ESDIP Animation Studio was working on a big project — a short film heavy on graphic-intensive 3D animation — but it needed more computing power and graphic artists to complete it.
The studio tapped SimpleCloud for its virtual desktop solution that facilitates remote collaboration on projects requiring powerful parallel processing to bring together artists from around the world.
~ 200 artists around the worldcollaborated in real time to create a 3D animated film
< 1 hour to create a cloud-based work environmentfor high-performance computing and rendering
60 percent potential cost savingscompared to investment in tools, workstations and rendering clusters
Business challenge story
Animation demands computing power
One of the most difficult artistic processes imaginable is the creation of an animated movie. It demands very high-end graphics cards, or graphics processing units (GPUs), along with highly complex, parallel processes whereby several workflows must proceed simultaneously and seamlessly. Graphic artists, working on specialized workstations, must feel the precision and pressure of their styluses immediately. There can be no latency, or they won’t be able to fully express themselves artistically. The final rendering process then requires multiple high-end servers processing in parallel to create the smooth animation, polished effects and natural-looking lighting we see in cinematic, 3D animated films.
All of this computing power has been largely out of reach of all but the largest animation studios. Until now.
ESDIP Animation Studio, the studio arm of the ESDIP School of Art in Madrid, Spain, was creating a short, 3D animated film, “Blue and Malone: Impossible Cases.” The film was to include shots that start as live-action pictures and end in 3D environments, and full interaction between the live actors and animated characters — including a gigantic blue cat weighing several tons — plus robots and other imaginary creatures. ESDIP spent about two years in pre-production, working in parallel with a powerful 3D preview of the shooting, while developing the style of the film’s characters, animation, and the design and modeling of the two fully 3D scenarios included in the film.
To complete the film, the studio needed to coordinate the participation of nearly 200 artists from around the world, which would have meant a major investment in specialized hardware and software. Even if it could afford that outlay, it still needed to figure out how to coordinate people from all parts of the globe working together, simultaneously.
“The only way ESDIP could bring together artists from around the world would be to have a cloud-based solution that would allow them to connect simultaneously through their nearest data center to use their artistic tools without lag time,” says Fernando Viñuales, Chief Operating Officer and Sales Director of SimpleCloud.
Virtual servers enable cloud-based collaboration
ESDIP turned to SimpleCloud to help it create the virtual studio environment it needed to finish production on the “Impossible Cases” animated film. SimpleCloud deploys its virtual desktop solution on IBM Cloud. It employs VMWare Workstation software to create virtual desktops, and IBM Aspera® software to enable high-speed sharing of even the largest files. By using the solution, ESDIP was able to complete its film with a multitude of artists working in parallel from different parts of the world, without the latency that distributed working would usually entail.
The SimpleCloud solution uses the most powerful IBM bare metal servers. “We use them together with virtualized GPU, which very few companies can do,” says Olivier Wolff, Chief Executive Officer at SimpleCloud. “And if we didn’t have virtualized GPU, ESDIP could do absolutely nothing that they needed to do because animation relies on such high, demanding graphic processors.”
According to ESDIP, the SimpleCloud cloud-based solution was a critical foundation of the “Impossible Cases” production project. It allowed the studio to complete its work by effectively converting the small animation studio into a partially virtual studio, one that was much more robust. It allowed a multitude of artists to work in a coordinated way without being limited by the technical and artistic possibilities within the small studio’s usual reach.
SimpleCloud works exclusively with IBM to deploy its virtual desktop solutions on bare metal servers at the data centers closest to the end users. “Within IBM Cloud data centers we create storage on one side and we create virtual machines on the other, and we join the two together in order to manage very complex projects,” says Wolff. “We want to provide a zero-latency creation process, so we need servers close to the end-users and the storage and virtual servers next to each other.”
The company can deploy a pre-provisioned studio workstation environment in under one hour, compared to the two weeks that its closest competition requires. It can then add or remove users as its customers need in less than a minute. It can also ramp up processing on demand. “We actually drag and drop to add computing power, whether it’s CPU power or GPU rendering power,” says Wolff. “We are leveraging the power of IBM Cloud and bare metal servers to deliver the most complex computing processes, instantly.”
