeline technology for both small- and large-scale projects. The company’s head office is in Winnipeg, Canada.