Is there a server in the house? VFX in the cloud at Jellyfish Pictures

Jellyfish Studios
Neal Romanek
Post Production
August 10th 2017 at 2:34PM : By Neal Romanek

London’s Jellyfish Pictures is pioneering an entirely cloud-based visual effects and animation pipeline

As urban real estate values balloon, many companies are rethinking whether that prestigious Soho address is worth holding onto. And with workflows becoming increasingly decentralised, with files flying across continents and oceans, the argument for maintaining a central brick and mortar headquarters is weakening. So companies like VFX house Jellyfish Pictures are coming up with solutions for new ways of working that better suit clients and artists - and accountants.

The company is over 200 people and comfortably collaborating across multiple locations. The company has provided animation and effectrs for films, TV and commercials. Their most recent work has been for American-produced series destined for the big OTT players like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

A year ago, Jellyfish opened a new Vauxhall location. The new studio is operating at full tilt everyday with animators, editors and compositors working on several projects at once. It looks like a normal VFX house.

This sort of technology opens up being able to work from absolutely anywhere

Except one important aspect of the new Jellyfish location is truly revolutionary – if at first glance completely invisible: None of the artists in the building are accessing local files. All the work, whether animation or editing or compositing is being in the cloud. In fact, each artist’s workstation is little more then a monitor and a few peripherals.

“We’re proving here that the technology is mature and is ready for the mainstream,” says Jellyfish CTO, Jeremy Smith, who was part of the company’s original founding team. “To my knowledge we’re the first company to be doing this kind of remote access from entirely different premises – certainly when it comes to doing editing suites live or full Wacom support.”

Jellyfish uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, plus a secret sauce, to make all this networked facility as seamless and latency-free as possible and they’re turning their expertise into a service, called RenderWise.

RenderWise

Through RenderWise, Jellyfish will offer both consultancy services and setup. The new hybrid cloud service aims to save studios money by preventing them from over provisioning and enabling them to ramp up and down as production requires.

Studios migrating to the new cloud solution can adopt an Opex pricing structure rather than Capex, and buy compute power as and when they need it, with all system administration costs being outsourced to Microsoft Azure.

Doing such graphics intensive work in the cloud, without the help of additional hardware, has been widely viewed as impractical, but Jellyfish has cracked the problem.

“There were issues initially. We spent the last two years ironing all those bugs out. We are using software defined networking and software defined storage. It has opened up so many other doors that would not have been opened otherwise. There has been a very long list of technical stuff that we’ve had to do.”

Necessity forced the invention of a better way of cloud collaboration, says Smith: “We were at a crossroads. We were running out of physical space in Soho, and we didn’t want to take on additional office space there. We had all the servers and resources that we needed already and we didn’t want to have to buy that again in a new location. So were basically forced to find a solution where we could continue to utilise all that existing gear, even though it was geographically based somewhere else.”

Out of the city, into the cloud

If Jellyfish could have afforded to keep expanding into Soho, would they have?

Smith says, no: “The other thing is a lot of the artists live in this part of the city, so it’s more convenient for them. And it means we’re not really tied to London. This sort of technology opens up being able to work from absolutely anywhere. Now there’s less of a driver for artists to have to come all the way to London to work when instead we can take the work to them.

“We can pool all the hardware resources together in one location and with people being able to work in different geographical locations, we’re shrinking our CAPEX considerably. If we had to open a new office, say in Scotland, we’d have to buy servers, switches, backup solutions and render blades, while those same resources could be sitting back here in London, maybe not even being used at all.

“We have investments in some hardware and we don’t want to throw that away just because we want to use the cloud. But cloud is getting cheaper every day, and I think, as our existing hardware depreciates, we just may not replace it."