Light, camera ... cloud: How clouds change the movie industry

    Would you prefer 10,000 hours of processing footage on 100 machines or one hour on 1,000,000 machines? Same price. Welcome to the cloud.

    As in the case of football , at first glance it is not clear how cloud solutions and the film industry are related. But if you look at the methods that are used in the production of films, the reasons for using cloud systems become obvious.

    There are two main ways that designers, animators, motion artists, and VFX companies can use cloud computing:

    • Rendering is a vital part of the equation. Due to the complexity of the tasks and the high cost of equipment, it is more and more being transferred to the cloud.
    • Storage of materials is also important, especially when working simultaneously with teams from different countries. But in terms of work on the "picture" this issue is secondary.

    If you look at a beautiful 3D image, you will not immediately realize that this is not a real photograph. Yes, a computer must have the highest performance to display it. The rendering process is one of the most energy-intensive aspects of film production: combining all the movie scenes with visual effects and sound can take a very long time and require huge computing resources.

    Therefore, the main obstacle to creating realistic images, even more real than the camera can capture, is the lack of computing power and more advanced programs for 3D rendering.

    Cloud rendering removes one of the biggest barriers to entry into the VFX industry: infrastructure. More recently, VFX companies created large data centers, “rendering farms,” with thousands of processors capable of working in tandem to render a single angle, shot, or scene, including off-site rendering farms controlled by third parties. Nobody wants to return to this method.

    What movie studios think

    Simple calculation: just one realistic frame consumes more than 4 GB of physical memory and 512 MB of graphics memory. To create one minute of video, you need at least 30x60 = 1800 such frames. This requires a huge resource. This issue is especially relevant for the studios Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks Animation, which create fantastic animations. By the way, Pixar in 2010 talked about the benefits of cloud rendering using the animated films Toy Story, Monster Corporation, and Up.

    Instead of trying to find computers that can handle the huge workload, many studios use the power of cloud computing. Remote use of computing power allows you to complete the project much faster than when working on their own equipment companies.

    Company Afterglow Studios , based in Minneapolis, US, and co-operating with the "Disney" offers enormous capacity for cloud 3D-rendering. According to their calculations, about 4K computational cycles take four seconds of animation, which guarantees a beautiful and realistic animated frame. To create the same render farm, studios will need a lot of time and even more money.

    In an interview for BBC News, a representative of Atomic Fiction stated the need for cloud solutions, thanks to which small studios remain competitive and produce high-quality film products.

    Laurent Tyler , head of computer graphics, US-Canadian VFX-studio:
    “The number of frames we work with and the level of detail - for example, the photorealistic reconstruction of Manhattan for Robert Zemeckis’s film“ Walk ”- require computing power that would mean a huge investment. Such costs would make the competitiveness of our studio impossible.

    In Deadpool, on some frames of the city, there were so many details in the models and textures that the rendering of final images required significantly more memory than standard computers can provide. The Clouds provided us with this missing power, creating extremely complex and realistic frames. ”

    “We knew that we did not have a budget for a large data center. But we didn’t want to be a data center, we wanted to be a creative company. ”
    - echoes her head of visual effects Kevin Bailey .

    “While working on the crew, we started with 130-140 VFX frames, but in the end we got close to 400. Since we had a cloud, it was easy to build capacity. It would be physically impossible to build a traditional rendering farm and complete the necessary VFX in such a short time. ”

    One of the most technically challenging Disney films, City of Heroes (Big Hero 6), was rendered on 55,000 cores , and it took 190 million render hours. Especially for managing a cloud geographically distributed across four render farms, a CODA job distribution system was written.

    Another example of the successful use of cloud computing was led by director and VFX designer Scott Pagano, who creates concert 3D images for musicians such as Skrillex, Flying Lotus and Zedd. One of the artists needed a VFX design for the entire live show four days before the concert date. It was not easy, but thanks to the "clouds" all the visual effects in 2K format were ready for the deadline.

    The benefits of cloud-based 3D rendering over traditional film production

    Film production materials can be up to a petabyte of data. And all this data must be moved, processed and loaded by various teams involved in the stages of the film production. Thus, the advantages of placing it in a remote and safe, but accessible place become obvious.

