Tangent Animation Scales Render Capacity and Competitive Footprint Using AWS
Big Project, Bigger Opportunity
Explosions. Talking dogs. Water and crowd sequences. Robots. Lasers. What more could an animation studio want in an action movie? The story and creative possibilities behind Next Gen, a Netflix film, appealed to Tangent Animation. Based in Winnipeg and Toronto, the firm delivers computer-generated animation, live-action film production, visual effects, and software development.
“Next Gen was a unique project that we knew would attract notice and drive company growth. It represented a higher class of project, which in turn required a higher level of crew and artist engagement,” says Ken Zorniak, CEO and president of Tangent Animation. Successfully completing the project would ensure future opportunities for the company, but there were technical hurdles to overcome before Next Gen would become the firm’s largest feature film project.
“For us, going with AWS made business sense and creative sense. We now have a strong partner to help us grow the company going forward.”
– Jeff Bell, Vice President and COO, Tangent Animation
About Tangent Animation
AWS Services Used
About Tangent Animation
Tangent Animation offers computer-generated animation, live-action film production, visual effects, and software development. The firm rendered its first feature-length film, Next Gen, using AWS Thinkbox Deadline and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances.
- Scaled render capacity to match project needs
- Cloud capacity allows company to compete for larger projects
- Spends less on infrastructure and reduces production bottlenecks
- Achieved 400% greater render capacity in the cloud
- Faster rendering increased creative control
AWS Services Used
The Demands of Data Rendering
In animation, a model or scene is created in a computer program. It includes multiple layers of data that define geometry, color, light, shade, texture, viewpoint, and various other scene characteristics. That data file is then rendered by a program that produces a photorealistic image. Threading together each of those files creates a finished film.
Rendering is an intensive process that requires high compute capacity. For animation studios, rendering processes demand large capital expense for infrastructure and often result in production bottlenecks when executed on premises. Studios can better absorb those costs for small projects, but a feature-length film is another story. Animation rendering for full-length movies requires multimillion-dollar investments in infrastructure that would be used during production but would otherwise sit idle.
Tangent Animation’s technical team knew early on the film could not be completed on time or on budget using their on-premises render farm. There are 24 frames in 1 second of film. As a 97-minute film, Next Gen would consist of 139,680 frames and Tangent Animation was tasked to produce four deliverables—mono and stereo versions of the feature in both English and Mandarin. Those four versions equated to more than 3.5 million hours of rendering. The only way for Tangent Animation to meet looming deadlines and produce the required project deliverables was to turn to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud.
Greater Capacity than On-Premises Infrastructure
Tangent Animation reached out to AWS to explore using cloud capacity for the project. The goal was to use the company’s current render-management software, AWS Thinkbox Deadline, on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Spot Instances. Amazon EC2 Spot Instances offer spare compute capacity at steep discounts compared to On-Demand Instances.
“For our team to get the most from cloud technologies, we needed advice on best practices to use in the cloud environment. With AWS and Thinkbox, we collaborated to work out the nuances and challenges so we could render more effectively," says Zorniak. During production, the team spun up 3,000 Amazon EC2 Spot Instances concurrently, which was 400 percent more capacity than the studio’s on-premises render farm.
Tangent Animation completed 3.5 million hours of rendering in two months, far outstripping the firm’s on-premises capacity, which would have required six to nine months. “If you look at what we were able to do with rendering on Next Gen, it was a godsend for us," says Jeff Bell, COO and vice president of Tangent Animation. “We had hard delivery deadlines that our on-premises machinery simply wouldn't allow us to meet. Using AWS was the best, most effective way to turn this project around so quickly.”
Creativity Enabled by Faster Processing
Tangent Animation discovered that the expanded compute capacity not only delivered time savings, but also allowed greater creative control over the finished film. The early stages of a project are spent refining the animation aesthetic—the look and feel of the final film. Early creative decisions impact all the work done after that point. If rendering takes too much time, at some point it becomes impossible for a director to make further creative changes and still meet project deadlines. "Faster rendering gave our artists far more creative freedom. They could make creative decisions and changes faster, getting much closer to the director’s ultimate vision for the final film," explains Zorniak.
AWS Cloud-based rendering capacity delivered greater creative control, and it showed Tangent Animation that it could more readily compete for and win larger projects. “Until we started working on the AWS Cloud, we didn't fully understand the possibilities and potential. Now that we've done it, it's part of our vocabulary and how we think when bidding on new projects,” says Bell. The success of Next Gen inspired the company to plan other strategic moves such as shifting its entire production pipeline to AWS, enabling more remote work, and selling render capacity to other animation companies.
"For us, going with AWS made business sense and creative sense," says Bell. “We now have a strong partner to help us grow the company going forward."