a mighty match
Scanline VFX pits Batman v Superman with Deadline
Batman v Superman – a match made in heaven for comic book fans, a confrontation of hellish proportions in the mind of Zack Snyder.
2016’s ultimate superhero showdown, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was no simple project; it had to introduce a new DC comics universe to a legion of ardent fans, while also telling that story via a wealth of eye-watering visual effects.
Scanline VFX stepped up to the challenge, heading into the fray to tackle a variety of sequences that ranged from Superman’s heroics to Batman’s brutal beatdowns.
Considering the work involved it was a render-intensive task of superhuman proportions. Thankfully, with Deadline sitting at the heart of the Scanline VFX machine, the studio was able to scale to the creative and technical challenges with ease.
Immovable object, unstoppable force
Scanline VFX has built an empire out of a remarkable ability to recreate the intricate complexity of nature within the constraints of a CPU. From vortexes of water to pluming tendrils of smoke, the studio is an expert at delivering realistic simulations, stemming from both its technical expertise and its proprietary software Flowline.
Scanline applies this technical know-how to thousands of shots a year, and on projects as diverse and challenging as Game of Thrones, Pan, and, of course, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
It’s that technical know-how – underpinned by solutions like Deadline – that enabled Scanline to tackle a number of Batman v Superman’s standout moments. And those moments certainly don’t hold back when it comes to computationally complex VFX.
“We worked on a number of pivotal narrative beats: the kidnapping of Lois Lane; Superman’s confrontation with Lex Luthor; and the Batmobile chase sequence,” begins László Sebõ, pipeline director at Scanline. “That meant recreating the city of Metropolis, Wayne Manor and Washington DC for various shots.”
The team also worked on scenes that highlight the dichotomy of the film’s larger-than-life leads:
“Scanline was responsible for the vignettes that show Superman performing his acts of heroism around the world, like saving the astronauts of a failed Soyuz launch, as well as the moments where Batman shows off his skills, such as the moment when he brutally takes down a gang of goons in the Martha Kent rescue sequence.”
The VFX work required was exhaustive, but with Deadline on its side, Scanline was able to scale to the challenge.
Rendering on a super scale
“Deadline allowed us to focus on the creative side of Batman v Superman, instead of worrying about the simulation and rendering back-end,” explains Sebõ. “It just worked, as it always has – even when our farm quadrupled in size.”
Deadline operates on premise at the studio’s North American farm and performs all distributed processing tasks, including simulating and rendering with V-Ray, 3ds Max, Maya, NUKE, Houdini, FumeFX, Krakatoa, Thinking Particles and Flowline.
On a show like Batman v Superman – one replete with a plethora of extraordinary visual effects, each more impressive than the last – a compute management solution as adaptable as Deadline is absolutely necessary.
"The robustness of Deadline makes Thinkbox rise above the competition"
“Deadline has an extremely robust MongoDB based back-end system that hasn’t failed us once,” says Sebõ. “Having redundant replica set servers for the core database and redundancy for all other core deadline services has meant that we didn’t have to worry about unexpected failures, even in case of hardware troubles. We could continue iterating on work, resulting in a better-looking end product.”
The Scanline team also made use of Deadline’s “versatile and extensible” job dependency system, streamlining the show’s overall workflow.
“It gave us some interesting options,” explains Sebõ. “For instance, we were able to set up intricate inter-job dependencies, where multilayered dependent simulations could trigger as soon as individual frames had finished.”
“In addition, the machine retention helped decrease simulation times, since new machines weren’t re-localizing the data to sim or render the next frame,” he continues. “That enables a smoother and more streamlined pipeline: people could focus on the creative side of putting together those stunning visuals, instead of worrying about infrastructure.”
Simplicity meets power
Despite Batman v Superman’s intricate layers of complexity, Deadline’s intuitive design enabled the Scanline team to instill each shot with a superhero sheen.
“Deadline is easy enough for all the people at our studio to use, but it still comes with all the features a power user needs to manage the render farm,” says Sebõ. “For instance, while the interface can be used by artists, it can also be customized to be a full control center for the multiple thousands of machines and their behavior.”
In fact, Deadline’s extensibility, along with the multiple options to hook into its event mechanism, enabled Scanline to create a variety of additional system level monitoring tools. “We could warn supervisors about potentially inefficient jobs and resource hogs, along with other problems. It made for a far more optimized post-production workflow, which is incredibly important on a show of this size.”
Scanline continues to be impressed by Deadline as it goes from strength to strength and show to show. With Ben-Hur, King Arthur and Independence Day: Resurgence in the pipeline – all with just as many, if not more, computational demands as Batman v Superman – that reliability will be key to success.
“We’ll definitely be making use of Deadline as we move forward” says Sebõ. “The support from the Thinkbox team has been tremendous. Whenever we have hit any limitations or issues specific to our environment they’ve been quick to respond and provide immediate fixes, sometimes altering their development roadmap.”
“The robustness of Deadline combined with this world-class support makes Thinkbox – and as a result, Scanline – rise above the competition.”