The Ideal Design Studio: Showcasing the Remote Artist Experience

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 16, 2021 9:51:42 AM / by Alex Kline

Alex Kline

This is blog and vlog (see video below) is the second post/episode in a series focused on the Media and Entertainment industry called Defining the Ideal Design Studio for Game and VFX Artists. In the previous post we introduced the concept of  the "Artist Experience."

Artist remote workstation As part of the discussion, we asked some key questions to qualify what technology is required to create a successful experience for artists in game development and VFX - both in studio, and with a virtual workstation. In this episode/post, we challenge those questions as we demonstrate and highlight how technology can help us achieve our goals for those working remotely. You can view the 13-minute episode here, and/or read the summary in this blog.

View the Vlog Below


The first question was broken down into two categories: technology and the desktop-experience itself. Let's first describe the technology used in the demo, then go into the specifics of how that technology supports the desktop-experience.

For the virtual workstation, we used an AWS g4dn.4xlarge instance type. The price and hardware specs make it a good candidate to start with for creative work. At a high-level, it offers 16 CPU threads, 64GB of memory and a dedicated Nvidia T4 Tensor core GPU. A benefit of virtual workstations is the flexibility to change hardware specs to meet the demand of work being done. The g4dn instances specifically can go up to a 64 thread CPU and 4 dedicated T4 tensor core GPUs. The virtual workstation was hosted within AWS N. Virginia region and Alex was connecting to it from the Chicago-land area. A distance ~800 miles!

Going into the demo, we needed a method of accurately representing the responsiveness an artist would have interacting with the virtual workstation, and knew a standard screen capture would not suffice. To accomplish this, we used a Wacom Cintiq along with a an over-the-shoulder camera. Which not only gave a more real perspective of the session but was able to accurately demonstrate the experience of using a pen tablet. It's important to note, a Wacom Cintiq is not specifically required in order for a successful pen tablet experience.You could alternatively use a Wacom Intuos.

A keystone of any virtual desktop experience, is the technology used for communication between an artist's local desktop and the virtual workstation itself. It needs to accurately present the physical devices an artist uses to the virtual desktop. And meet the graphic intensive and high fidelity workload requirements without presenting back lag or frame artifacts to the artist's monitor(s). Traditional Remote Desktop Protocols struggle to meet these requirements and thus, do not fully satisfy our first qualifying question of a successful Artist Experience. Instead, we must look to leverage another technology called pixel streaming. As the name suggests, only pixels that have been updated on the virtual workstation are streamed back to the artist. We'll dive more into the technical specs of this technology in the next episode.

Our demonstration used Teradici's PCoIP (PC-over-IP) technology. Teradici PCoIP presents the physical devices used by an artist to the virtual workstation. Some of these devices are input sensitive and require special configuration, like a pen tablet. In order to fully present a pen tablet, an artist must first do what's called USB Bridging, which essentially forwards all input from that physical usb device to the virtual workstation as if it were physically plugged in. While the demo only featured 1 1920x1080 monitor, Teradici PCoIP can support up to 4 monitors and 4k resolutions. There are also A/V sync configurations available for workloads like video conferencing, editing or compositing.

In the demo, we used common creative applications like Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Maya, Unreal Engine 5 Beta and a YouTube video (Big Buck Bunny) playing back at 60fps to showcases some of the features of Teradici. And more importantly to demonstrate how to qualify technology to meet the requirements we set out in the first episode. Adobe Photoshop demonstrated responsiveness and support of pen tablet with pressure sensitivity. Autodesk Maya demonstrated responsiveness while doing heavy CPU workloads like rendering as well as the ability to use traditional application hot-keys. The Youtube video demonstrated smooth 60fps playback. And finally the Unreal Engine Beta 5 demonstrated consistent video quality and responsiveness with real-time rendering workloads. All this put together meant we were able to successfully answer the first question in both categories using AWS' G4dn EC2 instances and Teradici PCoIP.

The last question has to do with maintaining the context for which artists work in, meaning they don't have to "alt-tab" out of the virtual workstation session to do accomplish another task. Much like a physical computer is expected to deliver everything. For example, checking email/IMs, video conferencing, screen-sharing, etc. Of course, this isn't always possible with production security compliance.The point we're trying to make is that with pixel streaming technologies like Teradici's PCoIP we're able to deliver the same desktop experience to artist so they can focus on their work without being distracted by the remoting technology.

Next we'll review how Six Nines works with studio IT teams to make all of this work. We'll dive into the technical requirements that make up the foundations of a cloud based studio and dive deeper into the specs of Teradici PCoIP. 

Join us for other Cloud Insider episodes on this topic:

  • cloud_insider_thumbnail-1Episode #1: Defining the Artist Workspace (Live Now)
  • Episode #2: Showcasing A Successful Remote Artist Studio (Live Now)
  • Episode #3: The IT Playbook to Implementing a Remote Studio Workplace (To be published)
  • Episode #4: The Business Case for Supporting Artists with a Remote Work Environment (To be published)
  • Series Conclusion Webinar w/ Guests from AWS and Teradici (July 14, 2021)

Topics: AWS, cloud, VFX, Media & Entertainment, Studio in the Cloud, M&E, Design Studio, Cloud Computing, Game Dev

Alex Kline

Written by Alex Kline

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