Driven to Efficiency
How Burrows streamlines with Deadline
Burrows, a division of global advertising agency Young & Rubicam, maintains its own CGI studio, Burrows CGI, headquartered in London with a studio in Detroit. Focused primarily on product visualization, Burrows CGI is recognized for creating high-quality automotive CGI; photo-realistic stills and animations. These marketing assets are used in everything from print ads to web-based configurators to television commercials and point-of-sale media, for clients including Ford, McLaren and other top automakers.
To create their images and sequences, Burrows CGI uses Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya for 3D animation, and The Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe After Effects for compositing. To process the massive 100GB+ CAD data files supplied by the manufacturers, and their own artistic renderings, Burrows relies on Deadline, the render farm management solution from Thinkbox Software.
“What we liked immediately about Deadline is that it doesn’t rely on a central computer manager application attached to a database that has to be running all the time to control all of the machines. Deadline just needs a basic, central file server. Most studios already have a reasonable system and connectivity, and aside from buying Deadline itself, there’s really nothing else you need,” said Burrows technical director Mike Owen.
"Deadline’s Max integration is by far the most refined..."
Because 3ds Max is the studio’s primary 3D animation software, the company looked at integration closely when evaluating solutions. “Deadline’s Max integration is by far the most refined. When it receives a frame of animation to process it keeps the application open and renders on it without having to continually relaunch. The one-and-a-half minutes it takes to load Max every time in other solutions really eats into your render time. Deadline is slick.”
Also high on the list for Burrows CGI was that “You don’t need a degree in rocket science to work with Deadline.” Owen noted, “Our artists access and monitor their own jobs directly. We don’t need a dedicated wrangler; it’s a self-service solution and artists find it really easy to use. The color coding is great. You see red or brown, that’s bad. Green? Good. We just put global rules in place at an administration level so no one can affect anything beyond their own files.”
Because of the massive size of the high-resolution files it works with, Burrows CGI finds Deadline’s ability to handle tile rendering invaluable. “We work with 40-50K pixel images all the time. With Deadline we can break up those large images and process each on a different render node. It’s a lot quicker than sitting on one machine for three days. Deadline supports every file format you can possibly imagine; multi-channel images, 32-bit EXR with lots of channels for effects, and reassembles all of the tiles into a final image flawlessly.”
Working with anything
With 35 permanent artists on staff and up to five freelance artists at any one time, Burrows CGI now has render nodes that number in the hundreds. Its Deadline-managed render farm also supports other Burrows departments, including the web interactive team, which wanted access to Deadline to process Flash files. “We installed Deadline on machines around the company to support cross-department work. We don’t even call it a render farm any more — it’s really a big, distributed processing unit. Anything you need to do fast can be split up and given to lots of machines. With Deadline’s API scripting interface we can make it work with anything.”
The company recently began using Deadline 5.0, which brought new capabilities to the studio. Owen noted, “Auto configuration is really useful in configuring groups of machines to take certain settings — it works whether you have two nodes or 2,000. If those machines get rebuilt, they come back online to Deadline, get picked up and are automatically configured to the correct settings.”
Burrows have also tapped Deadline’s new event plug-in system with an automatic Nuke dailies system. “We can set certain job types such as Nuke to create a QuickTime daily to a review server. As a Nuke job finishes a ‘completed’ event is triggered which initiates the dependent QuickTime job into the queue.”
Burrows CGI recently completed a significant project for Ford’s global vehicle program; the launch of the new Ford Focus, and was the sole CG provider for British automaker McLaren for the launch of its MP4-12C supercar. As the company continues to grow in the number, size and scope of jobs it handles, Deadline 5.0’s ability to outsource and manage render jobs to external providers has piqued the studio’s interest. “We can set up a VPN tunnel between our studio and third party render farm, send jobs out and control how they render. We’re doing some fancy scripting. The API that the Thinkbox guys have written in Python makes it really easy to customize, and they’re working with us, letting us know what will work before we spend time developing.”
“We look at Deadline as one of our biggest successes in efforts to automate our workflow and become more scaleable and extensible,” said Owen. “The bottom line is that Deadline has never crashed on us. The level of support we get from Thinkbox is great. It’s important to have people you can rely on, who respond quickly and bend over backwards to keep everything working. We get that from the Thinkbox team.”