Igniting the FuseFX pipeline with Cloud connectivity

FuseFX supercharges its renders with AWS and Deadline

With facilities straddling New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver; a talented staff approaching 300 employees; and multiple awards to its name, FuseFX has the perfect blend of expertise, infrastructure and pedigree to ignite truly explosive productions across film, television, commercials, games and more.

FuseFX’s reel showcases just how diverse and capable the studio is. It takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey featuring aircraft carriers, spacecraft, and pirate ships cresting over digital waves; Wild West shoot outs and fantasy battlegrounds marked by the crimson arterial splatter; invisible television VFX designed to enhance narrative and out-of-this world face replacements that turn human actors into extraterrestrial visitors.

It is impactful, believable and, most of all, stunning work, witnessed across leading productions like American Horror Story, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Preacher and TURN – to name but a few.

Core to the creation of this work – and key to development of the studio from humble beginnings to a North American creative powerhouse – is FuseFX’s proprietary and highly efficient pipeline. FuseFX’s technical artistry is underpinned by an infrastructure that allows for better quality control, faster turnaround of shots, and increased creative freedom for artists.

Thinkbox sits within the heart of this pipeline, enabling the studio to produce at an extremely fast clip. With Amazon Web Services providing access to limitless compute scalability, FuseFX is truly supercharged when it comes to delivery of high-end VFX.

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Channeling power

Jason Fotter joined FuseFX as partner and CTO in 2008. His goal was to oversee the maintenance, planning and evolution of the studio pipeline, ensuring its growth alongside the studio’s expansion in people, physical space and technological ambition. It’s little surprise, therefore, that the advent of managed rendering in the cloud caught his attention.

“The Cloud is an unlimited source of computing power,” says Fotter. “Rendering is a critical component of the Visual Effects process. Building a render farm is expensive and requires a significant commitment to physical infrastructure. You have to consider space, power, and cooling, and all of those are a finite resource. No matter how large of a farm you build there will be times where it can become overloaded with jobs and with the fast paced production of television visual effects we rarely have the luxury of time. The cloud gives you the ability to quickly and infinitely expand your rendering power, all at an affordable cost.”

"Deadline has connectivity into our AWS account, so it can spin up instances on demand or terminate Cloud instances, saving money when nodes are not in use."

Fotter and crew turned to Deadline to manage the studio’s’ cloud implementation. They found that with Deadline they could access the benefits of Cloud rendering more easily than before as well as utilize a wider array of functions available within the Deadline interface.

FuseFX’s latest project, Amazon Studio’s The Tick, served as a great opportunity to exercise the pipeline’s new connection to AWS via Deadline. An outlandish, explosive superhero series, The Tick required a tight turnaround and presented an immense shot tally. Fuse were selected as primary VFX vendor for the whole series tasked with the production of hundreds of complex visual effects shots for the project in a matter of weeks. With Deadline and access to the Cloud at their disposal, the team was able to meet their demands.

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On-demand supercharging

FuseFX rendered The Tick using 3ds Max and V-Ray in a mixed environment, utilizing its on-premises farm and bursting to AWS compute when the farm reached full capacity. The team relied on Deadline to coordinate the heavy load on the farm, scaling software licenses to meet demand and pushing jobs into the cloud when needed.

“Deadline has connectivity into our AWS account, so it can spin up instances on demand or terminate Cloud instances, saving money when nodes are not in use,” explains Fotter. “Deadline does an amazing job of solving that with its Usage Based Licensing model.”

Usage Based Licensing (UBL) from the Thinkbox Marketplace allows for the purchase of bundles of licensing hours. Studios like FuseFX can use this as an alternative to traditional floating licenses, or as supplemental licensing to cover temporary increases in render nodes. It’s an especially useful option for cloud burst compute, rentals or artist workstations that are being utilized overnight – or on episodic projects with shifting demands like The Tick.

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The ultimate configuration

FuseFX is all about configuration and customization – that’s how it stays ahead of the game after all. By bending technology to its will, the studio is able to deliver above and beyond client expectation. For instance, FuseFX customizes elements of 3ds Max and Maya, and by using a custom AMI within AWS Cloud the team are able to spin up cloud render nodes that are identical to local render nodes.

“Our installation is fairly complicated because we don’t just install software as is. We like to get under the hood and customize pieces to better serve our pipeline,” says Fotter. “We have to ensure the integrity of all software installed on our network, so that when the machine starts a render, it’s not using some old version of a plugin or outdated software that results in bad frames. Bad frames mean wasted time, and that can bring any production to a halt. We spend a lot of time making sure this does not happen at FuseFX.”

When bringing renders into the Cloud, FuseFX pays fees corresponding the amount of time a node is active.

“We can turn the Cloud on at a moment’s notice when we need it,” says Fotter. “In a matter of 10-15 minutes, we can have the base infrastructure up and running and nodes coming online. That is highly valuable; not just financially but from a production standpoint, and getting shots done when they need to be. That’s why we went with this solution.”

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Ticking all the boxes

Summoning newfound compute power from EC2 Spot instances when its in-house farm was at capacity not only helped FuseFX get ahead of its deadlines, but has presented a hugely cost-effective approach – both monetary and temporal. EC2 Spot instances allow users to bid on spare EC2 capacity which helps reduce operating costs compared to on-demand.

“The same amount of money that I would pay for renting 80 local nodes, I could spend on 300-400 AWS Cloud nodes on-demand,” reveals Fotter. “That’s a huge difference in the amount of render power you can get for the same money. The time-savings are huge too! Take this scenario: you can render 1,000 frames on 100 nodes in 10 hours, or you can render 1,000 frames on 1,000 nodes in one hour, if you want to. That’s the reason why we do it. Deadline and AWS gives us a nice edge, as well as a safety net when dealing with the crazy schedules that we have when working in television.”

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Python-based implementation

Now that access to AWS Cloud has been successfully piped in, FuseFX are looking forward to harnessing the power of a limitless compute resource for future projects.

“Python is the standard programming language for visual effects development. Every major piece of software supports it. Deadline’s support for python is outstanding, and allows us to quickly bring ideas to working solutions within our pipeline. Deadlines ability to create custom plugins is simple and easy to use, and has allowed us to create custom solutions that would otherwise not be possible.”

“We knew what we wanted to do immediately after talking to the folks at Deadline about their software. We created a plan, took action and started the process of building the new infrastructure. The support from Thinkbox is outstanding! The whole way through they were fully engaged in helping us create a working solution.”

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Onwards and upwards with Amazon API

FuseFX has big plans for Deadline, and pushing the power of the cloud as far as it can go. Now the studio has successfully utilized the AWS via Deadline for this project, Fuse plans to look for other ways it can transfer elements of its infrastructure into the cloud.
 
“When you start working with technology in this way, it’s impossible not to let your imagination run wild; you immediately start coming up with ideas of what else is possible,” muses Fotter.
 

“The cloud is huge – not just in VFX, but for the entire post-production industry. It’s going to be used more and more as companies adapt, and solutions like Deadline are invaluable in making that transition as painless as it can possibly be.”

 

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