Mikros Animation Scales with AWS Cloud with paramount’s ‘sherlock gnomes’
From spinning up 2,000 instances in minutes to simultaneously rendering on 170,000 cores, studio taps Amazon Elastic Compute (EC2) and Spot Instances for 4.5M hours of cloud rendering on animated feature
VFX and animation studio Mikros has created standout visuals for feature films, TV shows and ads for more than 30 years. Part of the Technicolor family, Mikros is headquartered in Paris, with seven additional studios in Europe in North America. The company’s animation-focused branch, Mikros Animation, boasts a growing list of high profile credits including César Award winner The Little Prince, DreamWorks Animation’s Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, and Paramount’s family-friendly 3D animated feature Sherlock Gnomes, which was rendered almost entirely in the cloud.
Benoir Maujean, Head of R&D for Mikros Animation, will discuss the process during the AWS Cloud Tech Talks at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver. The one-day session track will be held Tuesday, August 14 in Meeting Room 9. “Scaling Up for Sherlock Gnomes” is scheduled for 11 a.m. to noon.
“It’s no longer a question of whether or not the transition to cloud is happening, but rather how fast,” said Simon Vanesse, Mikros Head of Animation. “To offer the best services to our clients, we need to explore new ways of working. We always intended to render Sherlock Gnomes with cloud-based resources, but as the scope changed, it became clear just how vital the cloud, and AWS in particular, would be to delivering on time.”
Mikros shared work for Sherlock Gnomes across its Paris and London studios, the latter of which was established for the project. Production spanned nearly two years, with more than 290 artists working on the film at a time. Ultimately, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) was used to render 4.5M hours of compute, including a peak of 170,000 simultaneous cores. Ensuring optimized integration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) resources, media and entertainment rendering experts at AWS Thinkbox helped Mikros configure networks, determine ideal account settings for leveraging AWS compute, and navigate compute options, including highly economical EC2 Spot instances.
AWS Thinkbox also worked to integrate Mikros’ pipeline, which comprises Autodesk Maya and Arnold, Shotgun and Foundry’s Katana in addition to proprietary tools, with Avere Virtual FXT (vFXT) Edge, a network-attached storage (NAS) solution used to cache recently used files and facilitate higher throughput on AWS.
To prepare for Mikros’ shift to cloud-based resources, Technicolor and AWS security teams collaborated early on in establishing and maintaining security protocols, with Paramount security team input.
“We’ve seen a major shift in how our clients perceive the cloud in terms of security. Their requirements are still extremely stringent but state of the art measures on both the Mikros and Amazon sides allow us to reach them and gain their confidence,” explained Mikros CTO Christophe Archambault.
At the project’s outset, Mikros was connected to resources from AWS’ Frankfurt datacenter, which offered the lowest latency for the forecasted render capacity usage and type of instances required. For greatest economic efficiency, Mikros primarily leveraged Amazon EC2 Spot Instances. As the studio’s rendering requirements intensified, they were able to seamlessly spill over to AWS’ Dublin data center using AWS Direct Connect Gateway. Prior, Mikros might have scaled compute by renting on-premises machines, and while that gave the team additional resources, they were ultimately limited by capacity. In the case of Sherlock Gnomes, the number of machines needed far exceeded what Mikros could physically accommodate on-premises.
Vanesse noted, “Cloud changes what’s possible because we can adjust our capacity to allow for more creative iteration. When an art director wants to see a near-final render, we can achieve next day turnaround with the cloud and quickly take our work from good to very good; the same process could take upwards of three days on a physical farm and significant changes could adversely impact delivery, even if they would best serve the story.”
Added Archambault, “Using cloud for rendering is a huge technical achievement for us, and I’m continually amazed by what we can do with that connectivity. When we needed an additional two thousand nodes for Sherlock Gnomes, they appeared in the render dispatcher in less than two minutes – like magic. It was truly a wow moment and one that has inspired us to explore additional ways to incorporate the AWS cloud for projects moving forward.”
Vanesse concluded, “Our industry is fast-paced, and if you want to be the best, keeping up with technology advancements is a must. Sherlock Gnomes was a big step up for us in terms of quantity of textures and complexity of the renders, and we loved every second of working on it with Paramount’s amazing creative team. With AWS support and resources, we were able to stretch ourselves creatively in a shorter window, which was key to our success on the film.”