Bardel Entertainment commits to expansion with AWS
Fans of popular animated series and features have likely seen the handiwork of Bardel Entertainment. Headquartered in Vancouver, BC, the 2D, 3D, and hybrid animation studio has worked with industry leaders, including Netflix, Disney+, HBO, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, DreamWorks, and Warner Brothers to create imaginative primetime programming for all ages as well as content for streaming platforms, since 1987. Bardel recently overhauled its pipeline for cloud optimization with an eye on the future, tapping cloud consultant firm DeadDrop Labs (DDL), an Integrated Media Technologies, Inc. (IMT) company, to help spearhead the implementation on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Led by Bardel Vice President of Technology Arash Roudafshan, the studio’s pipeline upgrade serves as a foundation for its expansion into more feature projects and to enhance multi-site collaboration. Considering Bardel’s fast-paced episodic production schedule and small engineering team, Roudafshan opted to bring in DDL to design and manage the transition. With this approach, the Bardel teams collaborated, tested and approved the new pipeline in less than a month. The new hybrid technology system was fully operational in four months.
Building for the future
“Working with DeadDrop Labs helped us put pieces of the puzzle together quickly, efficiently, and securely with TPN approvals in mind, so we’re well set for the future,” shared Roudafshan. “Using Terraform, we built a new account and org structure from day one, rather than having to undo decades of legacy hierarchy first. We were able to go to market much faster, and since it’s built with an automated backend on AWS, we can now scale as our needs grow.”
DeadDrop Labs helped Bardel implement a multi-account AWS environment based on workstations and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), rendering, networking, and shared services. They centralized networking and connectivity on-premises using a 10GB AWS Direct Connect network connection with multiple private virtual interfaces (VIFs) for redundancy, connected to a Direct Connect gateway peered with the virtual private clouds (VPCs) across its AWS accounts.
Taking on more, larger projects
“We want to broaden our company horizons and capacity to take on more, larger projects and deliver at the highest quality. The AWS-enabled pipeline we’re developing will allow us to scale with global resources and enter any market that makes sense,” Roudafshan explained. “From an artist standpoint, they don’t care where the resources are, just that the machines work and are optimized for their use case. Any areas where we can improve the artist experience – like reducing load times – is a win, because they’ll be able to work more fluidly and turn around better work, faster.”
AWS Thinkbox Deadline scalable compute management software, currently running on-premises, is used for managing rendering. As Bardel submits jobs for rendering, they are queued for render locally and on artists’ workstations, with data stored on-premises and accessed over Direct Connect. When Bardel’s compute needs outstrip capacity, it scales to AWS using Deadline’s built-in Spot Event plugin. Deadline is configured with various groups and pools to take advantage of different Spot fleet sizes and instance types across multiple availability zones in the selected region, meeting capacity needs within budget.
“Bardel is a well-established studio, so we have a lot of core legacy backend hardware that’s not ideal for modern workflows. Upgrading that infrastructure has been a key priority so that we can capitalize on the latest technology, including Deadline features like log collection and metric management, when scaling up and down,” said Roudafshan. “By better leveraging Deadline reporting, we can build automated services, and share production data with supervisors and managers so that they can make decisions and forecast based on actual information upfront. If you only rely on brute force, everything suffers, and you run into budgetary issues.”
Reducing footprint while scaling capacity
Bardel also takes a hybrid approach to workstations and VDI, using the cloud or machine rentals for extra capacity. The studio’s primary creative applications include Autodesk Maya, and Foundry’s Katana and NUKE for 3D animation, and Toon Boom for 2D animation. Autodesk ShotGrid is used for production tracking, and Bardel leverages a variety of proprietary tools, as well as some real-time game engine technology. Whether on- or off-site, artists typically log into secure machines remotely for production. Since Bardel has adopted a new model of purchasing bigger servers with graphics acceleration, then dividing its capabilities virtually, multiple artists work on the same machine, scaling the studio’s capacity while reducing the physical footprint.
The VDI environment comprises separate AWS accounts for development and production, which allows for full scale development and staging of software, processes, and connectivity with zero impact, crosstalk, or access to the production environment. Once properly tested and validated, the machine images are pushed to the production environment and implemented accordingly. Along with running creative applications in production, about half of each machine is dedicated for daily renders; when the job pool exceeds a certain threshold, Deadline sends the excess to AWS to clear the backlog. Bardel’s render and VDI environments are connected over VPC peering, linking a shared services VPC used for tooling and common utilities, such as managing license servers, and a storage VPC containing cloud storage resources shared across multiple accounts.
Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible
“I set the bar high when it comes to pipeline development, and don’t like to settle. DeadDrop Labs are experts in building on AWS, especially for M&E applications, so having them focus on creating the foundational layers was a huge time savings for our staff. Working with their team, we were able to quickly build an AWS-enabled pipeline environment to our unique specifications that scales really well – I could spin up a new region across the world and have artists connected in 20 minutes,” concluded Roudafshan. “We’re driven to push the boundaries of what’s possible and defy conventions to continue to learn and grow, so I look forward to our ongoing development efforts and how our pipeline will evolve with technology and industry shifts. Through all of our growth, our commitment to delivering the highest quality content remains a guiding principle.”
To learn more about AWS for M&E services in content production, visit: https://aws.amazon.com/media/content-production/
Additional information about DeadDrop Labs (DDL) and how they can accelerate AWS pipeline implementations can be found here: https://deaddroplabs.com/