The Creative Opportunity of Cloud
Simon Pickles, lead engineer at Pipeline in the Cloud at The Foundry
April 1, 2016

The Creative Opportunity of Cloud

Cloud computing is something increasingly central to all our lives—whether it’s storage for our holiday snaps or online accounting at the office. When it comes to business, for multinational corporates, SMEs and even freelance individuals, the benefits are tangible, from cost savings and flexibility, to increased agility and scalability.

One of the main attractions of migration is throwing away those cumbersome servers and outsourcing that requirement. By reducing the need to invest in physical hardware, there’s the potential to save a lot of money and make your operation leaner. But what about the benefits for the creative industries? Can the adoption of this technology improve productivity and creativity? Does it have advantages beyond those it offers the traditional private or public sector?

Here’s a fact to put it into perspective: Cloud adoption in the public and private sector is growing and, according to the Rightscale 2016 State of the Cloud report, hybrid cloud adoption is on the rise, companies are moving more and more workloads into the cloud, and security is no longer the main challenge. In fact, according to the report, private cloud adoption increased from 63 percent in 2015 to 77 percent in 2016 with hybrid adoption jumping from 58 percent to 71 percent in the same period.

So what does this mean for industries like design, gaming and VFX that haven’t quite yet taken the steps towards wider cloud adoption? Will the same benefits apply to the creative industries? The short answer is: yes. What’s more, creative industries possibly have more to gain given the types and scale of projects that are worked on.

Creative industries have to do more with less. Increasingly, artists, creatives and designers are tasked with bigger, more complex projects, more iterations and variants, and much tighter deadlines.

It is here, in this fast-paced environment, that cloud can perhaps be of most value. 

Where are the benefits?

In the broadcast, media and entertainment sectors, cloud computing has seen widespread adoption for content delivery over the last few years with the rise of platforms like Netflix and Spotify. And while its impact in media production is less widespread, it is making inroads. 

One of the most obvious examples is rendering. In a typical post-production facility, local, static infrastructure is used to render vast amounts of material. Demand, however, is rarely consistent or predictable and, as a result, technology is often under-utilized. In the same vein, when postproduction houses are extremely busy, they don’t have the resources to meet demand.

Here, cloud can step in and provide a new way to operate. By moving rendering to the cloud, or extending in-house resources to include cloud capacity, post houses are able to provision the computing power as and when it is needed. This enables smaller facilities to be more ambitious and bid on larger jobs, previously outside their reach – an undoubtedly democratizing situation.

This mix of resources is the basis of a hybrid IT environment, which according to Gartner, is the “result of combining internal and external services, usually from a combination of internal and public clouds, in support of various business outcomes.”

Beyond this move to use cloud to optimize resources, where else can it be used? And what other problems can it solve in the creative industries? 

The wider scope of cloud

One of the major benefits of cloud computing is that it makes an organization more agile and better positioned to react to changing market environments. This occurs in a number of ways—from having more money to invest in new ventures, to being able to get products and services to market sooner. In the creative sector—be it gaming, VFX or design—cloud can be used to great effect in areas such as better data management, rapid iteration, boosting collaboration and improving security.


This area was historically the major hindrance to wider uptake of cloud. As the saying goes, “Cloud is just someone else’s computer.” Now, for the first time, according to Rightscale, lack of skills has surpassed security concerns as the top cloud challenge. The creative industries can, therefore, benefit from the experience of other industries when it comes to cloud adoption and better understand the issues—both real and perceived—around migrating workflows. 

Of course following a number of high-profile breaches reported in the media, security will remain a question at the top of the agenda. However, given that human error has been found to account for, or contribute to, the majority of data breaches, there are ways to mitigate the risk, including user education, encryption and rights access. This—coupled with the facts that cloud software is better patched (so less vulnerable), that companies have clear visibility on their security practice and attack surface and that public cloud providers like AWS have dedicated teams of security engineers—means that just like with other industries, security need not be an obstacle. Taking all of this into account, moving to the cloud may even mean organizations become more secure.

Data management

As the broadcast, media and entertainment world moves into the realm of 4K, 8K and beyond, the amount of data involved is increasing exponentially. With vast datasets required to produce a television show or film, it becomes cumbersome to move that content around. Cloud can be used to centralize this data, enabling optimization, organization and distribution from a single location. It also means artists from anywhere in the world can access it, work on it and collaborate with one another in a virtualized studio environment.

The human element

Centralization of data helps bring artists together and promotes new ways to collaborate, such as running multi-user sessions, providing supervisory input or for training. It also encourages remote and mobile working and provides the space where scattered team members can come together on a project, work on their areas and see exactly what is going on overall. Changes, iterations, and client review are all made that much easier.

The approach also has a human resources component and could possibly open the door to finding freelancers, recruiting staff or even advertising services. During the recruitment process, this centralized environment can also provide the perfect space for aptitude tests to gauge skill and creativity. 

For companies with a large number of freelancers or discrete projects, cloud provides the ideal sandbox environment—freelancers or subcontractors are given access to only the data they require and are therefore kept out of the company network, making the process inherently safer. In the same way, if an organization wanted to keep different teams or artists separate while working on an overarching project, it could give them access to specific subsets of data in the cloud.

The cloud and creativity

While cloud will never really improve creativity, it can help artists to complete manual, time-consuming tasks that much quicker, freeing up time for the creative process. Building elements of automation into solutions can certainly help; just consider something like iteration time. Spending time waiting for rendering to complete or for client/supervisor feedback takes time and effort away from the actual creative process.

With the right solution, artists could use a highly augmented cloud session—an interactive session that is backed by the computing power of 10 or more compute machines. All compute data would be streamed to this interactive session. For example, in Nuke Studio from The Foundry, when an artist is editing or grading, they could have those 10 machines filling their timeline with frames, speeding up the iteration process and improving productivity. 

Cloud computing in all its forms—private, public and hybrid—is delivering benefits to business and adding agility and flexibility to operations. The technology has overcome several obstacles over the last few years, including concerns around security, and now as its adoption is becoming more widespread. For many, the question isn’t about whether to adopt, but how to capitalize on the potential benefits.

While creative industries, and media production have been slower to realize the benefits of cloud, there is definite potential to be explored. As cloud finds more proponents within these industries and continues to make its mark, the environment is adapting to make room for new ways of working and new avenues of exploration. Ultimately, the use of cloud-based solutions will empower artists, giving them the flexibility to work wherever and however they’d like to, helping them to spend more time doing what they do best—making great content.