Tangent Animation Scales with Virtual Workstations on AWS


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AWS Webcast Series on August 26 and 27 to Cover Content Production in the Cloud

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is hosting a webcast series to illustrate how creative studios, teams, and freelancers can leverage the cloud to enable remote setups, scale production pipelines, and help artists. This series will also be made available via the SIGGRAPH 2020 virtual platform. The webcast series is free and you can register directly here, or via your SIGGRAPH account if you are attending this week. In the August 26 and 27 webcast, you will be able to hear how Tangent and other creative studios are using the cloud in production. We spoke to Tangent below to get a preview of the event and how they virtualized their animation pipeline.

Tangent, one of the teams that will be discussing the virtualizing their pipeline

With content production moving to remote models, the ability to work flexibly and scale easily is more important than ever. Together with creative studio partners, AWS has developed a two-day event featuring five webcasts on how to successfully leverage the cloud for visual effects and animation workflows. In addition to being made available via the SIGGRAPH 2020 virtual platform, registrants for on-demand viewing can also view the sessions following the event. (Register directly here).

Tangent Animation, creators of  Next Gen for Netflix.

Sessions will begin each day at 8am PDT for the Americas, EMEA and Africa, and 10am IST for APAC, and run back-to-back. The series will kick off with a state-of-the-industry keynote, followed by feature presentations from Untold Studios, Hive VFX, and Cinesite, as well as a virtual roundtable discussion with NVIDIA and Tangent Studios. Scroll down for a full schedule overview and registration.

Tangent Studios Pipeline Virtualisation

Tangent Studios is part of the Day two event. The Studio is interesting on many levels, for example as an animation studio it relies on the Open Source software Blender to make its animated films. Its Sister company Tangent Labs is the team behind LoUPE, the innovative Asset and Production tools, developed during the creation of  Next Gen for Netflix. They also have an interactive and games sister company Tangent Interactive Media.

For the creative team of artists and innovators at Tangent Animation, blazing trails has become a defining trait, whether reimagining workflows with open source software, developing original content or architecting new storytelling solutions. The studio has relied upon cloud-based resources for rendering since starting work on its most recent animated feature Next Gen, which released on Netflix. While ramping up for its current projects including, Maya and the Three, Tangent seized the opportunity to modernize operations, opting to replace a fleet of aging desktop setups with virtual workstations on AWS.

Next Gen on Netflix.

When analyzing the schedule and quality requirements for final project deliverables and reviewing internal pipeline tools, it quickly became clear the project would require a significant hardware upgrade. Presented with the estimated costs and logistics involved in replacing nearly 300 on-premises workstations across facilities in Toronto and Winnipeg, Tangent evaluated alternate solutions, ultimately landing on virtual workstations running on Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) G4 instances, powered by NVIDIA T4 GPUs and Quadro technology.

“Looking at our current capacity compared to the work requirements, it became quickly apparent that we needed to overhaul our internal infrastructure,” said Jeff Bell, Tangent Studio COO, and Co-Founder. “Rather than invest in more physical hardware, we instead shifted to the cloud. All of our production data was already stored on AWS, which made for a seamless transition and going virtual has saved on hefty upfront expenditures while also opening up new opportunities by transitioning capital expenditures (CapEx) to operational expenditures (OpEx).”

Jeff Bell Co-founder, reviewing a shot (R)

The scalability and security of AWS were motivating factors for Tangent’s decision to move from on-premises hardware to cloud-based virtual workstations, though the shift to working from home in March 2020 accelerated the studio’s implementation of them. “We’d been testing virtual workstations on AWS for several months in Toronto and had an AWS Direct Connect installed to bolster our network experience,” explained Ken Zorniak, Tangent Studios CEO and Co-Founder. “When we transitioned to working from home, we upped our Direct Connect from 1GB to 10GB to accommodate our VPN routing and our artists have been able to continue with projects pretty much as normal.”

Tangent artists securely access powerful virtual workstations on AWS using whatever device they have locally through Teradici’s Cloud Access Software. Virtual workstations can be spun up on-demand to match specific project requirements, eliminating the need to purchase and maintain specialized hardware that may otherwise sit idle.

For their digital content creation, Tangent relies on Blender and deploys virtual workstations running on Amazon EC2 G3 and G4 instances. With the latest NVIDIA GPU Quadro technology backed by the broad availability of AWS infrastructure, G4 instances are tailored to meet the high performance, low latency demands of Tangent’s VFX and animation workloads.

Bell noted, “Purchasing hardware that’s optimized for what may only amount to ten percent of an artist’s workload doesn’t make sense. With AWS, we can access the hardware for the particular day or week it’s needed, then scale back down.”

Zorniak added, “I think our artists have adjusted to the new setup quite well but will notice even greater benefits using virtual workstations when we’re back in the office as they’ll also have Direct Connect connectivity.”

With virtual workstations, Tangent also has the flexibility to scale its talent pool based on project demand and deliverables. Since the studio’s central infrastructure, including storage, is hosted on AWS, it can hire and securely onboard remote artists from any location, so long as they have a computer and internet access. “At the end of the day, no files get transferred, only pixels and nothing is local. We also know our data is secure with AWS, which is extremely valuable to us and our clients,” said Bell.

“Investing in on-premises hardware can often be like throwing money out of the window,” said Bell in closing. “Virtualizing your workstations is a smart investment and helps optimize your budget, because you can easily make adjustments and scale based on project needs. Margins in digital content creation are so tight, but using virtual workstations gives us a buffer, allowing us to work more efficiently and ultimately create higher quality content. We receive exceptional support from AWS and never have to worry about access to the compute we need, no matter how significantly we scale.”


Day One: Wednesday, August 26

Keynote: Digital content creation on AWS
Learn how to scale your studio by running virtual workstations, rendering, and storage workloads on AWS, and discover tools that help studios iterate faster, hire the best talent, work remotely, and deliver for clients.

Industry firsts: How to launch a new creative studio, entirely on the cloud
Untold Studios details how it’s pushing the boundaries of technology by operating completely in the cloud (and experimenting with Unreal Engine) so that its teams can focus on creative endeavors without operational distractions.

Day Two: Thursday, August 27

Hive VFX: Automating virtual studio deployment on AWS to enable global collaboration
Get a deep dive from Hive VFX on Infrastructure as Code with AWS CloudFormation, serverless and event-driven architecture with AWS Lambda and AWS API Gateway, and how to use these services to deploy a HPC environment featuring G4 instances, FSx Lustre File Systems, and EC2 Spot Fleets via AWS Thinkbox Deadline.

Cinesite tells all: How cloud rendering can revolutionize VFX & feature animation workflows
Hear how Cinesite uses cloud rendering tools to reach new levels of visual complexity and detail in their work and meet increasingly tight schedules and get a sneak peek at upcoming projects, including family adventure-comedy “EXTINCT” and scenes from “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”

Virtual workstations: The new must-have studio essential
Join AWS, NVIDIA, and Tangent Studios for a discussion moderated by Randi Altman of postPerspective, on virtual workstations, how they work, who is using this technology today, and how working remotely will continue to evolve and influence content production.

Sessions will also be made available via the SIGGRAPH 2020 virtual platform or directly here.