AWS for M&E Blog

Passion Pictures and their Transition to Deadline 10 with AWS Connectivity

With a focus on storytelling, animation, and characters, the Passion Pictures delivers vibrant, beautiful and imaginative content across a number of mediums. From documentaries to advertisements, feature animation and extraordinary experiential encounters (including a real-time interview with the Gorillaz), the creativity inherent in the studio is truly impressive.

The story of the studio itself is no less remarkable. Founded in 1987 by Andrew Ruhemann, Passion Pictures has gone from humble beginnings to an international footing in London, Barcelona, Paris, New York and Melbourne, while producing some of the most critically acclaimed documentary films of the last twenty years along the way.

In 2000, One Day In September won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and has continued to collect accolades. More recent films include The Imposter, Searching for Sugar Man and the Emmy award-winning Netflix TV series Five Came Back. Alongside this, the studio seems to effortlessly deliver beautiful and engaging works for names like MTV, Disney, and Marvel.

But as with all prolific studios, astounding diversity in work comes with high technical requirements. Regularly working on concurrent projects spanning international studio locations, the Passion Pictures team needs to keep operating costs under control while also meeting tight schedules. They’re reliant on software and a pipeline solution that supports heavy rendering needs – which is why they chose to scale their rendering workloads to the cloud using Deadline and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances.

Meeting Deadline Made Easy

One major catalyst for this decision ­– which saw Passion Pictures replace a former render management system – was the level of support offered by the Thinkbox team.

“We were using a different system for quite a few years, but we were having problems with technical assistance,” says Jason Nicholas, Passion Pictures’ Head of CG. “Deadline has a greater support network, which was fantastic for getting us connected and helping us transition to this new way of rendering.”

Support during the transition was key. Like many major production houses, Passion Pictures has a complex and established content creation pipeline. Any upheaval could cause major disruption to the studio’s workflow. Not the case with Deadline.

“Moving to Deadline wasn’t a major issue. You could do it quickly and there was always support available. They have a dedicated team to help you make the move.”

Passion Animation Studios

AWS and Heavy Rendering

Passion Pictures implemented a Deadline and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances based infrastructure with additional help from Escape Technology and Sohonet. This prepared the studio pipeline for intense rendering requirements that would arise towards the end of individual projects, or in this case, concurrent projects.

The first of these synchronous projects was a full-CG advertisement created for, a beautiful story set on a misty, midnight lake, which reveals the story of a fisherman, his dog, and a pesky heron.

“This was the first time we used AWS. It was incredibly valuable to have that level of compute resource on-hand. We didn’t feel that we were sharing the power with other projects,” says Nicholas.

By the time they began working through their second project – this time an advertisement for Inuit – the team had a full grasp on cloud rendering. “It’s fair to say not having that extra render capacity on this project could have caused problems,” says Nicholas.

Deadline came in particularly useful for the studio, as it seamlessly supports the tools Passion Pictures currently uses, such as Arnold, Maya, and Nuke. This helped the team focus on creative iterations and developing an engaging narrative, rather than losing time to technicalities.

Working on these simultaneous projects could have presented a problem, especially as the rendering loads would be doubled even as they increased towards the projects’ end. Having Spot fully operational and rigorously tested prior to this, however, was the key to success. The results were as just as Nicholas had hoped.

“If we hadn’t used AWS for rendering we would have been very pushed to deliver. Historically, compromises may have been necessary to accommodate the number of times we could re-render shots if limited by the amount of compute available. But this wasn’t an issue. Having the power and ability to make changes and produce more iterations really helped. It was great for the team to see these extra boxes appear in the cloud, as if it was part of the current infrastructure. It really felt no different, other than the extra power we had at our disposal.”

The Effect

“Having scalable compute and connectivity is the ambition for a lot of studios right now, and having the ability to make decisions about projects without physical rendering limitations is amazing. You can punch above your weight with larger projects that you probably wouldn’t have taken on previously. The decision is now yours to make,” says Nicholas.

Dan Gehred

Dan Gehred

Dan Gehred is a Sr. Industry Product Marketing Manager for Media & Entertainment with AWS.