    • Everything is done literally at the table, on a regular computer;
    • Producers, the director of the picture and other managers receive a guarantee of high-quality "picture" and compliance with deadlines;
    • Easier are the "transformations" of a person - into a bee, ant, mutant;
    • Caring for the environment - cloud infrastructure is organized more efficiently than traditional. For the same amount of work, less electricity is required, and this is good;
    • Permanent availability - cloud solutions provide easy access to materials and allow users to work in different time zones and geographical points;
    • You can create digital doubles of actors , making them younger, sportier, more attractive;
    • Fast scaling - to increase the detail of the frame, you do not need to buy equipment. It is enough to add cloud resources to the already used ones.

    Real-time rendering

    Another interesting technology that improves the performance of cloud rendering farms is the graphics processor (GPU). GPU rendering has long been used by game developers to create stunning real-time graphics. But for VFX companies, cloud graphics are still a poorly studied area.

    More recently, Adobe Premiere Pro (and the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite) has enabled some Nvidia GPUs to do the hard work of rendering. Until that time, VFX companies had to buy expensive graphics cards with GPUs and software licenses for their own server ones.

    New technologies (like Otoy Octane) use the capabilities of GPUs more widely and make it possible to reduce the cost of cloud computing, even ahead of Amazon solutions. With their help, VFX designers can perform real-time rendering , including extremely complex operations like ray tracing in the cloud. Video card maker Nvidia demonstrated this technology during a performance in San Diego. He did real-time rendering on the MacBook Air using a virtual machine tied to a GPU rendering farm in Los Angeles. Nvidia recently talked about how far they have come in this direction.

    Why haven't movie studios still switched to “clouds”?

    1. Skepticism
    Nobody argues, cloud computing is a huge help for the industry at the post-production stage. However, skepticism remains regarding these technologies. Indeed, in the film industry it is important to maintain complete secrecy until the moment the film is released. This behavior is fully justified - a fused copy of the film on the Internet could theoretically reduce box office receipts. Although there are different opinions .

    Some studios guarantee their peace of mind by creating their own private cloud systems. As a result, they no longer need the power of cloud companies. And they consider themselves more secure than if they used the same cloud systems as Netflix, Amazon and Google. In fact, these are huge expenses for studios, especially small ones. And such expenses are not always justified.

    In addition, companies offering “clouds” themselves are interested in protecting the content of the client. Therefore, they often have more stringent security requirements; multilevel security systems are involved. That is, the studios get well-protected storage, and at the same time do not spend money on protecting their content.

    2. Unwillingness or lack of ability to change the model of working with data
    Many Hollywood studios have already spent a lot of money on their own data centers and private clouds, so they are not ready to abandon these investments. Even knowing that there are cheaper alternatives, they will squeeze the maximum out of available capacity, while it is economically feasible. Own data center is an extremely complex and costly project to give up so easily. Especially if the previous tape failed at the box office, "knocking" the studio budget.

    This approach is understandable. But you need to remember that your own infrastructure will be enough to create high-quality graphics only to a certain limit. Subsequently, you still have to allocate funds for the modernization of equipment and the expansion of premises in order to supply new equipment. Or go to the "clouds", reducing the amount of capital expenditure.

    3. Weak Internet.
    Suppose a studio renders at 30 frames per second. Each frame can occupy up to 100 megabytes. Therefore, the amount of data transferred becomes completely unmanageable if the network in which the VFX designer works is poor. In addition, loading and unloading data in huge quantities required by a film project can still take a lot of time.

    The issue is solved quite simply - by connecting a more powerful Internet channel, which even for small studios is not such a difficult task.


    We did not always have IMAX movie theaters, 3D movies, and augmented reality applications. This was made possible thanks to powerful servers, almost unlimited storage, high-speed Internet and ingenious software. Better video resolution, frame rate and color depth require more from the IT infrastructure.

    Technology allows TV and film companies to produce, edit, refine and deliver cleaner, clearer and more realistic content faster and at lower cost. Viewers enjoy video in 3D, 2K, 4K, 8K, HFR, UHDTV and other quality levels. Artists and designers create stunningly realistic images using cloud computing.

    In the context of tight deadlines for projects and competition for new projects, studios often have to quickly build up their IT infrastructure to return to schedule or increase throughput for new victories. Expanding your own infrastructure through the use of cloud resources, gaining access to greater computing power during peak periods and accelerating large or behind-schedule projects is an increasingly popular phenomenon in the production of feature films and other videos.

    Remote cloud storage also plays an important role in collaboration and archiving. 48 percent of specialists in the annual survey conducted in 2018 use cloud storage for editing and subsequent processing of video materials.

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