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During the 30 years since Passion Animation Studios launched, the team has acquired new talents, expanded the studio’s services and evolved with each change. When live action production slowed in 2020 due to global lockdowns, demand for animated content grew rapidly and Passion Animation, who work on animated commercial and long-form projects in many styles, was ready to adapt.
Working through an infrastructure built on Amazon Web Services (AWS), the studio has created and delivered a steady stream of high profile commercial projects and game trailers by working remotely. Meanwhile, the experience of building an elastic pipeline capable of handling feature film and episodic series production has given the studio the confidence and resources to begin developing its own longer form content.
“We’ve been moving to the cloud, bit by bit, over the last four years and now 90 percent of our rendering is done using EC2 Spot Instances,” said Passion Pictures Head of CG Jason Nicholas. “We’ve also integrated virtual workstations so we can scale up our talent pool, and are starting to tie these elements together using S3 storage.
“Success in the industry no longer relies on having a huge amount of hardware. Because we know that we have the resources we need, when we need them, and can shut them down when we don’t, now we can bid on jobs we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. AWS makes us more agile and means we have up to date equipment.”
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Passion Animation operate from headquarters in London and run facilities in Barcelona, New York and Paris. Currently, artists at all the locations use the studio’s on-premises workstations from home via Teradici Cloud Access Software or HP Remote Graphics Sender (HPRGS). The Remote Graphics Sender gives the user remote access to high-performance or virtual workstations from various types of devices.
During production peaks, they set up virtual workstations running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) G4dn instances to bring extra artists on-board or add specialised skills for a project. At times, the virtual workstations can be launched and the artists start working on them within an hour.
“The industry and workflows are evolving quickly, and virtual workstations are immensely helpful for experimentation,” Jason said. “We’ve been considering moving beyond standard creative applications to incorporate software like open source tools and real-time game engines or switching 3D platforms, and AWS makes it easier to trial any of these and eventually deploy the right tool for the right job.”
By moving the bulk of its render demands to AWS on economical Amazon EC2 Spot Instances, Passion Animation is perpetually well-equipped, even when project timelines shorten or overlap. Spot Instances open up Amazon’s surplus machines to customers at discounted prices, not as on demand compute capacity, but when and as available.
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In early autumn 2020, the studio was running seven productions simultaneously, some of which were delivered in 4K resolution. “AWS saved us from a lot of sleepless nights in that time frame. Instead of juggling render farm capacity, we could be confident that the resources would be available and that we’d meet our deadlines.
“Rendering in the cloud also means the artists can iterate more, ultimately leading to better creative output,” Jason said. “When working solely with on-premises compute, your capacity is always finite and, inevitably, compromises have to be made. Using the cloud, we have far more flexibility. If a client wants to see a project ahead of schedule, we’re able to accommodate that request and be transparent about costs for the expedited rendering needed to do so.”
Since Passion Animation no longer maintains a large on-premises render farm, the studio is less vulnerable to central London’s unpredictable power supply. Jason said, “Our hot summers combined with the instability of Soho’s electricity grid and a large population of local VFX and animation studios drawing power to cool massive machine rooms has led to more than one disaster. It’s exciting to not have to worry about maintenance and instead, just keep producing great work.”
To gain further efficiency from the cloud-based workflow, Passion Animation has begun using Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) as intermediate storage to keep data transfers to and from the cloud to a minimum. As the company grows, having a pool of scalable storage within its established AWS system will put the studio in a better position to move into original content production, especially as its current hardware starts to approach end-of-life.
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The studio has been using their cloud storage for other purposes as well, for example, tagging projects within AWS to track and analyse data across departments, helping to forecast spending and bid on jobs.
Reflecting on the past year and the near future, Jason said, “The industry continues to change and we need to be prepared to change alongside it. The pandemic has pushed people to adopt new techniques and tools faster than they might otherwise have chosen, and we will continue to adapt and learn as a studio. Having AWS supports those efforts, although maintaining a good culture is equally, if not more, important to us in the long term.” aws.amazon.com/media/production