AWS for M&E Blog

Untold Studios continues to push creative boundiers with AWS

First Fully Cloud-Based Creative Studio Forging Reputation for Innovative Work

Untold Studios broke new ground in digital content production when it launched in late 2018. Eschewing traditional workflows and studio real estate, the East London outfit instead charted its own path, becoming the world’s first cloud-based creative studio and community. Attracting creators locally and from around the globe, Untold Studios empowers its talent with a technology-enabled workflow that helps artists deliver intriguing, exciting, and engaging projects for high profile brands including Nissan, Apple, Nike, Samsung, and Netflix. From live-action production and motion graphics design to creating photoreal creatures and developing original content, Untold Studios fluidly works across formats, infusing every step with boundless imagination and artistry.

While creativity is the heart of Untold Studios, technology and innovation is what keeps it beating. Head of Technology Sam Reid spearheaded the development of their cloud-based workflow on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and continues to dynamically adjust its infrastructure to scale up and down with project needs and as industry conditions shift. “We took a calculated risk in going all-in on the cloud but that was our vision. We had no experience to draw on, which meant we were writing the first blueprints. Now, we’re starting to see the success of our decision,” explained Reid.

image from the The Crown

After its first year of creating exceptional work, Untold Studios artists were recognized with Visual Effects Society (VES) Award nominations for three separate projects, more breadth than any other studio for the 18th annual VES awards. Their work to digitally recreate the catastrophic Aberfan tip collapse for Netflix series “The Crown” was recognized for Outstanding Supporting VFX in a Photoreal Episode, while both skateboarding bulldog Churchie and loveable but incident-prone dragon Edgar received nods for Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial.

As Untold Studios continues to grow and leverage the scalability of AWS, Reid estimates the studio’s on-boarding and provisioning process for artists takes less than one minute, making the company extremely agile compared to studios using on-premises workstations. Noted Reid, “We can automate nearly everything, apart from creative of course. We can on-board artists quickly and hire remote talent without worrying about their workstation setup. It’s all done through our home-grown launching platform, so the technology team can­­ concentrate on improving other areas of our workflow and taking on the new challenges to revolutionize our industry.”

Since all of Untold Studios’ compute power and storage reside on AWS, artists are able to work from anywhere in the world. This flexibility has proven advantageous to the studio and its clients as the studio transitioned to a full work from home model in March 2020. “Moving to a working from home environment was easy for us,” shared Reid. “Every aspect of our infrastructure can be managed in the cloud, with detailed metrics easily accessible across machines, allowing artists to troubleshoot if any issues arise. We can also develop builds faster than most as we launch from machine images. And once changes have been made to the AMI (Amazon Machine Image), it takes seconds to capture the new one and even less time to change the launch code across workstations, whereas with on-premises workstations, an engineer would have to take the time to update each physical machine.”

A CGI bulldog on a stakeboard

Artist collaboration has also benefitted from the studio’s embrace of AWS. Each individual can access and view project files securely and instantly from anywhere, whether inside or outside the studio. They can work alongside their teams and take immediate action, allowing for a more fluid creative journey. “Our collaboration capabilities with AWS have profoundly impacted our creativity. Whether in the same room or across the world, our teams can visualize work as well as give and receive feedback in seconds,” said Reid. “In our studio space, all the desks are identical so there is no re-configuration needed once an artist has moved seats, saving valuable time. Also, we don’t have significant hardware, so our tech team isn’t weighed down by having to move around kit.”

Most recently, Untold Studios artists have been tapping virtual workstations on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) G4 instances, which are optimized for digital content production with NVIDIA T4 GPUs and Quadro technology. “G4 has had a huge impact on how we work,” noted Reid. “We can upgrade a whole fleet of workstations with one line of code, so artists can work faster, improving creativity within everything we do.”

With expanded instance options to select from, Untold Studios can more accurately match virtual machine types to specific workloads, an approach that is beneficial both creatively and economically. By working more efficiently, the studio can devote more resources to R&D, thus continually elevating its work and technical capabilities to realize even the most ambitious creative visions. Having near-infinite storage capacity with AWS has also been key to the studio’s success, as they can easily scale resources to take on jobs they wouldn’t have been able to execute otherwise.

A close-up of a CGI dragon's face

In terms of future plans, Reid envisions that Untold Studios will continue to grow its talent pool and broaden it’s capabilities. “Using AWS, we can work with an infinite number of people, including directors, designers, animators, copywriters and script developers, so we’d love to keep adding to our arsenal as we take on new and exciting creative challenges in original content, advertising, music, and beyond. As digital content is becoming increasingly complex and bigger in data size, with shots taking longer to render and requiring more powerful machines, we’re well-suited to take on these formidable projects and can do so with no capital expenditure, simply change a few lines of code,” he concluded. “For those considering the cloud for content production, take the leap. It’s an exciting journey and you can confidently say you are building a studio for the future with a key balance on technology and creativity that will remain current and efficient throughout all areas of the business.”

Find out more about Virtual Workstations on AWS.

Kiran Patel

Kiran Patel

Kiran Patel is the Head of Product Marketing for Media Services and Media & Entertainment at AWS, responsible for product marketing for the AWS Elemental Media Services and Amazon IVS, helping customers learn how to utilize AWS and Media Services to build scalable, reliable, secure, and cost-effective media workflows. Prior to joining AWS, Kiran worked with the BBC on live streaming and VOD workflows for their News, Sport, and iPlayer products. He has over 20 years of experience working with OTT video.