Small studio delivers a big production
Working with SimpleCloud allowed ESDIP to bring together almost 200 graphic artists from around the world to collaborate on the highly technical “Blue and Malone: Impossible Cases” film that combines live action and 3D animation. Because of the distributed work environment, ESDIP had access to a talent pool and computing power that would normally be out of reach of the small studio. The solution, hosted on IBM Cloud using bare metal servers, gave ESDIP the highest levels of graphics processing without needing to invest in a permanent infrastructure environment.
Because the solution becomes part of a company’s operating expenses (OPEX), there is a potential cost savings of up to 60% compared to a capital expenditure (CAPEX) on permanent infrastructure, especially for longer-term projects requiring the SimpleCloud solutions. This helped ESDIP reduce project costs and allowed it to precisely manage the expense associated with bringing artists into the project. And despite the distance between artists and the studio, ESDIP felt that it could better supervise the artists and manage the project more efficiently.
According to the studio, using the SimpleCloud solution facilitated the project’s completion and success by allowing artists to work remotely from anywhere in the world in a collaborative environment, using high-performance virtual workstations and exceptional graphics processing capacity. SimpleCloud was influential in helping ESDIP achieve a higher level of quality than expected. It decisively and positively influenced almost all aspects of production, especially the budget.
“SimpleCloud was essential to carrying out a project of this magnitude, which is more like a production from a great studio, and to do it in a distributed way,” says Abraham Lopez, Director and Screenwriter at ESDIP. “In other words, ‘Impossible Cases’ would not exist without SimpleCloud.”
SimpleCloud ably provided the ideal solution to help ESDIP complete its animated film using widely distributed talent. According to Wolff: “SimpleCloud was built precisely for this kind of work because we come from the world of animation ourselves and have done a lot of different tasks, including rendering and editing for animation studios or animation movies. For this project, we were looking for a way to let artists collaborate seamlessly in a flexible and secure way from anywhere around the globe.”
The SimpleCloud platform can be used in any industry or any project that combines high-performance computing with remote working. The solution offers speed, flexibility and collaboration, and is designed for security because SimpleCloud hosts it on IBM Cloud. The company’s customers also benefit from the fact that there are none of the hidden data transfer costs that other cloud-hosting companies impose.
Because SimpleCloud can build the pre-provisioned virtual desktop environment in less than an hour, all ESDIP needed to do was add artists. And those artists could work for as long or as little time as needed and use any device. ESDIP mainly used high-end Microsoft Windows operating system (OS) workstations, but the system allows any device running any OS, including Apple iPhones and tablets, to connect to the solution.
“SimpleCloud’s customers can work from any device, anywhere, in a very seamless way,” says Wolff. “We offer real flexibility with this ability to ramp up and down even for one hour as many or as few people as needed, from anywhere in the world.”
SimpleCloud can also scale processing speed and type, from CPU to GPU, as needed. ESDIP was able to provide artists with the right machine profiles at precisely the times they needed them. Users can switch machines in less than a minute, logging off one and on to another that corresponds to their exact need. “We create the virtual machines directly in the IBM Cloud data center, so they can be deployed instantly,” notes Wolff. “Instantly is very important, because that’s our competitive edge over the competition.”
And if a customer suddenly needs to add remote workers, SimpleCloud can accommodate that, too. “Because of the way we have set this up on IBM Cloud, we can set up as many machines as IBM can absorb, meaning we can ramp up infrastructure for 1,000 people within a day,” says Wolff.
The IBM Cloud environment helps SimpleCloud customers secure their intellectual property even while sharing access to the virtual machines. The studio or business owner is the only one able to upload or download files or tools. All other users create directly in the cloud and cannot download the graphics tools or other elements, such as building plans, that they may be using remotely.
ESDIP Animation Studio
ESDIP produces animated films for the ESDIP School of Art. The studio, located in Madrid, Spain, has more than 20 years’ experience creating award-winning animated short films for numerous festivals. In addition, it has a strong professional division and a growing presence in international markets. Its short films reflect ESDIP artists’ great doses of talent and enthusiasm, and endless hours spent in production. The studio, founded in 1989, employs approximately 50 people.
IBM Business Partner SimpleCloud is a global, cloud-based platform for collaborative digital content management and creation. SimpleCloud offers dedicated applications for customers in industries that demand high GPU processing. The company provides fully-integrated virtual desktop solutions in the cloud, allowing users to connect from anywhere, through any device. Its solutions are fully scalable; customers pay only for what they need, when they need it. Founded in 2008, SimpleCloud has its headquarters in Madrid, Spain and employs approximately 50 people in Madrid and Los Angeles.
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