Scripps Networks Interactive goes Full Cloud with Thinkbox Deadline and AWS
Image Courtesy of Scripps Networks

Scripps Networks Interactiveis the leading developer of lifestyle content across TV, digital, and emerging platforms. With brands including HGTV, DIY Network, Food Network, Cooking Channel and Travel Channel under the Scripps umbrella, it collectively engages more than 190 million consumers each month. Based in Knoxville, TN, the company’s Design and Motion Services department keeps busy year round, creating broadcast and digital graphics packages for all Scripps brands, including show opens, ad bumps, animated renderings and in-show graphics that enhance the narrative or bridge pieces of content.

As the team’s workload began to increase with the ever-rising demands of seasonal peaks, the throughput of Scripps’ existing on-premises rendering systems couldn’t keep pace. Furthermore, the machines were overdue for an expensive upgrade, prompting Scripps’ Director of Motion Design Peter Franks to explore cloud-based rendering options to help manage overflow. “In order to use high-end renderers, achieve more realistic renders and increase productivity to meet the demand, we needed more horsepower,” said Franks.

He looked to Scripps’ Manager of Solutions Engineering Scott Haley and Cloud Solutions Engineer Jason Humphreys to set up a Proof of Concept (PoC) cloud rendering pipeline. Leveraging Thinkbox Deadline, a staple in the group’s internal on-premises render farm for years, Haley and Humphreys architected the PoC with Thinkbox and Amazon Web Services. With an eye on cost and efficiency, Humphreys designed the pipeline to draw from Amazon EC2 Spot instances, and set up several resource groups labeled by turnaround time so that artists can select a pool depending on when results are needed. The spin up process is completely automated and instances can be stood up in any region with the click of a button; once a job has finished, Deadline automatically cancels the Spot Fleet request. Maxon’s Cinema 4D is the main 3D animation tool used by Franks and his team, and while they primarily render through the application directly, they also tap third-party renderers like Redshift or Autodesk’s Arnold which artists are able to do through a simple Deadline UI.  

“We define each render group similar to the ‘FedEx’ delivery model, with labels like overnight priority, next day, three-day or low priority, which makes it easy for artists to choose the group that best suits their needs, and render efficiently,” Franks continued.

Upon deploying a cloud-based workflow, Franks and team instantly saw gains in turnaround time, scalability and cost savings. With the cloud-based PoC, creative jobs that traditionally took two days to complete on the local farm could be completed in two hours. The benefits and cost savings propelled Scripps to go all-in on the cloud for 3D rendering and processing, in lieu of its existing on-prem farm. “As of August, we’ve fully converted to cloud with AWS and we’re not looking back. With the scalability of the cloud, there is no limit to what we can do both in terms of volume and creative capacity; it’s almost infinite. We’ll be able to continue to raise the bar creatively while meeting tighter deadlines without incurring significant costs,” concluded Franks.