Animal Logic touts cloud computing as democratising the future of animation

It's not about the speed to which a film can be finished, rather it's the advantage it gives to animators.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Peter Rabbit 2

Image: Supplied

Animal Logic CTO Darin Grant has detailed the speed in which animation creatives can look forward to producing in the future, noting that leveraging the cloud doesn't mean a film can be finished faster or a release date is brought forward, rather it's the advantage it gives the team.

The key advantage of cloud for animators, Grant said, is the flexibility in scale.

"A few years ago, when the company looked into cloud resources, we felt maybe the economics didn't make sense locally in the region … but now when we have single digit latency back to the data centre, the region, it's now just a no-brainer," he said.

"This idea of flow -- engineering flow or artistic flow -- back in the day, before there were cloud services, we had to buy fixed assets for our render farm and as an animator, you'd animate a shot with Peter Rabbit in it and you'd push a button and you'd wait and check your watch, go get a coffee, and then you'd get it back and you could interact after that. That could be five, 10, 30 minutes.

"Imagine if you could reduce that wait time so people could stay in the flow."

He said that's what the cloud has enabled Animal Logic to do.

"We can scale out horizontally … very quickly. On a micro-scale, it enables people to stay in the creative zone," he said. 

"On a macro-scale [for] animated films, you can delay creative decisions as far as possible. Some may feel that's inefficient … that's true if you're absolutely sure that that's the movie that you want to make. But in our industry, there are large bets on these large-scale blockbuster movies; the studios want to make sure they can test-screen them and see them and get results and pivot and change.

"Because we're animated films and everything is computer-generated, we have the flexibility to push some of those creative choices to the very end."

Animal Logic is a Sydney-based animation and visual effects firm with a feature film resume, ranging from Babe, through to The Great Gatsby, the dancing animated penguins in Happy Feet, and The Lego Movie franchise.

The company has been around for 28 years, focusing initially on visual effects.

Speaking with ZDNet during Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Grant said the cloud has somewhat democratised the animation industry.

"From a product perspective, it allows us the flexibility -- much like it took a movie like the Matrix for Hollywood to get introduced to the talent pool that was in Australia, there's talent pools available everywhere in the world and to be able to enable those talent pools anywhere to be able to work on the same great movies we're working on in New South Wales right now, is a key reason why the cloud exists," Grant said.

"You see some opportunities that have happened, Amazon in particular purchased a company called Nimble Collective and it has this idea of building a pipeline, an animation studio in the cloud … and when you see that, and you see that enables people without the gigantic workforce that we have, and years and years of infrastructure and development that we've had, to be able to do some level of automation -- that's pretty exciting."

The company recently decided to adopt AWS as its cloud provider for visual effects and animation rendering. It has been working with the company for around 12 months, Grant said.

Specifically, the studio is using AWS to support the delivery of the hybrid live action and animation feature, Peter Rabbit 2, which is due for release on 3 April 2020.

Using AWS Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Spot Instances, Grant said Animal Logic is able to quickly scale capacity both up and down as its rendering demands change.

Animal Logic built a fully automated and elastic render farm, a high-performance processing system that delivers computer-generated images and videos on AWS.

It works alongside the studio's in-house Render Pipeline Manager to dynamically respond to shifts in production requirements, resulting in render performance to be 50% quicker than its current on-premises kit.

Animal Logic also uses a combination of AWS EC2 Spot Instances and AWS Direct Connect, which is a service that provides the studio with a dedicated network connection from its Sydney studio to AWS.

"The often unpredictable nature of film production means that we can't always plan what IT resources we will need," Grant said.

Asha Barbaschow travelled to re:Invent as a guest of AWS.


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