A beloved staple of children’s entertainment and cartoon connoisseurs, animation provides a unique gateway to the imagination, where almost anything is possible. As demand for content has exploded with the rise of streaming, the format has become increasingly popular for delivering compelling stories, quickly and without the constraints of traditional production. Artists at high-end animation studio Atomic Cartoons are more than happy to bring these tales to life, creating a slew of recognizable episodic series for preschoolers to adults in a range of genres. With more than a thousand artists across locations in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Los Angeles, Atomic Cartoons began to run into compute resource limitations, and turned to solutions integrator DeadDrop Labs to help the studio scale its pipeline on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Since its inception in 1999, Atomic Cartoons primarily rendered using its own co-located infrastructure, and rented nodes from local vendors during production peaks. As the studio has grown and render needs have increased, the limitations to this approach prompted Atomic Cartoons Director of IT Hanoz Elavia to look to the cloud. He shared, “If my local vendor doesn’t have nodes when I need them, I’m stuck, and not being able to scale puts our productions at risk. AWS provides us the flexibility to spin up in the cloud, use instances, and turn them back down. Regardless of what we need, chances are that AWS will have the instances available because of its high capacity.”
After evaluating cloud providers, Elavia opted to move forward with AWS. Looking to get the studio’s cloud implementation up and running as soon as possible, he enlisted solutions integrator DeadDrop Labs to create a custom interface between AWS and Pixar Tractor, which the studio uses for render farm management. The setup allows the studio to leverage Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) without a major overhaul.
“We use Tractor at all our sites and didn’t want to redo our entire pipeline to access the cloud,” Elavia explained. “Bert and the team at DeadDrop Labs were very helpful in setting us up, and the implementation was seamless. We started with our largest studio, Vancouver, and they were so accommodating. Now we’re working on expanding company wide.”
Elavia chose Vancouver as the testbed due to its higher render needs and because its artists create both 2D and 3D animation, while Ottawa and Los Angeles handle primarily 2D work. The studio’s 2D animation is typically done on Windows-based workstations using ToonBoom Harmony, while 3D artists use Autodesk Maya, Foundry’s Katana and Nuke, and SideFX’s Houdini on Linux-based workstations. With the integration in place, AWS has quickly become a highly valued resource for Atomic Cartoons especially for 2D work, which the studio plans to render almost entirely on AWS.
“It may seem counter intuitive to start big, but scale is important to us, so we wanted to test the limits. At this point, our only limitation is connectivity and we’re working on implementing an AWS Direct Connect to scale even more,” said Elavia. “On the other hand, being able to easily scale down is important to us as well. We use what we need on AWS, when we need it, then spin it all down so we’re only paying for resources used.”
Along with extending the AWS integration, Atomic Cartoons continues to collaborate with the DeadDrop Labs team on optimization, evaluating strategies such as leveraging Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to package shots and accelerate render return times. By leaning on DeadDrop Labs, Atomic Cartoons can redirect pipeline resources to focus on its next phase of growth, which includes developing its own intellectual property (IP).
Elavia concluded, “Using AWS frees us to rethink our approach to resources. We don’t need to rent compute from a local vendor, so we can hire in locations beyond our physical studios. This applies for workstations as well. By reducing our hardware footprint, we can tap into more human resources. As an artist-driven studio, we want to be as accommodating as possible, and with AWS, we have more flexibility to do so.”
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Images courtesy of Atomic Cartoons