When we last spoke to ZYNC – in April 2011 – they were gearing up to offer a unique cloud rendering solution. So what’s been happening over the past two years? How are companies like Bad Robot and Atomic Fiction using ZYNC? And why do ZYNC’s founders think that it’s more than just rendering in the cloud.
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ZYNC’s founders have since the company’s inception taken a slow and steady approach to rolling out its rendering service, something CEO and co-founder Brian Drewes says was because they ‘wanted to do it right’. “We wanted to make sure that as we were rolling out, bringing in clients and expanding the user base, that we were growing the compute side and infrastructure to be able to make sure the service we offer is one users have a good experience with, and that we have a stable and secure offering.”
That meant that users had to register to use ZYNC and be part of a waiting list. Several users, including studios ZERO VFX – headed by Drewes and ZYNC’s CCO and co-founder Sean Devereaux – and Atomic Fiction already incorporate ZYNC as a crucial component of their pipelines without having to invest in expensive on-site renderfarms. The result is that ZYNC has been able to monitor the development and use of the service in real production settings before becoming completely open.
“As a VFX supe my number one job is to create the director’s vision with no concern to anything else,” comments Devereaux, who was committed to making ZYNC work for ZERO VFX. “My number two job is to create the vision on budget and on time. With other on-demand rendering out there, nothing really sped you up. When you used them it was purely out of a need that was kind of an ‘ugh’. It was out of a need to render something remotely, you never felt good about it. You never felt like, oh great, let’s put it up there and you’ll have something back in a few years. But with ZYNC we wanted to make it integral to what our daily pipeline was. Not something special. So we built it into our pipeline from the very beginning and that was a difference too. Because we thought if it didn’t work we’re buying a renderfarm. That ability to walk away forced us to solve the challenges.”
What is ZYNC?
Although ZYNC incorporates the components of an ‘in-the-cloud renderer’, Devereaux now describes it as an ‘on-demand service’. “When you don’t need it, there’s nothing to pay for. There’s nothing to do, no bills, no overhead,” he says. A series of unlimited monthly bulk buys with various instancing ranges are also available.
In general terms, ZYNC allows users to start renders from their existing applications (such as Maya and Nuke) via Amazon’s EC2 service, with web-management tools to control and monitor jobs. Amazon was chosen, notes ZYNC CMO Todd Prives, since it is “really the only cloud provider that has undergone a third party audit that meets or exceeds MPAA best practices. MPAA does not have certification for cloud facilities but you can undergo this audit and the highest ranking you can get is best practices.”
ZYNC supports Maya (2012 and higher), Nuke 6 (and higher), V-Ray (including nightly builds) and Mental Ray. Arnold support is currently being developed. There’s also plug-in support for Peregrine Labs’ Bokeh, Ocula by The Foundry, Rolling Shutter by The Foundry, Furnace by The Foundry, GenArts Sapphire, Mental Core for Maya and Frischluft Lenscare.
To get started, a user downloads a lightweight app then steps through some security features to be integrated into the system. The files are sent to Amazon’s servers via secured SSH tunnels to the cloud-based stores. From one of the supported parent applications, you can kick off a rendering job. This is designed to be as if you are starting the job on your own local renderfarm, in fact, Python API access lets users customize ZYNC into their existing pipeline. Once your job is done rendering, the downloading process back to your local server happens frame by frame. Everything that’s rendered on ZYNC stays on ZYNC, which means data is effectively backed up offsite and can also be re-used in say future renders or comps.
Who’s using ZYNC?
As mentioned, Atomic Fiction and ZERO VFX have set up their rendering pipelines based on ZYNC. Atomic Fiction helped bring to life visual effects for Looper, Flight and Star Trek: Into Darkness with the solution (see the embedded video).See how Atomic Fiction used ZYNC on Flight.
Bad Robot is also a ZYNC user. The familiar image of Bad Robot’s red rectangular-headed bot running through a grassy meadow has become one of the most well-known and well-liked production company logos. A brand new stereo version of the logo is featured at the head of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness thanks to the efforts of Bad Robot’s Visual Effects division, Kelvin Optical, with some help from ZYNC.
Having worked in MARI and Maya, and with V-Ray as Kelvin’s facility renderer, in-house Visual Effects Supervisor Brandon Fayette looked to ZYNC for a fast turnaround on the logo. “I called them up and said we need to essentially get this render out tomorrow – we had to literally do it overnight.”
26 gigabytes of data were uploaded onto ZYNC’s servers which completed the render of both eyes in about four-and-a-half hours. The final logo was composited in Nuke, with stereo convergence completed on the Mistika finishing platform. “Another thing that was nice,” adds Fayette, “was that ZYNC keeps the daily builds of V-Ray installed, so they can version-match the build of V-Ray that we were using. It turned out to be a great way to get things done on deadline.”
Other ZYNC users include Scott Pagano, a designer and director at Neither-Field in LA. Scott does a lot of concert screen graphics for many of the major electronic acts in the world and rendered all the visuals on ZYNC for the Skrillex concert at the 2013 Game Developers Conference concert in San Francisco in March. And Township in Toronto used ZYNC to render a great deal of Nuke shots used on the 2 hour stereo film “Inside the Mind of Leonardo” shown on SKY TV in the UK.
ZYNC says a Solid Angle Arnold beta will be running in summer to add to the pre-existing supported applications. And development continues with Shotgun integration. Already, Shotgun will update once an image renders, but ZYNC is also working on TANK and asset management. Support-wise, users will be able to submit support tickets. Initially the company will be on US support hours but intends to widen the availability of its help desk.
The solution is certainly not the only one available on the market, but it does seem to be one built with visual effects artists specifically in mind and one that looks beyond rendering in the cloud. “It’s not a supplemental cloud renderer – I want to move away from that even,” adds Sean Devereaux. “I don’t feel like cloud rendering defines what we do at all. We have an on-demand service that is integral to production that allows you to create and produce visual effects in ways that have never been done before.”