VFX Platform-as-a-Service will deliver on-demand rendering, storage and computing resources for faster, more affordable cloud-based visual effects production.

Render wranglers know the tell-tale signs that in-house render farm capacity is nearly maxed out. The visual effects (VFX) artists spend more time waiting than creating while their workstations render creative iterations in the background. Production slows to a grind. And the studio’s overloaded cluster of rendering nodes can’t keep up with peak demand. It’s time to buy or rent more machines, or kiss delivery deadlines goodbye.

“VFX studios often need to add capacity quickly but lack physical space to store extra rendering nodes and storage systems,” says Felix Fissel, Vice President of Global Operations for VFXNow, a Hardware as a Service (HaaS) solutions provider for VFX and media companies. “We’re introducing a platform that will allow VFX studios to access rendering, storage and computing resources on an as-needed basis.”

VFX Rendering for the Enterprise

VFXNow’s engineering team creates immediate render solutions for enterprises of any size, from media and entertainment (M&E) industry giants to individual artists. The company’s HaaS offering allows VFX studios to lease rendering machines rather than buy new equipment, so they can ramp up for projects without investing in infrastructure they won’t use day-to-day.

“We help companies meet critical deadlines without jeopardizing their bottom lines,” says VFXNow CEO Brian Terrell.

Under a HaaS lease, VFXNow designs a flexible, end-to-end solution that incorporates the studio’s current hardware, introduces all new equipment, or integrates both old and new machines. When VFX workstations share the rendering load, high-end performance workstation rentals help handle the biggest shots. Currently, VFXNow has 300 HaaS clients and has built more than 450 render farms.

HaaS engineering, service and support are provided by parent-company GPL Technologies (GPL), giving VFX studios access to solutions engineered by a worldclass team with deep M&E industry experience. In addition to the engineering and integration, GPL’s DevOps team understands what it takes to scale up or scale down to keep pace with digital media production.

The VFX Pipeline Under Pressure

The M&E industry is tough on the VFX houses and arists they rely upon for visual-effect heavy blockbusters. Bigger shots, more creative changes, shorter post-production schedules and shrinking budgets put the squeeze on the production pipeline. When rendering capacity is pushed to the limit, studios are in jeopardy of missing critical deadlines or incurring exorbitant costs to buy or rent computing power.

As any in-house TechOps team knows, scaling up for peak production is fraught with problems. Rendering nodes are costly assets to buy, assemble and operate. The newest, fastest equipment can cost top dollar, take weeks to deliver and arrive with little or no tech support.

And since render farms have massive space, power and cooling requirements, installing more machines can be problematic.

When the pipeline runs dry and the last frame is finished, the rendering farm sits idle, with expensive equipment depreciating as fast as a new car off the dealer lot.

Render Farm Rental Pros and Cons

When buying more rendering machines is cost-prohibitive or impractical, VFX studios can access fast, high-density computing power through rental farm rentals, which are available for a fraction of the cost. Common solutions include:

  • Hardware Rental — Pros: Rent what’s needed, return equipment after the rush. Cons: Delivery delays and lack of tech support can disrupt production.
  • Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) — Pros: Service contract comes with 24/7 support by equipment experts. Cons: Unpredictable demand spikes require alternative sourcing.
  • Cloud-based Render Farms — Pros: Computing power is available on-demand, so studios can fast-track schedules by running multiple jobs in parallel. Cons: Pay-by-the-minute model can be costly, especially for iterative rendering.

All of these solutions share one benefit: Scaling up for production by renting more computing power onsite or in the cloud eliminates capital expenditures on depreciable assets. Instead, rentals add a predictable monthly expense to the operating budget.

A Fast, Affordable Alternative

Despite the benefits these solutions offer, too many VFX studios still struggle to manage their post-production rendering workloads. VFXNow offers another alternative, the VFX Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), combining render farm rental, cloud rendering and custom engineering services. VFX PaaS leverages the benefits of HaaS for optimal on-premise rendering, and the benefits of cloud services to gain instant access to on-demand rendering.

VFX PaaS reduces downtime and associated costs by teaming VFX hardware specialists with expert engineering support to deliver on-call services. “Our infrastructure, hardware and software services are merging,” says VFXNow Chief Technology Officer Jason Blum. “It’s a trend we’ve focused on for some time.” VFX PaaS provides:

  • Scalable onsite rendering capacity
  • The newest, best in class hardware supplied by Nvidia and other partners
  • Rapid delivery, installation and service
  • Buy back of current hardware
  • Access to on-demand cloud rendering, storage and computing
  • Fast, secure file transfer via virtual private network with data caching
  • Rapid turnaround with GPU-dense parallel computing capacity
  • 24/7 remote support for all service-level agreement customers. On-site support if needed

Built with GPU-accelerated renderers, VFXNow rendering environments ensure efficient workflows that scale across the local cluster, to third-party rendering services or to the cloud, including Nvidia GPU cloud rendering, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud. These services adhere to MPAA best practices for securely storing, processing and delivering protected media and content.

What’s Next in Rendering Technology

VFX technology is constantly evolving to keep pace with the creative energy of VFX artists. In turn, industry creatives drive innovation in the machines they need to render visual effects for real-time 3D simulations and photorealistic worlds. “What other industry allows you to put the most cutting-edge technology in the hands of the world’s most creative people?” notes Fissel.

VFXNow’s partnerships with Nvidia and others grant early access to some of the latest developments that are transforming the industry. These breakthroughs in GPU technology are advancing fields such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, scientific visualizations and immersive virtual reality.

The M&E industry’s unstoppable run of box-office hits has lit a fire under the VFX industry. As long as eight out of 10 top-grossing movies are driven by visual effects, studios will need solutions like VFX PaaS to keep the VFX production pipeline flowing.