Reflections on SIGGRAPH 2019

  • Event

Nearly 19,000 artists, technologists, researchers and students converged this summer at the Los Angeles Convention Center for SIGGRAPH 2019, marking the largest turnout for the computer graphics and animation conference since 2013. Along with showcasing attention-grabbing content and technology exhibits, the conference brought professionals from around the world together for a series of thought-provoking presentations and talks about the state of the industry and its future. At the top of the agenda was cloud computing and particularly, the growing use of cloud-based resources across the content creation pipeline. AWS Thinkbox was front and center for many of these conversations, from highly trafficked demos showcasing Studio in the Cloud solutions for rendering, storage and virtual workstations on AWS in the cloud. With live demonstrations of content production in the cloud, AWS Thinkbox showcased collaborative workflows for 3D, compositing, and editing all on cloud-based GPU instances; the only hardware used in the booth for the live demos were monitors, a NUC mini computer, and input devices, such as Wacom tablets. Additionally, AWS Thinkbox held a full day of cloud technology talks held on-site in a convention center meeting room.

The day of AWS Tech Talks was kicked off by AWS Thinkbox Principal Product Manager Will McDonald who welcomed attendees and shared insights as to how customers are tapping into the cloud in surprising ways. He touched on how creative studios are using Studio in the Cloud with AWS to iterate faster, broaden talent pools, and ultimately deliver exceptional work for clients; he then introduced Mac Moore, CEO of Conductor Technologies, a startup that recently announced support for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Moore shared McDonald’s enthusiasm for cloud-based compute, emphasizing how cloud access helps studios scale efficiently. McDonald concluded his keynote with a nod to the importance of open source collaboration, yet another hot topic this year, noting that AWS joined the Academy Software Foundation (ASWF). The initiative is founded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and The Linux Foundation to provide a neutral forum for open source software developers in media and entertainment.

To underscore the power and production-proven benefits of the cloud, AWS Thinkbox enlisted a stellar lineup of customer presenters, including Milk Visual Effects CG and Lookdev Supervisor Adrian Williams and Head of Pipeline and Systems Benoit Leveau; Rocket Science VFX Operations Director Graham Peddie; and Nice Shoes Senior Systems Engineer Phil Wortas. Williams and Leveau shared how Milk leveraged EC2 Spot Instances to create 650 VFX shots for miniseries “Good Omens,” completing 212,000 compute hours with AWS and hitting a peak of 83,000 simultaneous cores [note: link to Good Omens story]. Peddie teased season four of sci-fi series “The Expanse,” revealing how the studio tapped AWS to get the GPU horsepower needed to deliver complex assets and shots. Wortas detailed how his studio implemented cloud-based rendering to deliver eight minutes of CG content with AWS over one weekend. In addition to using AWS cloud-based resources, Milk VFX, Rocket Science VFX and Nice Shoes also tap Deadline, render management software developed by AWS Thinkbox, to seamlessly manage cloud-based and on-premises in one unified interface.

AWS Thinkbox also hosted two panel discussions to capture a diverse range of perspectives on the impact of the cloud on production. AWS Technical Evangelist Rex Grignon first led a conversation on reimagining production without physical constraints such as local compute or talent location. Audiences were treated to thoughts from Tangent Animation COO, Vice President and Producer Jeff Bell; Sony Pictures Imageworks Executive Vice President Michelle Grady; Independent Producer Karen Dufilho; and Autodesk Shotgun Vice President and General Manager Don Parker. The general consensus seemed to be that regardless of the technology used, communication is key, and the cloud is a great connector in this respect. It was also made clear that the connectivity of the cloud provides quality of life benefits, freeing artists and producers from the constraints of long render times, accelerating iteration by connecting teams and allowing staff to make it home in time for a family dinner. In discussing what’s to come, all agreed that the successful implementation of cloud-based workflows is a huge disruptor with a lot of promise.

The second panel, led by moderator Chris del Conte, Senior Business Development Manager at AWS Thinkbox, explored the cloud’s impact on content creation from the producer’s perspective in the age of the so-called “Game of Thrones” effect, where the size and scope of VFX in episodic television is growing.  Pixomondo VFX Producer Frederick Lissau; Tangent Animation President and CEO Ken Zorniak; and Rocket Science VFX Operations Director Graham Peddie joined the panel, which addressed how studios can harness the cloud to stand out in today’s hypercompetitive content market. The panelists shared background on their studios’ path to the cloud and how cloud access has altered resource management. Cloud resources allow these studios to take on more, handle higher volume projects, and arguably turn render costs into a negotiable budget item that doesn’t have to eat up capital expenditure. Other topics included how the cloud allows studios to adjust virtual machine specs (i.e. RAM or core), and customize hardware profiles for each job requirement versus guessing the required infrastructure for purchasing physical nodes. In closing, they noted that the sky is the limit in terms of what studios can accomplish with the cloud, and a warehouse full of switchers and storage isn’t needed to be competitive off the bat.  

All in all, SIGGRAPH 2019 drove a number of riveting conversations that will help the industry move forward in its migration to the cloud. A special thanks to all the AWS partners and customers who delivered compelling presentations and provided unique perspectives on industry shifts. Cheers to SIGGRAPH 2020 in DC!