Tangent Animation scales with Virtual Workstations on AWS

Scaling to the Cloud with AWS
Image Courtesy of Tangent Animation

For the creative team of artists and innovators at Tangent Animation, blazing trails has become a defining trait, whether reimagining workflows with open source software, developing original content or architecting new storytelling solutions. The studio has relied upon cloud-based resources for rendering since starting work on its most recent animated feature “Next Gen,” which released on Netflix in 2018. While ramping up for its current projects including, “Maya and the Three,” Tangent seized the opportunity to modernize operations, opting to replace a fleet of ageing desktop setups with Virtual Workstations on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

When analyzing the schedule and quality requirements for final project deliverables and reviewing internal pipeline tools, it quickly became clear the project would require a significant hardware upgrade. Presented with the estimated costs and logistics involved in replacing nearly 300 on-premises workstations across facilities in Toronto and Winnipeg, Tangent evaluated alternate solutions, ultimately landing on virtual workstations running on Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) G4 instances, powered by NVIDIA T4 GPUs and Quadro technology.

“Looking at our current capacity compared to the work requirements, it became quickly apparent that we needed to overhaul our internal infrastructure,” said Jeff Bell, Tangent Studio COO and Co-Founder. “Rather than invest in more physical hardware, we instead shifted to the cloud. All of our production data was already stored on AWS, which made for a seamless transition and going virtual has saved on hefty upfront expenditures while also opening up new opportunities by transitioning capital expenditures (CapEx) to operational expenditures (OpEx).”

The scalability and security of AWS were motivating factors for Tangent’s decision to move from on-premises hardware to cloud-based virtual workstations, though the shift to working from home in March 2020 accelerated the studio’s implementation of them. “We’d been testing virtual workstations on AWS for several months in Toronto and had an AWS Direct Connect installed to bolster our network experience,” explained Ken Zorniak, Tangent Studios CEO and Co-Founder. “When we transitioned to working from home, we upped our Direct Connect from 1GB to 10GB to accommodate our VPN routing and our artists have been able to continue with projects pretty much as normal.”

Tangent artists securely access powerful virtual workstations on AWS using whatever device they have locally through Teradici’s Cloud Access Software. Virtual workstations can be spun up on-demand to match specific project requirements, eliminating the need to purchase and maintain specialized hardware that may otherwise sit idle.  

Bell noted, “Purchasing hardware that’s optimized for what may only amount to ten percent of an artist’s workload doesn’t make sense. With AWS, we can access the hardware for the particular day or week it’s needed, then scale back down.”

Zorniak added, “I think our artists have adjusted to the new setup quite well but will notice even greater benefits using virtual workstations when we’re back in the office as they’ll also have Direct Connect connectivity.”

With virtual workstations, Tangent also has flexibility to scale its talent pool based on project demand and deliverables. Since the studio’s central infrastructure, including storage, is hosted on AWS, it can hire and securely on-board remote artists from any location, so long as they have a computer and internet access. “At the end of the day, no files get transferred, only pixels, and nothing is local. We also know our data is secure with AWS, which is extremely valuable to us and our clients,” said Bell.

For digital content creation, Tangent relies on Blender and deploys virtual workstations running on Amazon EC2 G3 and G4 instances. With the latest NVIDIA GPU Quadro technology backed by the broad availability of AWS infrastructure, G4 instances are tailored to meet the high performance, low latency demands of Tangent’s VFX and animation workloads.

“Investing in on-premises hardware can often be like throwing money out of the window,” said Bell in closing. “Virtualizing your workstations is a smart investment and helps optimize your budget, because you can easily make adjustments and scale based on project needs. Margins in digital content creation are so tight, but using virtual workstations gives us a buffer, allowing us to work more efficiently and ultimately create higher quality content. We receive exceptional support from AWS and never have to worry about access to the compute we need, no matter how significantly we scale.”

Discover Virtual Workstations on AWS for yourself – here.