FuseFX Supercharges its Renders with AWS and Deadline

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With facilities straddling New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver; a talented staff approaching 300 employees; and multiple awards to its name, FuseFX ignites explosive productions across film, television, commercials, games and more. Core to the creation of its work is a proprietary and highly efficient pipeline with Thinkbox’s Deadline at the heart, 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.

FuseFX Partner and CTO Jason Fotter joined the company in 2008 to oversee the maintenance, planning and evolution of the studio pipeline, ensuring its growth alongside the studio’s expansion. 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.”

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 Deadline’s 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. As primary VFX vendor for the series, FuseFX was tasked with producing hundreds of complex visual effects in a matter of weeks. With Deadline and access to the cloud at their disposal, the team was able to meet the demands.

FuseFX rendered “The Tick”using Autodesk 3ds Max and Chaos Group’s 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 as 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.” By using a custom AMI within AWS Cloud, the team can 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. We spend a lot of time making sure this does not happen at FuseFX.”

When bringing renders into the cloud, FuseFX only pays for 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 valuable; not just financially but from a production standpoint, and getting shots done when they need to be.”

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 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. “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. Deadline and AWS give us a nice edge, as well as a safety net when dealing with the crazy schedules that we have working in television.”

Now that access to AWS Cloud has been successfully piped in, FuseFX looks forward to harnessing the power of a limitless compute resource for future projects. FuseFX has big plans for Deadline, and the cloud. Now that the studio has successfully utilized AWS via Deadline for this project, Fuse is looking 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.”