Mikros Creates Animated Feature Film in Less Than 20 Months, Iterates Three Times Faster Using AWS

The artists at Mikros Image are known for creating colorful, detailed images for major films such as Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie and The Little Prince. Mikros, a visual-effects and animation studio owned by Technicolor, has been producing animations for films and television shows for more than 30 years.

As Mikros prepared to work on a new film, Sherlock Gnomes, it realized it needed more compute capacity than it could get from its on-premises IT environment used for rendering—the process of generating computer images from 2D or 3D models. “Rendering requires huge amounts of compute power, and we previously scaled our rendering environment by renting on-premises machines,” says Simon Vanesse, the head of animation for Mikros. “For this new film, though, we were facing a strict 20-month production deadline, where most feature films take up to three years to complete. To render the required number of frames in that timeline, we knew we needed to scale faster so we could work faster.”

Because of the short timeline, Mikros also wanted its animators to provide renderings to art directors faster than before. “We needed to iterate faster—on a daily basis—so the film’s art directors could tell us quickly if they wanted changes,” says Christophe Archambault, the CTO of Mikros Image.

“We needed another 2,000 nodes during the film’s animation process, and we spun those up in less than two minutes. It was a ‘wow’ moment that showed us the power of the AWS Cloud.”

Simon Vanesse, Head of Animation, Mikros Image

  • About Mikros
  • Mikros Image, part of Technicolor SA, is a visual-effects and animation company founded in 1985. The studio is recognized for its work on European films and TV shows as well as feature films including The Little Prince, Sahara, and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.

  • Benefits
    • Creates feature-film animations in less than 20 months
    • Spins up 2,000 instances in less than 2 minutes
    • Iterates 3x faster
    • Saves hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • AWS Services Used

Rendering on the AWS Cloud

Mikros was interested in rendering Sherlock Gnomes in the cloud to speed its animation work, and it selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its cloud provider. “Technicolor was already using AWS, and our group CTO spoke very highly of AWS services and support,” says Archambault.

Mikros moved its rendering applications to AWS, taking advantage of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and cost-effective Amazon EC2 Spot Instances. Mikros worked closely with the AWS Thinkbox software team, which helped Mikros get its rendering pipeline up and running quickly. The Thinkbox team also integrated Mikros production tools with a network-attached storage solution for higher throughput. Mikros took advantage of third-party rendering software including Pixar Tractor, Autodesk Arnold, and Foundry Katana.

For nearly 20 months, more than 290 Mikros animators in Paris and London created renderings for Sherlock Gnomes. The company used the AWS Direct Connect gateway to connect to compute resources through AWS data centers in Frankfurt, Germany, and Dublin, Ireland. The gateway enabled multi-region deployment flexibility for rendering jobs. In addition, Mikros experienced no latency challenges during production. Despite the long distance from the Mikros office in Paris to the AWS Dublin region, Mikros was able to render images with no added overhead while still meeting Paramount’s security requirements, using AWS Direct Connect gateway for dedicated bandwidth to all AWS regions without needing to provision additional network links.

Sherlock Gnomes was the first fully animated film from Paramount Animation and features the voices of Johnny Depp, Mary J. Blige, and other actors.

Animating Sherlock Gnomes in Less Than 20 Months

Using AWS, Mikros produced all animation and effects for Sherlock Gnomes ahead of the deadline, rendering 4.6 million hours of compute on AWS and running 170,000 simultaneous cores at peak during the animation process. Mikros rendered 70 percent of the film on AWS. “Previously, we were severely limited by the number of hours of compute power we could use,” says Vanesse.

“Using AWS, we had more than enough compute to complete our animation work under the deadline.” The project represented the largest number of concurrent cores of any film-rendering project for any animation studio with any cloud provider.

Spinning Up 2,000 Cores in Less Than Two Minutes

When Mikros needed additional capacity for rendering, it quickly spun up new virtual instances to support its work. “We needed another 2,000 nodes during the film’s animation process, and we spun those up in less than two minutes.

It was a ‘wow’ moment that showed us the power of the AWS Cloud,” Vanesse says. “From that point, we knew we would have nearly unlimited capacity whenever we needed it.”

Iterating Three Times Faster

While working on the film, Mikros discovered it could iterate three times faster on AWS than it could using its former on-premises environment. As a result, animators delivered updated renderings in one day, giving the film’s production crew the ability to quickly change scenes on the fly. “When we needed to, we were able to add 500 nodes to the render farm on AWS, which meant we could show art directors 100 shots the next day,” says Vanesse.

“That same process would have taken more than three days using a physical rendering solution. By iterating faster, we helped directors make faster decisions about including a scene in the final film. AWS played a major role in the success we had on this film, and we hope to use the cloud for more projects in the future.”

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