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Image courtesy of Scripps Interactive

Using AWS Thinkbox Deadline, creative jobs that took two days to complete on premises can be completed in just two hours in the cloud.
Peter Franks Director of Design and Motion, Scripps Networks Interactive

Scripps Networks Interactive is a mass-media company specializing in factual and lifestyle television brands such as HGTV, DIY Network, and Food Network. The company, which was acquired by Discovery Communications, is headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

  • 95% reduction in CGI render time
  • Faster time-to-market for CGI products
  • Meets tighter delivery dates
  • Reduces costs

Digital special effects and animated sequences may be standard in films and television shows, but that doesn't make them easy to accomplish. In fact, creating them requires one of the most demanding, resource-hungry compute processes going. Rendering computer-generated imagery (CGI) for even brief sequences can involve hundreds of separate tasks, any one of which can consume multiple gigabytes of processing power.

That's why a fast-approaching delivery date looked like a problem for the team at Scripps Networks Interactive responsible for creating broadcast and digital graphics packages for Scripps brands like HGTV, DIY Network, and Food Network. "Our Design and Motion Services department had 48 hours to deliver a package for HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes, which was too soon for their on-premises hardware to handle," says Mark Kelly, director of cloud and infrastructure services architecture for Scripps.

Once, timeframes like that would have been a true emergency for Scripps. Now, however, they're no big deal—thanks to the on-demand compute resources available in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud and AWS Thinkbox Deadline. Kelly says, "We were able to turn around a broadcast-quality render for them within two hours."

Scripps had long been using Thinkbox Deadline, a render-management solution for creative studios and professionals, to administer on-premises resources for processing complex CGI tasks in parallel. (Thinkbox Software, the creators of Thinkbox Deadline, was acquired by AWS in March 2017.) The Deadline solution was vital to the Design and Motion Services team's production of CGI effects for show opens, advertising bumpers, and other animations and in-show graphics for Scripps brands, but seasonal peaks were outpacing the company's on-premises rendering nodes.

"With our on-premises resources, we just weren't able to scale and expand our infrastructure the way we needed to,” says Kelly. "For example, our food and cooking brands see really heavy loads from November through January. To handle peak demand for those brands, we had to purchase twice as much hardware as we needed for the rest of the year.”

In addition to the cost of this over-provisioning, all the company's servers were overdue for an expensive upgrade. “To use high-end renderers, achieve more realistic renders, and increase productivity to meet the demand, we needed more horsepower,” says Peter Franks, director of design and motion at Scripps.

More horsepower? Cost reduction? Optimized resources? To IT personnel at Scripps, this sounded like a perfect case for the cloud. Best of all, because of a game-changing feature that shipped with Thinkbox Deadline 10, Scripps wouldn't have to stop relying on its preferred render-management solution.

The key to this solution was the AWS Portal in Thinkbox Deadline 10, which the Scripps team used to bypass its struggling on-premises resources and instead architect a rendering pipeline in the AWS Cloud. Thinkbox Deadline is architected to avoid the need for a centralized node-management application by using a highly scalable database and basic file-sharing protocols to manage render farms.

The new Scripps pipeline uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Spot Instances to provide flexible and cost-effective AWS render nodes on demand, so Scripps can scale its render farm up or down depending on its needs. The Scripps team organized its Amazon EC2 instances into resource groups using various 3D-animation rendering tools, such as Maxon Cinema 4D, Redshift, and Autodesk Arnold, each of which Design and Motion Services artists can access through a simple interface in Thinkbox Deadline, depending on project requirements.

“We defined each render group with labels like overnight, next day, three day, or low priority, which makes it easy for artists to choose the group that best suits their needs and render efficiently,” says Franks. He adds that, with pay-as-you-go pricing on AWS and Usage-Based Licensing for Thinkbox Deadline in the Thinkbox Marketplace, Scripps pays only for resources it's actually using and can charge to a project.

Once Design and Motion Services team members saw the power of an initial proof of concept (POC) of this cloud-based approach, they were sold. "After the POC, Design and Motion Services said it wanted to start bypassing our on-premises data center and move all operations onto the AWS Cloud rendering farm," says Kelly.

By using the AWS Portal in Thinkbox Deadline, Scripps is getting its products to market faster and saving money. "Operating in the AWS Cloud has changed our business completely," says Franks. "Using AWS Thinkbox Deadline, creative jobs that took two days to complete on premises can be completed in just two hours in the cloud."

This 95 percent reduction in rendering time was the result of what Kelly describes as "rethinking the whole Scripps approach to architecture." He explains, "In the cloud, we no longer have to design a bunch of hardware upfront to manage our apps. Instead, we're able to rely on AWS to do that scaling for us. That's fantastic news for the infrastructure services team."

That blazingly fast new rendering speed is keeping the business side happy, too. "We're letting AWS focus on providing the back-end services, so we can focus on solutions for internal and external customers," says Kelly. "With the AWS Portal in Thinkbox Deadline and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances, we are able to bring our business managers' products to market faster."

According to Franks, “We’re now all in on AWS and we’re not looking back. With the scalability of the cloud, there’s no limit to what we can do both in terms of volume and creative capacity—it’s almost infinite. Running on AWS will enable us to continuously raise the bar creatively, meet tighter delivery dates, and still reduce our costs."

Learn more about AWS Thinkbox Deadline.