Passion Pictures_Thinkbox

Image courtesy of Passion Pictures

Thinkbox Deadline enables us to punch above our weight by accepting projects that might once have been too complex for us to take on.
Jason Nicholas Head of Computer Graphics, Passion Pictures
  • About Passion Pictures

    Passion Pictures is an award-winning producer of advertisements, animated features, and documentaries. As of 2018, the studio has premiered its films at the Sundance Film Festival for 13 consecutive years.

  • Benefits of AWS

    • Responsive technical support
    • Easy integration with industry-standard post-production tools
    • Unlimited scalability for concurrent CGI render jobs
  • Services Used

In the high-volume, fast-turnaround world of digital content creation, there are many challenges to overcome. One that can make or break a project is when a studio or agency finds it has too little compute power. Computing resources are vital in this industry, because live-action effects and animated sequences depend on computer-generated imagery (CGI), and rendering CGI is an extremely demanding, resource-hungry process.

"When a studio has to work within physical rendering limitations, sometimes you have to make compromises during a project, and other times there might be larger projects you can't take on at all," says Jason Nicholas, the head of computer graphics for Passion Pictures. Founded in 1987 by Andrew Ruhemann, Passion Pictures produces critically acclaimed advertisements, animated features, and documentaries, including One Day in September, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature; The Imposter; Searching for Sugar Man; and the Emmy-winning Netflix TV series Five Came Back.

Passion Pictures was using on-premises servers for its CGI rendering but was frustrated at how much time complex rendering jobs required. "We were also having problems with technical support for the render-management solution we were using," says Nicholas. The company started looking for new render-management software, with more responsive technical support, that would enable the re-architecting of its content creation pipeline to support much heavier rendering needs, especially for processing concurrent projects. "One of our most important requirements was for high-quality, hands-on support during the transition, so our workflow wouldn't be disrupted and we wouldn't be delayed delivering any of our projects," says Nicholas.

Passion Pictures found the answer in a solution based on AWS Thinkbox Deadline, an administration and compute management toolkit for render farms, as well as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) from Amazon Web Services (AWS). Thinkbox Deadline avoids the need for a centralized node-management application by using a highly scalable database and basic file-sharing protocols to manage render farms. (AWS acquired Thinkbox Software, the creators of Deadline, in March 2017.)

The solution that Passion Pictures deployed takes advantage of the AWS Portal in Deadline 10 to provide a cloud rendering pipeline that uses Amazon EC2 Spot Instances to provide flexible, cost-effective AWS render nodes on demand. With pay-as-you-go pricing on AWS and usage-based licensing for Deadline in the Thinkbox Marketplace, Passion Pictures only pays for resources it's actually using and can charge to a project.

To assist with the transition and avoid disruptions, Thinkbox dedicated a team to helping Passion Pictures make the switch. "Moving to Thinkbox Deadline wasn't a major issue," says Nicholas. "Thinkbox has great support, which was fantastic for helping us get connected and transition to this new way of rendering."

Disruption was also minimized by the fact that Thinkbox Deadline seamlessly connects to other tools Passion Pictures was already using, such as Autodesk Arnold, Autodesk Maya, and Foundry Nuke. As a result, the company's artists were quickly using the new solution to focus on creative iterations and develop engaging narratives, rather than wasting time on training and solving new technical problems.

Thinkbox stayed hands-on with the company's artists during the inaugural cloud-based rendering project, a fully computer-generated advertisement for featuring a fisherman, his dog, and a pesky heron on a misty, moonlit lake. The Thinkbox Deadline solution was so easy to learn that by the time Passion Pictures artists were using the cloud for a second, concurrent rendering project—an advertisement for Intuit—the company's team was already working completely independently.

The Passion Pictures studio pipeline is now well prepared for the intense rendering requirements that arise toward the end of projects, especially when projects are being processed concurrently. “It was so valuable to have access to as many compute resources as we could possibly need, as soon as we needed them," says Nicholas. "It's fair to say that if we hadn't had access to additional AWS resources for rendering, we would have struggled to deliver these two high-stakes projects. Using Thinkbox Deadline, we no longer have different projects competing for the same compute resources."

The company's artists quickly saw the value of being able to easily access more Amazon EC2 Spot Instances and scale the solution as needed. "It was great for the team to see these extra boxes appear in the cloud, as if they were part of the on-premises infrastructure," says Nicholas. "It really felt no different from how we've always done things, except we had so much extra power at our disposal.”

Nicholas says the new solution will make a big difference not only in terms of how creative Passion Pictures can be during future projects but also in terms of what projects it can consider taking on. "The ability to make decisions about projects without worrying about physical rendering limitations is amazing. Thinkbox Deadline enables us to punch above our weight by accepting projects that might once have been too complex for us to take on. Scalable compute and connectivity are becoming key differentiators among studios now, and Thinkbox Deadline makes it even easier for us to compete."

Learn more about AWS Thinkbox Deadline.