Putting More Fun in Cartoons

Avere Powers 24x7 Rendering and Connected Artistry for 2D/3D Animation

Cartoons are fun. Waiting 20 minutes to load a cartoon character asset or scene file is not. To create the engaging, imaginative creatures and worlds that attract animation-programming audiences, artists need responsive workstation environments that let them spend more time on the art, without the delays and distractions of an underperforming infrastructure.

John Hickson is director of technology at Jam Filled Entertainment, a multi-production animation company that develops 2D and 3D show content for Mattel Creations, NBCUniversal Universal Kids, Nickelodeon, and other major networks and entertainment companies. Hickson says, “Sluggish toolset and data loads can very quickly impact artist productivity, as well as project schedules, cost, and quality. At Jam Filled, we’ve largely eliminated those problems by deploying Avere Edge filers wherever we need more storage performance. We use Avere solutions to ensure that heavy rendering workloads do not compete with workstations for I/O and to eliminate latency to remote workstations. Avere technology enables a highly-responsive IT infrastructure that promotes both production processes and artist creativity.”

CHALLENGE: 24X7 RENDERING AND RESPONSIVE WORKSTATIONS

Jam Filled adds fun animation to Thomas & FriendsJam Filled supports some 360 artists working in Toronto and at the studio’s headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario. Largely focused on developing cartoons for children’s programming, digital artists work on a busy production pipeline of theatrical features, DVD, and television content. Projects include Nickelodeon shows The Loud House, the number-one children’s animated show on television[1], and newcomer Pinky Malinky, a British-American television series based on an infectiously optimistic hot dog. The studio also provides CG animation for Mattel Creations’ perennial favorite, Thomas & Friends, with artists creating content for both the series and hour-long specials starring the famous “cheeky” little tank engine.

With growing demand for studio services and creative talent always at a premium, Hickson says that keeping artists working productively is the primary job of his IT staff. “Before the Avere deployment, we juggled resources to prevent heavy rendering workloads from impacting workstation responsiveness. To eliminate competition for storage resources, we occasionally had to shut down portions of the render farm during the daytime, hoping to catch up on jobs overnight. Unfortunately, with shorter turnaround time to complete  jobs, we risked introducing costly delays to the next day’s editing and review processes.”

Hickson says that latency to remote workstations was another problem. “When Ottawa artists began collaborating with our Toronto team on new 3D shows, network latency between facilities made access to project assets unworkably slow.”

SOLUTION: AVERE FOR SPEED, DISTANCE AND ARTISTRY

Today, Avere FXT Edge filers serve as a high-performance caching layer between the studio’s distributed compute resources and tier 1 production NAS in Toronto. At the Jam Filled Ottawa facility, Avere clusters front-end remote user workstations. Hickson says, “For our Ottawa-based artists, Avere makes network latency disappear, effectively giving them local-data-access responsiveness.”

An Avere cluster also front-ends the studio’s 6400-core render farm deployed at a co-location facility some 20 kilometers distant from the Toronto office. The Avere cluster dramatically boosts I/O to accelerate turnaround on rendering jobs, decreases WAN load, and significantly reduces demand—and ultimately wear and tear—on expensive production filers.

BENEFITS

Connected Creativity

The Avere FXT cluster in Ottawa eliminates show-stopping network latency, enabling resident artists to quickly gain access to production assets stored on Toronto core filers. Hickson reports, “Before Avere, Ottawa 3D artists had to wait as much as half an hour for our Autodesk Maya animation application and required assets to load. With network latency averaging more than 14 milliseconds, it was unrealistic to expect them to work productively with Toronto crew. Today, latency is negligible, the Ottawa team works off our file system as if they were sitting next to Toronto artists, and shows can fully leverage the combined creative talents of the two studio offices.”

More Rendering, More Fun

Deploying Avere also allows Jam Filled to run 24x7 rendering with no impact to artist workstations accessing the same primary storage. Hickson continues, “Avere accelerates turnaround on rendering jobs and reduces demand on production storage so that artists effectively have full access to its performance and bandwidth. Avere ensures we can deliver a responsive workstation environment with extremely fast data loads/saves, even when the render farm is running at full tilt.”

Hickson notes that Avere gives Jam Filled headroom in its IT infrastructure to support more artists and more render nodes. “With the approaching startup of a new show, we’re expecting to add some 50 new artists and workstations in Ottawa, an additional 50 workstations and as many as 100 more artists in Toronto, and some 50-100 nodes to our render farm. Avere lets us fully leverage the performance of our compute and storage resources, non-disruptively scale existing clusters, and drop in additional Edge filers wherever needed—without complicated configuration processes or changes to the way artists work.

“Every new show or season brings fresh challenges. Clients want more depth, more scene complexity, more compelling action, new characters. And of course they’re hoping to do it without breaking the bank. Avere helps us more cost-effectively deliver the requisite high-performance infrastructure that gives Jam Filled artists the power and freedom to be imaginative, to take on every project with, as our founders say, an eye for quality and an ear for fun. Our goal in IT is always to minimize interruptions to the creative process so artists can work efficiently and focused on bringing the client’s vision to life.”

No Bumps in the Night

“Avere solutions have helped Jam Filled build one of the most stable infrastructures of any production studio,” Hickson concludes. “We’re able to deliver nearly 100 percent uptime, 24x7 rendering, and consistently responsive workstation environments.

“The closest we could come to replicating the performance, scale, flexibility, and analytical tools that Avere delivers would be to dramatically build out our footprint of high-end storage. Just to support our remote artists, for example, would require purchasing and configuring a core filer in Ottawa at a capital cost likely approaching a half of a million dollars. Additional IT costs for scripting (to sync files, for example), modify tools, and monitor the process would be the equivalent of at least two FTEs. And worse, many of our departments would have to change the way they work, how they submit render jobs, etc. In contrast, Avere takes care of all of that for us—transparently, reliably, and at a much lower cost—so we can apply our talent to delivering the quality and creativity clients expect.”


[1] Source: http://www.nickpress.com/press-releases/2016/10/19/nickelodeon-greenlights-third-season-of-number-one-animated-series-the-loud-house

About Jam Filled

Founded in 2008, Jam Filled Entertainment is a full-service digital animation studio with studios in Ottawa and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Jam Filled delivers highest-quality work from concept to animation. Providing a dynamic workplace for like-minded creative artists, Jam Filled produces every project with an eye for quality and an ear for fun! Recent projects include Kody Kapow produced by Zodiac Kids Studio to air on Universal Kids and the Nickelodeon/Spin Master Entertainment Rusty Rivets boy-inventor show. Jam Filled brings renowned 3D capabilities to parent company Boat Rocker Media, a global entertainment company that creates, produces, and distributes premium media content for all platforms. The company develops brands and IP for worldwide monetization. For more information, visit www.boatrocker.com and www.jamfilled.com.