Cinesite renders 'The Addams Family 2' with AWS
December 1, 2021

Cinesite renders 'The Addams Family 2' with AWS

It’s back on the big scream! The Addams Family have returned, and this time they’re going on a road trip. In an effort to reclaim their bond with their children, Morticia and Gomez decide to cram Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester and the whole crew into their haunted camper and hit the road for one last miserable family vacation in an adventure across America.
Kevin Pavlovic and Laura Brousseau co-directed alongside Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon moving into production on The Addams Family 2 soon after release of the first production.

Cinesite provided CG animation and digital visual effects for the sequel which showcases a range of iconic North American locales, requiring far more asset work than the first film, as well as complex visual effects. Ahead of production, Cinesite Vancouver Head of IT Jeremy Brousseau investigated burst rendering solutions, ultimately choosing Amazon Web Services (AWS). Based on the studio’s needs for the project, Brousseau and his team tapped Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Spot Instances to economically scale beyond the studio’s physical capacity during production peaks.

“We have render resources on-site and in a co-location space, but knew we’d need more, especially toward the end of production. We had to be sure we’d have access to the compute resources we needed when the time came, and could continue using our preferred tools, so going with AWS was an easy decision, based on the scale we needed and our setup,” Brousseau explained. “We were already familiar with AWS, so it was easy to go from nothing to fully spun up in three days, even when setting up Qumulo in the cloud, and write simple scripts that render wranglers could use to spin instances up and down based on demand.”

During the height of production, Cinesite scaled to 170K virtual CPUs (vCPUs) on AWS over the course of a three-week period. Frames were rendered one per instance, accelerating return times, minimizing artist wait times, and enabling more frequent iteration. “Due to increased complexity and fidelity of the assets as well as the scale of the environments, the overall compute power needed for render on this film was much greater than the previous film, and deadlines are always tight, so the fact that the artists could rely on their frames rendered with AWS returning when expected was indispensable,” noted Brousseau. “Whenever our needs exceeded our on-premises capacity and a backlog developed, we could quickly and easily clear those frames with the cloud.”

Over the course of the film, the Addams family visits picturesque landmarks like Niagara Falls and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, which are realistic yet stylized. Creating the highly recognizable locations in line with the vision of film Cinesite co-directors Kevin Pavlovic and Laura Brousseau required extensive environmental work, including heavy simulations and complex lighting.

Like many features released in 2021, The Addams Family 2 was created almost fully remotely. Cinesite artists have been working from home since March 2020, connecting to machines located in-studio or at a co-location facility via VPN and live streaming to their home devices. While most of the film’s work was done by Cinesite Vancouver, its Montreal and London teams helped as needed, with Adobe Photoshop and Substance Painter; Foundry’s Flix, Nuke and MARI; Autodesk Maya and Arnold; SideFX’s Houdini; Pixologic’s ZBrush; Gaffer; and many other custom plug-ins and extensions supporting content creation. Render management was handled by Tractor, for both on-premises and on AWS cloud.

To minimize erroneous render submissions, artists sent their work to render wranglers, who would evaluate and appropriately direct the frames with additional guidance from Cinesite’s team of global experts to help diagnose any potential render issues before hitting the farm en masse. As a further safeguard, Cinesite’s scripts would automatically shut down cloud-based nodes as jobs finished rendering. Cost and resource tracking was done using AWS tools in the billing portal and a Prometheus database.

Brousseau concluded, “I spend a lot of my time keeping budgets in line and accounted for burst render on ‘The Addams Family 2’ production so I knew what to expect. The first few days using AWS, I kept a tight eye on billing, but as activity and pricing aligned as anticipated, I relaxed a bit, and when all was said and done, my initial estimate turned out to be spot on.”