Compute Cloud for Rendering

More Stories in Less Time with Avere-enabled Rendering in Google Cloud Platform

Rendering in the Cloud - Animation Frame

Once upon a time there was an ambitious but still-small studio in Shreveport, Louisiana. A studio full of amazing artists and animators with a world of exciting tales to tell. But alas, many feared that without enough render power to go around, some of their stories might go untold. Suddenly the studio’s very wise pipeline supervisor had a marvelous idea: “Let’s render in the cloud and use a magical Avere filer to take us there.” And that’s exactly what they did.

Now all the artists at the Academy-award-winning Moonbot Studios render wonderful images in the cloud, using its seemingly infinite resources to create even more extraordinary books, films, apps, games, and whatever else tickles their storytelling fancy. And most amazingly, they’re doing it economically and faster than ever before.

Challenge: Big-studio Results on a Small-studio Budget

Moonbot Studios OfficeWith single-year screenings at more than 100 film festivals, a branded-entertainment short film boasting nearly 15 million YouTube views, and a long list of Emmys, Cannes Lions, CLIOs, a Webby, and an Oscar to its credit, Moonbot Studios has garnered the audience and acclaim typically reserved for major studios. Sara Hebert, marketing director at Moonbot, says the studio’s strength comes from its focus on story and the worldbuilding talents of a 50-person creative team. “We start with the story, constructing an imaginary world of characters, motivations, and distinctive elements. The media decision comes later as we determine the best platform for conveying the story and immersing the audience in it, whether that’s designing novel interactions in an app or through visually arresting scenes in an animated short.”

The challenge comes in enabling this storytelling vision on a small-studio budget. “Because we’re a startup,” continues Hebert, “we move fast and nimbly. When the right opportunity speaks, our answer must be yes—even though that may mean working to extremely tight release timelines and finding creative ways to secure resources for a multi-project pipeline.”

Brennan Chapman, Moonbot’s pipeline supervisor, puts the challenge in technical terms. “With the complexity of our pictures, a single frame of video can take two to five hours to render. For the 7,200 frames of our most recent five-minute short, we had to plan for as much as 14,400 hours of render capacity—that we didn’t have. Aggressive project schedules and constrained studio space/budget made building out Moonbot’s on-premises render farm impossible, so we had to find an alternative solution to handle the rendering workload.”

Solution: Avere for Speed and No-scripting Access to Cloud Rendering

To supplement on-premises resources, Chapman evaluated Google Compute Engine solution. “The only problem was data access—copying 100TB of scene data (stored locally on an EMC Isilon array) across our VPN would have taken weeks. And creating the scripts to move the right files to the cloud and then move completed renders back would have taken pipeline staff more than a month—time our developers didn’t have with the looming deadlines. We had two critical projects on top of each other using resources, one with a completion date just six weeks out and one due to finish in eight.”

Chapman says that Google’s cloud team provided excellent support, including introducing Avere Systems technology that makes it possible to move data freely—quickly and without complex scripting—between cloud providers and on-premises storage. To handle the rendering workload, Moonbot implemented a software-only Avere vFXT Edge filer running in the cloud alongside the studio’s rendering application (Arnold Renderer from Solid Angle). The Avere solution provides extremely low-latency access to active data and enables processes to run at peak performance.

Benefits: Elastic Infrastructure, Economy, and Prioritized Creativity

Ten Seconds to Action

Avere technology helped Moonbot meet project timelines, allowing the studio to almost instantly move rendering workloads to Google Cloud Platform. Chapman currently runs 36 on-premises render nodes and 155 in GCP that can each be spun up in about ten seconds. At the height of this most recent production crunch, the team ran 50-75 percent of the render load in the cloud. During final push weeks, machines ran there nearly 24x7.

Chapman notes, “Using Google Compute Engine with Avere we can complete renders during the overnight timespan to finish the required iterations, keep artists working, and stay on schedule. Without Avere, set-up time to move datasets and the latency between the cloud and on-premises storage would have made the cloud unusable.”

Before using cloud compute, Moonbot relied on rental blades for rendering hot spots. But the process had to be initiated more than a month in advance with Chapman’s staff coordinating shipping, racking, and system configuration. “And it’s not very flexible in terms of production management,” adds Chapman. “If a shot takes longer than expected in animation, for example, we’re paying for idle blades.”

Equivalent Costs, Infinite Scale

“Our primary drivers for the cloud were time and capacity,” Chapman comments. “But the solution also turned out to be more cost-effective. The elastic infrastructure lets us purchase only the rendering resources we need—we don’t waste capital dollars over-purchasing to cover peak workloads and then end up paying for underutilized nodes. Whether you rent one cloud node for 24 hours or 24 nodes for one hour, the costs are the same. We also take advantage of Google Preemptible Virtual Machines—at one-third the cost of standard instances—for most workloads. Administrative and data center savings are another benefit. We don’t have to worry about power, air conditioning, updates, and server management. Cost accounting is simpler, as well, so we can quickly and accurately estimate the operational cost of a project.”

Moonbot achieves additional savings in licensing. Fees are calculated per node, so maximizing CPU power in the cloud reduces costs. “Compared to on prem,” says Chapman, “with the low-latency access Avere enables, we’re achieving at least an 80 percent performance equivalence in the cloud and nearly unlimited scale at roughly the same cost.”

And of course they’re all living happily ever after...

“On these most recent projects,” concludes Hebert, “we met critical deadlines—including the cut-off for an Academy Award submission—because of Avere technology. We’ve built Moonbot Studios on creative vision, and Avere is a fundamental technology in enabling us to prioritize creativity without technical considerations impeding. The freedom that gives artists is energizing.”

About Moonbot Studios

Moonbot Studios is a secret, zero-gravity colony inhabited by interstellar beings in Shreveport, Louisiana. Their mission is to create the best books, films, apps, games, and entertainment in the galaxy. Award-winning artists and filmmakers William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg, and Lampton Enochs cofounded Moonbot Studios in 2009. The studio earned its first Academy Award® for “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” which is also an iTunes Hall of Fame iPad app and NYT best-selling hard copy book. Moonbot’s latest multi-platform story is “The Numberlys,” released as a Webby Award-winning app, best-selling book, and Academy Award shortlisted animated film. (