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Netflix Uses NICE DCV on AWS to Build VFX Studio in the Cloud for Artists Globally

2021

Netflix, one of the world’s leading entertainment companies, has always been an innovator. Its future-looking vision inspired it to become one of the first entertainment streaming services in 2007 and to expand to content production in 2012. Now Netflix’s culture of innovation is pushing it to become a leading producer of visual effects (VFX) and original animated content.

In order to enable artists around the world, Netflix set out to build a VFX studio in the cloud, powered by NICE DCV, a high-performance remote display protocol developed by Amazon Web Services (AWS), that provides customers with a secure way to deliver remote desktops and application streaming from any cloud or data center to any device, over varying network conditions. Now Netflix artists and partners have access to flexible, secure, high-performing, and cost-effective virtual workstations on AWS that remove technological and geographic barriers for artists and give them creative freedom to collaborate on Netflix’s VFX and animation content.

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Amazon EC2 G4 Instances enable us to support all of the configurations and digital content creation applications that our artists need. NICE DCV enables streaming those applications, so artists can jump right into their tasks without launching a desktop.”

Michelle Brenner
Senior Software Engineer, Netflix

Adjusting to the Global Distribution of Artistic Talent

To create stunning visual effects or animations, artists need access to specialized applications with controlled licenses, petabytes of images and raw video files, and enough compute power to render completed files. Multiple artists and teams work on each frame for VFX or animation, then render all frames into a final file. A single frame can take up to 30 hours to render.

Historically, the tools that artists needed required them to work from studio offices. But artists want the flexibility to work where they can be most creative—not necessarily where the source files or computers are. That preference, combined with the skyrocketing global demand for those artists, means talent is increasingly distributed across the world. The COVID-19 pandemic affirmed this trend with the need to quickly enable remote and distributed teams of artists. To enable a global workforce without hindering collaboration, Netflix must provide artists with virtual graphics workstations that deliver similar performance and functional characteristics to the ones available to the employees working in Netflix’s studio headquarters.

A longtime AWS customer, Netflix decided to use NICE DCV because Netflix has a strong builder culture, preferring to create its own solutions on top of technology services that integrate with its systems. NICE DCV is a linchpin solution on AWS that empowers Netflix to build proprietary, adaptable solutions that suit its developers, operators, and graphic artists. It also fits seamlessly into Netflix’s existing infrastructure on AWS.

Giving Artists Creative Freedom on User-Friendly Virtual Workstations

Beginning in 2019, Netflix took its virtual workstation from beta to launch in 1 year, using NICE DCV as the remote display protocol. It paired NICE DCV and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) G4 Instances powered by NVIDIA T4 Tensor Core GPUs. These cost-effective and versatile GPU instances are useful for deploying graphics-intensive applications, such as remote graphics workstations, game streaming, and graphics rendering. Using NICE DCV and Amazon EC2 G4 Instances together, Netflix can stream the user interface of graphics-intensive applications to artists’ machines—whether they are macOS, Windows, or Linux systems—removing the need for expensive dedicated graphics workstations. And NICE DCV is free to use on Amazon EC2, so Netflix only pays for the resources used to run and store workloads. “We needed to make it simple not only for artists to have a one-click experience but also for developers to be able to control and customize that experience,” says Michelle Brenner, senior software engineer at Netflix. “Amazon EC2 G4 Instances enable us to support all of the configurations and digital content creation applications that our artists need. NICE DCV enables streaming those applications, so artists can jump right into their tasks without launching a desktop.”

On AWS, Netflix saves time because it does not need to set up physical workstations. Using the NICE DCV Web Client SDK—a JavaScript library for developing NICE DCV web browser client applications—Netflix built a custom web-based desktop streaming solution that enables artists to start creating right away, without requiring any setup on their end. Artists use their browsers to access their virtual workstations and experience performance similar to that of an on-premises workstation. Because no custom software needs to be installed in artists’ workstations, no software update will be required later. This greatly improves the artist experience and reduces the barrier to entry.

Because of the high performance of NICE DCV alongside Amazon EC2 G4 Instances, Netflix doesn’t have to choose between responsiveness and image quality. NICE DCV has a bandwidth-adaptive streaming protocol that provides near-real-time responsiveness for applications and removes the need to ship output files or use printer redirection; artists worldwide can access petabytes of raw assets and images without having to transfer files to each other. The streaming system also helps with security: because nothing is downloaded, Netflix’s data is still protected if an artist’s computer is stolen or not shut down properly. NICE DCV also accommodates multiple monitors with 4K resolution for highly accurate images, as well as stylus and touch support, USB devices, multichannel audio, smart cards, and file redirection. Amazon EC2 G4 Instances support the use of creative software and compute-intensive programs.

A key use of Netflix’s virtual workstations is for NetFX, an external-facing VFX solution that enables seamless collaboration between internal teams and external partner studios that coproduce with Netflix. NetFX provides an out-of-the-box tool set of creative software and virtual workstations to VFX and animation artists collaborating on Netflix VFX content.

Drawing Top Artistic Talent Worldwide

The virtual workstations built using NICE DCV and Amazon EC2 G4 Instances are an innovative option for Netflix teams and a powerful tool for attracting top artistic talent from around the world. Netflix saw that artists required a flexible solution to meet their creative needs, and it delivered that solution on AWS. The virtual workstations give artists creative freedom and reduce barriers to technology while also cutting costs and enabling seamless global collaboration between internal and external teams.

Netflix plans to continue building on top of the virtual workstations, expecting they will be a core solution as the company pursues its goal of becoming the top producer of VFX and original animated content.


About Netflix

Netflix is one of the world’s leading entertainment services, with 208 million paid memberships in over 190 countries enjoying TV series, documentaries, and feature films across a wide variety of genres and languages. Members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on any internet-connected screen. Members can play, pause, and resume watching, all without commercials or commitments.

Benefits of AWS

• Took virtual workstations from beta to launch in 1 year
• Has near-real-time responsiveness for applications
• Accommodates 4K resolution on multiple monitors
• Increases security by enabling artists to access petabytes of files without transferring
• Supports macOS, Linux, and Windows for artists’ workstations
• Supports use of creative software and high-compute programs
• Reduces technology and geographic barriers for artists
• Optimizes costs with flexible deployment of virtual graphics workstations
 


AWS Services Used

Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.

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Amazon EC2 G4 Instances

Amazon EC2 G4 instances deliver the industry’s most cost-effective and versatile GPU instance for deploying machine learning models in production and graphics-intensive applications.

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NICE DCV

NICE DCV is a high-performance remote display protocol that provides customers with a secure way to deliver remote desktops and application streaming from any cloud or data center to any device, over varying network conditions.

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