Inside Outpost VFX’s Strategy for Reducing Storage Costs and Fostering Collaboration in the Cloud
One of the most compelling aspects of cloud technology is its ability to democratize technology, enabling small and medium businesses (SMBs) to compete with larger enterprise organizations. One such company is Outpost VFX. An SMB in the media and entertainment space, Outpost VFX creates visual effects for films and episodic television, with recent credits including the Amazon Prime series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and Wheel of Time, as well as the Universal Pictures film Fast X. Outpost VFX recently made the leap to a fully cloud-based environment.
Since it was founded in 2012 in Bournemouth, England, the company grew its global presence—a process that began pushing the limits of the IT productivity available on premises. “We had expanded to Montreal, Los Angeles, and Mumbai, and we realized that we needed something more flexible than on premises compute power,” explains CEO Duncan McWilliam. “The question was, how do we scale the business without paying significant capital expenditures that we didn’t have?”
Using cloud computing for consistency and scale
Outpost VFX decided to embark upon a full cloud migration. While the company had made some use of cloud services in the past, they ultimately decided to go all-in on cloud solutions as the company’s path forward—and to do so in partnership with Amazon Web Services. “AWS has vast experience in migrating not just visual effects companies, but any company, into cloud architecture,” says McWilliam. “The support, the talent AWS put us in touch with, and the resources made it a sensible choice.”
With expert guidance from AWS and from Konsistent Consulting, a member of the Amazon Partner Network (APN), Outpost VFX successfully transitioned to the cloud in just a few months—all without interrupting production or delivery to clients. Now Outpost VFX’s five studios operate as one single cloud-based studio. All workstations and storage are hosted on AWS, while each studio runs the same hardware and software. If an Outpost VFX artist in any location requires more compute power or memory, they can scale up within minutes via AWS. McWilliam reflects that this full-studio-in-the-cloud approach has allowed Outpost VFX to be “more flexible and more iterative” with clients. “We’re able to say yes to them a lot more,” he says.
Unlocking cost optimization and scalability benefits for SMBs
By migrating to the cloud, Outpost VFX has been able to improve the flexibility and efficiency of their visual effects workflow. They’ve also optimized their costs by reducing storage expenses and harnessing the scalability of cloud solutions. “We’ve built a lot of tools around our core infrastructure to monitor what’s happening and see where resources need to be allocated,” explains Outpost VFX’s CTO Tim Chauncey. Outpost VFX has set up a dedicated resource department to ensure the company is not overusing or underusing at its various locations. “We’re moving into much more of an operational expense world, where all of these resources need to be managed and monitored correctly.”
The scalability of cloud-based storage has generated cost savings for Outpost VFX since, as a visual effects company, their studios can find themselves running thousands of instances for high-performing workloads. “We scale that very, very dynamically and very high,” says Chauncey, “while the business gets the benefit of having that reduced scale when it’s not in use.”
Outpost VFX has partnered with the data platform Weka for a highly scalable storage solution that is guided by rules set according to the company’s operational expense model. They also use four instances of the AWS Thinkbox Deadline render queue management software, making the orchestration of cloud resources more simple and streamlined.
Enabling collaboration and synchronization for clients worldwide
Looking forward, Outpost VFX is leveraging cloud technology to manage international growth in a way that reflects the company’s core values. One of those values is that their studios operate like a single unified business, regardless of location. “We built the entire operation to feel like one global studio,” says McWilliam. “The more we can make everyone feel connected, the better.”
Thanks to global centralization in the cloud, Outpost VFX has been able to introduce a consistent structure and user experience for all studios. In doing so, they have improved their ability to respond to the needs of global customers. “We’re at a place now where we should technically be able to spin up a brand new site in a new region within a matter of hours,” says Chauncey. “If we wanted to, we could service a client in a completely different part of the world, spin up a site, and […] have that up and running in a couple of hours.”
Curious to learn more on how Outpost VFX unlocked business advantages? Watch this Fireside Chat with Outpost VFX’S CEO Duncan McWilliam and COO Gez Hixon on the AWS Connected Community, a free online community powered by its members where you can get free expert advice, training and peer to peer interaction.
If you’re a technical expert, read the more in-depth version of the story featuring hardware and service references on the AWS Media and Entertainment blog.