Cloud Conference: Challenges to Rendering VFX in the Cloud

Visual effects and rendering in the cloud was the topic of an ETC Cloud Innovation Conference panel at NAB 2016, moderated by Google Cloud Platform senior product manager Srikanth Belwadi. The scope of the issue was made clear by the fact that “The Good Dinosaur” required 110 million compute hours and 300 TB of active data space. Panelists from Thinkbox, Shotgun, Rodeo FX, Avere Systems, and ConductorIO discussed the challenges to producing VFX in the cloud — but also its inevitability.

Moving to the cloud brings up new challenges, noted the panelists. Latency is one issue, said Thinkbox Software founder/chief executive Chris Bond. Autodesk’s senior architect of Shotgun Software Phil Peterson noted that when users extend their infrastructure model into the cloud, they face complicating applications licensing issues.

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Rodeo FX CTO Jordan Soles noted that, in his experience, “trying to move data to the cloud takes time.” “If you have a robust asset management system like Shotgun, you can use it to prime the cloud with assets that a render or updated textures might need,” he said. “We found it definitely reduces the amount of time for a given render to begin.”

ConductorIO vice president of business development and operations Monique Bradshaw pointed out the psychological barriers in moving to the cloud; users worry about security, licenses and storage management. Avere Systems chief executive Ron Bianchini described the hybrid solution, in which he keeps an on-premise toolkit for high priority elements. “That allows us to get a better price, and manage licensing structure and tools in a better way,” he said.

With regard to licensing, Bond said his company comes “from an artist-centric point of view.” “We asked the industry to come up with a permanent licensing model that was scalable,” he said. “And when they didn’t, we built one for our product. We were already tracking usage for clients, so why not go all in and allow third parties to jump into our licensing model without having to write code?”

He explained that it also works for legacy programs no longer in development.

Peterson agreed that it’s “different from a subscription model or a perpetual seat license. I think it’s the most logical way to go about it now.” “My mandate with Shotgun is to build next gen tools to provide insights to our customers,” he aded. “Production management isn’t just about who’s working on what shot but helping people make decisions. One of them is how do I spend my money in the best way.”

Belwadi asked how using the cloud impacts the artists. “I like to restrain resources,” said Soles. “It builds efficiencies among artists. From my experience, it’s important to inflict a bit of pain on the production and the artist. The cloud is amazing and you can run as many metrics as you want, but there’s nothing quite like an angry producer in your office saying they need to get something done tomorrow.”

“I do agree that being able to have some constraints is critical,” said Bradshaw. “With the ability to use the cloud is flexibility so we can choose what those constraints are, like putting a cost limit on this shot, or this user to have a resource constraint. You can be much more granular.”