BREAKING THE MOLD
How Luma Pictures finds new and Innovative ways to implement AWS Deadline
Luma Pictures is a world-class studio with an indie ethos.
Although it works on the biggest and most prominent films released today – Captain America: Civil War being as much a film as it is a part of the cultural zeitgeist – the studio nevertheless keeps itself grounded in the worlds of art, technology and culture.
Just take the various ventures that operate alongside the Luma Pictures arm. Luma Toons produces animated content, such as the The New Adventures of Figaro Pho; Luma Launch looks to incubate and accelerate notable start-ups in the tech and media worlds; and Luma’s Content division, combining the strengths of Luma’s diverse staff to create totally original content – whether that’s episodic, new media, mixed reality, sound design, or even music production.
To put it simply, Luma has a knack for thinking outside the box, deftly balancing business, technology and artistry with an independent spirit.
"With Thinkbox’s solutions Luma can easily scale its shifting workload across two facilities and farms"
Tackling mainstream media work alongside experimental and innovative endeavors means Luma has a lot of work to juggle, however; and more specifically, a lot of work to render. From commercials for Nike, to VR experiences, to high-end effects for the latest MCU adventure, the LA- and Melbourne-based studio needs a system that keeps its projects on track. That’s where Thinkbox Software’s Deadline comes in.
With Thinkbox’s solutions overseeing Luma’s render management both on-site and remote, Luma can easily scale its shifting workload across two facilities and farms. It’s got the power of The Hulk, the resilience of Deadpool, and the free reign of Star-Lord – and all via a unique Linux-based set-up.
BIG WORKLOADS, CREATIVE THINKING
Whether a small internal project or a feature film for Marvel, Luma considers each undertaking as important as the last. No matter the amount of eyeballs on it, the team ensures a consistent level of quality – and that means giving every active project a smooth ride through the pipeline.
"We often work on multiple projects side-by-side,” begins Nathan Rusch, Senior Pipeline TD. “There was a point not too long ago where we were running the 39-episode, full-CG The New Adventures of Figaro Pho alongside massive set extension, simulation, and character work for Ant-Man and hero creature and simulation work on The Last Witch Hunter.
“With all of these projects occurring side by side, a reliable and responsive job queue is vital to our pipeline"
"We also recently completed work on Captain America, Deadpool, and Allegiant,” he continues. “With all of these projects occurring side by side, a reliable and responsive job queue is vital to our pipeline."
Thankfully, with a bit of the creative thinking that comes naturally to the studio, Luma has utilized Deadline to meet its needs and much more.
TWO STUDIOS, ONE PIPELINE
Luma's use of Deadline is unique in that the studio doesn't use any out-of-the-box event plugins or application integration. Instead, Luma taps into Deadline for its scheduling engine and management functionality.
"Our job execution framework is portable across multiple queues, so from Deadline's perspective there’s just a single custom job plugin that knows how to bootstrap our pipeline and execute job descriptions," explains Nathan. "This includes everything from our day-to-day Arnold and NUKE rendering to Houdini simulations and Maya export operations; file conversion and synchronization between studios; and any other arbitrary work we decide to defer to the farm."
That second point is important, given that Luma operates across both the US and Australia, dealing with the vast time difference that exists between the two studios. While one office is awake, the other can be totally shut down. As such, Luma needs to monitor the remote studio’s jobs when people aren’t in the office, ensuring they can tackle issues as they arise.
"The baseline latency between the two locations is so high that directly mounting the remote repository directory is not realistic, so each repository must be its own independent silo," explains Nathan.
"To facilitate load balancing between the studios, we've written tools which allow a user to right-click on a job in the monitor and transfer it and its file dependencies from one studio to the other. By making use of such scripted dependencies, we can also allow a job graph to be composed of jobs spread across our studios."
What’s more, by making creative use of the some of the job statistics Deadline tracks, Luma has built an adaptive render calculator that allows it to intelligently shuffle renders between farms during each facility's nights and weekends, meaning the studio is always running at the absolute optimum efficiency.
Luma first tested Deadline during the 6.0 beta, and had fully embraced the solution by the time 6.1 rolled around. The studio had instantly found that Deadline offered greater scalability and more intuitive tools than its previous solution, not to mention the robust extensibility via custom development.
"The scalability increase over our previous queue manager cannot be overstated," enthuses Nathan – after all, Luma had been growing steadily for the last few years, tackling bigger and more complex projects: a bump in power was absolutely necessary.
“What we can do now in terms of automation and distributed processing would have been very difficult to accomplish with our previous solution. Deadline was a major leap in terms of that scalability and usability."
"The scalability increase over our previous queue manager cannot be overstated"
Another big bonus for the Luma studio was the ways in which Deadline impacted on its use of open-source database MongoDB.
“As we had production-ready Mongo servers up and running, we quickly came up with a whole host of new ways to take advantage of its flexibility,” explains Nathan. “We could very quickly build out complex, dynamic systems that complement the more structured nature of the SQL data, put them into production, and iterate upon them very quickly.”
LOVE FOR LINUX
Luma opts for Linux as its operating system of choice, and runs its entire pipeline via the open OS. “Frankly, it has the most strengths and fewest weaknesses for a mid-sized studio with an emphasis on development and automation,” explains Nathan.
It’s Linux’s stability and performance, large-scale system administration, and open source tools – which Luma both develops and utilizes – that makes it a real go-to platform. The studio has found no problem in running Deadline via the system, experiencing the same intuitive and streamlined controls that it would receive on any other OS.
"Deadline on Linux has been a huge hit," says Nathan. "Since the switch to a database-centric repository design and platform-native GUI libraries in 6.0, Deadline started to feel and run like a native application. It’s been great!”
THE NEXT STEP
Luma continues to experiment with Deadline’s solutions, engineering new and innovative ways to optimize its pipeline. After all, Luma doesn’t rest on its laurels when it comes to artistic creativity, so why do so when it comes to the studio’s back-end pipeline?
Along with its support and development of hybrid solutions, Luma has also been doing some preliminary experimentations with cloud rendering. “It’s really helpful that Deadline has been making inroads into that arena in terms of direct integration with cloud service providers!” says Nathan.
“I'm also excited about the sandboxed Python processes in Deadline 8, as I think they may allow us to remove some of the insulation between Deadline and our render stack,” he continues. “They're testing out the HTTP proxy for our remote monitoring needs – it would allow us to get rid of some stub repository directories, and may also provide a bump in performance. The latency between Los Angeles and Melbourne is pretty unforgiving; anything we can do to cut down on traffic between the two will be hugely beneficial!”
As Luma continues to explore new projects, ideas, and left-field concepts, it plans to tap further into Deadline's tools, streamlining is processes and helping to make cost-effective decisions.
Frankly, Deadline continues to give Luma all the prescience, power and confidence as the heroic figures the studio brings to life on screen – and then some.