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Arch Designs Elastic VFX Solution on AWS, Speeds Renders Using GPU Instances

2021

Film and TV studios continue to push the limits of what’s possible on screen, and visual effects (VFX) work is crucial to this endeavor. However, the cost and complexity of setting up in-house VFX infrastructure pose a challenge for many small film studios. Arch Platform Technologies (Arch), a company that builds fully resourced content creation facilities in the cloud, has designed a more elastic solution. 

Arch is making rendering and production pipelines more scalable and highly accessible on Amazon Web Services (AWS), using orchestration to quickly deploy VFX studios. By running its cutting-edge solution on AWS, Arch is bringing powerful, remote VFX virtual workstations, rendering, and storage capabilities to more artists and studios of all sizes.

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AWS CloudFormation provides us with the ability to launch an entire VFX facility within 45 minutes.”

Edward Churchward
chief technology officer and cofounder, Arch Platform Technologies

Pioneering a VFX Solution in the Cloud

Arch has been evolving and refining its cloud-based orchestration infrastructure since 2015. Originally building its technology for VFX studio Vitality VFX, Arch spun off as an independent company in 2016. The new company aimed to enhance its services and offer its power to more studios. To set up the infrastructure for in-house VFX work, a studio must typically purchase hardware, find office space, and configure networking, cooling, and machine maintenance for a data center—all costly necessities. However, Arch’s orchestration service runs in the cloud, enabling studios of all sizes to access powerful VFX pipelines from anywhere. 

By 2017, several companies producing blockbuster films and episodic TV shows had already used Arch’s solution. That year, Netflix brought Arch in house for Netflix original content after seeing the ways VFX teams were using the solution on other projects. The streaming service quickly became Arch’s largest client. “At one point, we had over 100 concurrent workstations running, supporting different facilities around North America,” says Edward Churchward, chief technology officer and cofounder of Arch. 

At that time, Arch was using a different cloud solution, on which it struggled with slow deployments and few opportunities for automation. In 2018, Arch migrated to AWS, which enabled the company to achieve better performance and higher elasticity. “On AWS, we’ve been able to fully automate the deployment of an environment,” says Churchward. Using AWS, Arch can deploy and scale much more quickly to meet the needs of its clients. Because of this experience, Arch undertook a ground-up reconstruction of its solution in 2019 to optimize it for more types of work, including editorial work, animation, and virtual production.

Tapping into the Speed and Power of AWS

Studios that use Arch gain all the benefits of an in-house VFX team without the massive overhead of renting offices and purchasing equipment. Artists can also access the workflows and applications they prefer without being limited by hardware or location. For its workstations, Arch uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) G4 Instances powered by NVIDIA T4 Tensor Core GPUs. The Amazon EC2 G4dn Instances that Arch uses are cost-effective, versatile GPU instances for deploying machine learning models that enable massive performance improvements. “By using GPU instances, we’re achieving rendering speeds that are 20 times faster,” says Churchward. The Amazon EC2 G4dn Instances also include high-speed solid-state drives, an important feature when so many of Arch’s workloads rely on a localized cache. 

On AWS, Arch gains fully automated security for each component. “That’s like putting a $10,000 firewall on every workstation—it’s unparalleled,” says Churchward. The key to the company’s ability to automate is AWS CloudFormation, a cloud-provisioning and resource-management service that enables Arch to script repeatable deployments with ease. “AWS CloudFormation provides us with the ability to launch an entire VFX facility within 45 minutes,” says Churchward. For comparison, it would take traditional studios days to source and configure hardware and set up a VFX pipeline. 

Currently, every company using the Arch solution submits its work for rendering using AWS Thinkbox Deadline, a render farm orchestration application that Arch can automatically deploy inside the AWS environment. Arch’s tight API integration with other tools, including Autodesk Shotgun and Moxion, lets users send work to the AWS Thinkbox Deadline render farm and review the results. “Our clients love the rendering and see that it’s really efficient,” says Churchward. “AWS Thinkbox Deadline is a great gateway into Arch’s other services.” Studios using Arch gain the ability to scale quickly, pay only for what they need, and see detailed analytics. “Nobody else offers the complete solution that we do,” says Laura Teodosio, CEO of Arch.

Achieving Savings and Boosting Productivity Despite Challenges

The innovative solution Arch has built is bearing fruit. At the beginning of 2020, Solstice Studios created an in-house VFX team for its film Unhinged (starring Academy Award winner Russell Crowe), which used the Arch solution. One of the key benefits that Arch brought to the production of the film was the ability to scale. “When the Solstice Studios VFX team realized it had some more complex shots and needed more artists, we could provide more infrastructure capacity simply and within minutes,” says Churchward. The studio quickly scaled the number of visual effects artists by 50 percent to finish all the shots within a short time frame. 

When restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic required production to move to remote work, Arch enabled the Solstice Studios VFX team to continue without interruption. “The team was able to start working from home the next day,” says Teodosio. “There was no lost productivity.” And when the studio’s legal team requested the removal of logos from 250 shots after post-production, Arch had its entire facility operating seamlessly within hours. 

Running in a cloud environment changes the way studios can hire talent. Without geographical location as a hiring factor, studios can choose the best talent regardless of where they’re located. And artists can sign on with more studios around the world. The combination of accessibility and rendering quality is significant for the industry. Small companies using Arch workstations gain access to tools that would normally be out of reach. “In our solution, AWS is managing the physical hardware,” says Churchward. “By drastically reducing overhead, we are enabling companies that wouldn’t otherwise exist.” 

Advancing the Cloud-Based Future of VFX

Arch plans to continue distinguishing its solution by improving better analytics for customers. The company is also modifying its entire pipeline to support virtual productions. In film and TV, VFX is involved from previsualization to post-production, and Arch will use AWS services to extend the benefits of its solution to the entire production process. 

Using Arch workstations, studios get all the benefits of an in-house VFX facility without hardware and geographical restrictions, opening up a new world of possibilities. “Being able to spin up an entire facility in a day is profoundly impactful,” says Teodosio. “The savings in research, installation time, and costs are game changing.”


About Arch Platform Technologies

Arch Platform Technologies enables the seamless creation and management of fully resourced cloud-based digital content creation studios for VFX, post-production, virtual production, and other collaborative creative endeavors.

Benefits of AWS

  • Deploys VFX facilities within 45 minutes
  • Uses GPU instances to improve render speeds
  • Brings powerful tools to small studios
  • Removes location constraints for hiring

AWS Services Used

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) G4 Instances

Amazon EC2 G4 instances are the industry’s most cost-effective and versatile GPU instances for deploying machine learning models and for graphics-intensive applications such as remote graphics workstations, game streaming, and graphics rendering.

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AWS Thinkbox Deadline

AWS Thinkbox Deadline is a hassle-free hybrid administration and compute management software for Windows, Linux, and mac OS based render farms, supporting more than 80 different content creation applications out of the box.

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AWS Cloud​Formation

AWS CloudFormation provides a common language for you to describe and provision all the infrastructure resources in your cloud environment.

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