Two Successful AWS VFX Pilots Demonstrate the Potential of Cloud-Based Render Farms and Workstations

[fa icon="calendar"] Jan 27, 2021 4:32:00 PM / by Six Nines staff

Six Nines staff

A small studio in Minnesota and a large one in India realize the performance and flexibility of Amazon Web Services solutions

Given all the compute resources required for visual effects (VFX) work, studios face a tricky balancing act; they need to stay up to date on the latest technologies and ensure they have enough resources available for workload spikes while keeping costs in check. When relying solely on local workstations and servers, it’s not easy. Especially when there is business growth on the horizon or the marketplace suddenly shifts, as it has with the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, however, Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides a highly flexible and cost-effective alternative to on-prem approaches. And if you’re due for an upgrade cycle or are looking to expand, it’s worth considering if virtual workstations and a flex-to-cloud render farm might make sense for your needs. Based on our work with clients, AWS-based virtual workstations, and render farms perform nearly the same as on-prem solutions. And they work equally well for different size VFX studios across geographies.

Two recent pilots underscore the  relevance of Six Nines' Studio in the Cloud solution that makes virtual workstations and render farms in the cloud possible.


Worlds apart with similar challenges

One of the clients, SPLICE, is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The other, FutureWorks, has locations in Mumbai and Chennai, India. Both companies gravitated toward the cloud in anticipation of growth and evolving client needs and were also seeking ways to increase business flexibility. For SPLICE, which has a 12-person VFX team, the need to expand operations within its existing footprint was a significant driver; it had limited workstation and server room space and wasn’t ready to move or add a location.

The main driver for FutureWorks, which has 300 VFX specialists, was initially around supporting the higher resolution needs of clients, but after experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, both companies realized that the added flexibility provided by a virtual workstation and render farm solution could be invaluable. For SPLICE, the technology allows them to leverage talent outside the limited pool within the Minneapolis area. For FutureWorks, it will enable collaboration between remote workers located in two separate geographic locations.


Proving the potential of a virtual and flex-to-cloud approach

Six Nines IT ran similar pilots for virtual workstation and flex-to-cloud render farms for both FutureWorks and SPLICE. In both cases, Six Nines configured the workstations and network environment in AWS on Amazon EC2 instances. And they both relied on Teradici for cloud access and ThinkBox Deadline for render orchestration. Overall, the main difference in the environments was that FutureWorks uses Linux and SPLICE uses Microsoft Windows.

Despite the geographical and size differences, both companies were impressed by the potential of the AWS-based studio solution. In both cases, the companies were skeptical that the AWS experience would work for things like paintwork but realized that the virtual environment worked just as seamlessly as their local solutions. Based on their pilot experiences, both companies plan to leverage AWS moving forward and are excited to have a way to grow and flex with cost transparency and minimal management hassles.

“I personally love the cloud-based workstations because I can now access my workstation anytime. Even when I need to travel somewhere to work on a set.”

 - Andrew Sagar, VFX Supervisor, SPLICE
More options, less burden

AWS includes all of the building blocks needed to support virtual VFX studios. It also supports all of the critical applications you run on-prem, including Maya, Houdini and Nuke. The biggest challenges are setting everything up properly and ensuring you have controls in place to understand and monitor costs. With our deep experience with VFX environments and AWS, Six Nines IT can provide the expert guidance needed for a quick setup and successful transition to hybrid or full cloud solutions.


Learn more about the experiences of FutureWorks and SPLICE on AWS:


Read the FutureWorks case study          Read the SPLICE case study


Talk with one of our M&E AWS VFX experts.


Topics: application, cloud cio, DevOps, VFX, Media & Entertainment, Studio in the Cloud

Six Nines staff

Written by Six Nines staff

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