To bring animated movies to life, production studios must assemble hundreds of animators and equip them with state-of-the-art tools—requiring months of set-up and huge capital investment. SummuS Render’s new Simple Animation service can slash the time and cost of the animation process, helping studios produce more and better movies, on budget and on schedule.
Business Challenge: Sketching out a plan
Since its inception ten years ago, SummuS Render has grown rapidly to become one of the world’s largest render farms, providing powerful computing clusters that are crucial in the final stage of bringing computer animations and visual effects to life.
When SummuS Render started out, its goal was to allow production companies to outsource the rendering process, instead of investing in their own rendering infrastructure. Its services quickly became popular with studios, and within a few years SummuS Render had acquired clients across the globe. As the company gained experience, it recognized that many of its clients faced challenges not just in the final rendering process, but across the entire animation lifecycle.
Sergio Gonzalez, CEO of SummuS Render, explains: “Whenever a studio wanted to start a new project, they typically had to purchase dozens or hundreds of animation workstations, plus all the state-of-the-art software. There was also no way for animators to work remotely, so everyone had to relocate to wherever the workstations were. Moreover, since there was usually no integration between the different animation and rendering tools, each studio had to build its own rendering pipeline, which was time-consuming. All in all, it could take months—and millions of dollars of investment—to get a new project underway.
“To help our clients overcome these challenges, we set out to offer the entire animation pipeline as a cloud-based service—from the storyboard and the first draft of the script right through to the modeling, lighting, shading and rendering.
“We also knew that if we could find the right formula for animation, we could apply the same model to serve companies in other industries where workstations and tooling are expensive—such as special effects, and even architectural design and advertising.”
Transformation: Breathing life into the idea
SummuS Render has built Simple Animation, a state-of-the-art cloud service that supports production studios across the entire animation process. Producers use a browser-based management tool to control and configure the entire studio, and track their current spend. Artists connect to the studio via a virtual desktop, accessing a high-performance workstation tailored to fit their precise needs. As well as the specialist animation software, the virtual workstation is equipped with the Simple Animation solution that helps artists to manage and coordinate the pipeline of jobs.
“Our animation workstations look and feel exactly the same for users connecting locally and via the cloud,” comments Gonzalez. “Access is secure and remote workers cannot download or upload content without permission—safeguarding the studio’s valuable intellectual property.”
Simple Animation is built in a private cloud environment on IBM Cloud Bare Metal Servers, using VMware solutions to provide a virtual desktop for each user. To transfer large volumes of creative content reliably and at high speed, SummuS Render relies on IBM Aspera software, and the creative content is stored on secure, resilient storage systems in IBM data centers around the world.
“We knew that we needed a vendor with data centers in our main markets and excellent connectivity, to reduce latency for users. That requirement alone shrunk our shortlist of potential suppliers to just a handful. One of the toughest requirements was to find a cloud service that could offer servers configured with the high-performance graphics processing units [GPUs] required for animation—as well as a virtualization solution that makes it possible for users to access those GPUs, even if they are working remotely.
Gonzalez comments: “IBM was one of the first cloud providers to offer GPUs in the cloud, and the VMware hypervisor gives us the power to make them available in a virtual desktop solution. The IBM Cloud solution makes it possible for us to scale our service to meet clients’ requirements over the course of their projects.”
For larger studios, Simple Animation now also offers rendering via the IBM Cloud—enabling studios to scale their resources to align with peaks and troughs in demand. For smaller projects, Simple Animation completes the rendering on its shared render farm in-house.
Results: Setting the wheels in motion
Studios stand to reap enormous benefits from Simple Animation, says Gonzalez. “We estimate that switching to Simple Animation will enable studios to reduce production costs by around 60 percent. The main saving comes from avoiding the purchase of an animation workstation for each user, as each machine costs thousands of dollars, and licenses for specialist animation software are expensive too. With Simple Animation, you can build sophisticated animations on even a low-spec laptop, because all the tools you need are running in the IBM Cloud.
“The benefit is particularly profound for mid-size studios. In the past, they had to purchase enough workstations to support hundreds of animators working in parallel during peak periods, and were left with dozens of machines sitting idle during quieter times. With our Simple Animation service, the up-front investment is minimal: studios can keep the workstations they already have, and supplement their capacity with our offering during busy periods.”
He continues, “Simple Animation makes it easy for producers to bring local and remote artists together on a project, and adjust the personnel, software and pipeline as their needs evolve. For example, if a new version of an animation software package comes out, producers can easily roll it out to users on a trial basis, and revert to the older version if things don’t work out. If new software requires additional computing power, studios can purchase additional capacity from Simple Animation, rather than having to upgrade or replace hundreds of expensive workstations.
“Unlocking such massive cost savings helps studios significantly reduce risk. For any given animated movie, around 10 percent of the budget is spent on rendering and another 15 percent on workstations and high-end storage, so around 25 percent of the cost stems from technology. By reducing IT investment, we hope to help studios bring more and better movies to our screens at a fraction of the cost.”
The solution also helps studios gain vital speed and agility. Explains Gonzalez: “Instead of taking weeks to set up the studio infrastructure and relocate hundreds of animators, our clients can provision a full virtual studio in the IBM Cloud in about an hour. Artists can log in and start working on the movie straight away.”
“With the launch of Simple Animation, we are already thinking big,” says Gonzalez.”We plan to acquire 10,000 users within four or five years, and the service should be generating EUR 10 million in revenues by the end of 2021. With IBM behind us, we really feel that the sky is the limit.”