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♪ Movie in the Sky with Clients ♫

Cloud-Based Visual Effects and Animation Production

Amazon Web Services (AWS) was in the news recently with an outage that affected Disney+ and Netflix. Mechanism Digital uses AWS, but our studio was not affected by the outage. In fact, our positive experience renting out AWS’s super fast computers is what I was writing about when the outage happened.    

The first thing to know is that the biggest benefit, from an accounting perspective, is when the AWS machines are not being utilized. Renting processing power and speed is not unlike renting a car; it would be an expensive proposition to rent all the time, but it makes sense for sporadic or periodic use. Flexibility saves money which we then pass on to the client in the form of lower overhead costs which translates to lower bids to do the work.

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The Amazon computers we connect to are probably hundreds of miles away, somewhere inland and dry. Like Microsoft’s cloud solution, called Azure, AWS can bill on an hourly, by-the-minute, and sometimes by-the-second basis depending on whether we are using Windows or Linux-based machines.

  • Amazon’s computers and servers and networks are so much faster than what we had on premises that they sped up our workflow.
  • We no longer need to continue to repair or buy new machines because Amazon always keeps their workstations upgraded.  
  • When we have a special need for particularly fast machines, with a click of a switch we can change from a 16-processor workstation up to a 64-processor workstation with 24 terabytes of RAM for rendering.  
  • We can get more iterations done in a day, and spend more time refining and improving the art with reduced waiting between creative clicks and tweaks.

Having computing power in the cloud has had both obvious and some not-so-obvious benefits during the pandemic.  

With zero effort, we can spin up a hundred instances for artists all over the world, which was not possible when we only had 20 workstations at our studio in NYC.

We also found savings in not staffing a full-time IT person, since that is now mostly handled by Amazon. Expanding and reducing storage is much more flexible in the cloud, which is key, considering each frame is 50 megabytes and there are 24 frames in a second.  

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Our team does a lot of collaborative work with our clients, like going back and forth during the processes of building a model; texturing a model; rendering a model; and compositing it into a scene. Working remotely hasn’t really changed this process and for communications we still use the dedicated tools our clients know and love, like ShotGrid for presenting WIPs as well as organizing and relaying clear notes.

Now that our operations are streamlined and agile enough to continue production in the middle of a pandemic, we don’t see going back into the studio. In fact, many of the artists and producers prefer working remotely and have been able to get more work done without the distraction of an open workspace. We’re glad to be able to facilitate safer, and perhaps more productive, work solutions for our artists and our clients.

Originally published: 12/29/2021

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