Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2018

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32 cgw | e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 1 8 F useFX is an award-winning visual effects studio specializing in visual effects for episodic television, film, commercials, games, and special venues. FuseFX employs around 300 people and has three studio locations: the flagship Los Angeles office, New York City, and Vancouver, BC. Today, FuseFX's three locations have more than 60 television shows in production simultaneously, in addition to various commercial and feature film projects. The company has provid- ed visual effects for all the major studios on such productions as American Horror Story, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Tick. Jason Fotter, co-founder and CTO at FuseFX, is very aware of the challenges that come with building and running a renderfarm. He states, "For me, it's been a 'learn as you go' process. I've been surprised many times throughout the growth of the company. The amount of power and heat that a renderfarm generates and the infrastructure needed to carry is massive." He continues: "I've found over the years that no matter what size farm you have, you can easily overrun it at any given moment. The more you have, the more you will use. The problem arises when you are up against a delivery and time is not on your side. We need to be able to act quickly at these moments, and that's hard to do with physical infrastructure. Power, cooling, and physical space are all finite resources that put limits on what you can achieve." An ever-present constraint is that episodic television shows have tight deadlines. "We have two to three weeks to get our work done [with episodic television]. Feature films have six months to a year or more. Commercials define their own schedules," Fotter says. "TV is a churning process. You get your shots in, you get two or three weeks to do them, and Boom! they're out. Next episode, same thing. Next episode, same thing. It's really fast-paced." Aggressive schedules mean success can bring its own set of problems. Even renting equipment may not be a feasible solution. When considering how long it takes to order, deliver, and rack and stack the nodes; the challenge of finding available rental hardware; finding enough data-center space, power, networking, and cooling, it may seem like there's no answer – unless you start looking at the cloud. "Before the cloud, I don't know if there was a solution. Maybe real- ly expensive co-location, or some other crazy scenario, but the cloud started to become a reasonable way for us to get some of our more pressing render jobs done," says Fotter. The First Steps For the first foray into the cloud, FuseFX teamed up with Bracket Computing. At the time, Bracket Computing was a startup that focused primarily on cloud security, but they helped FuseFX get started. "We had some connections with them, and they asked if we were interest- ed in the cloud. It was the right place at the right time," Fotter says. "I said, 'I would like to see if we can leverage the compute power on the cloud, but I don't have any experience with cloud computing. You guys know the cloud, I know what's needed for a renderfarm, let's see if we can figure something out.' They helped me understand the cloud, and together we built the beginnings of our cloud rendering workflow." Around the same time, FuseFX opened its remote offices in New York and Vancouver. From their inception, the cloud was built into the workflows there. The immediate problem was how to transfer data to and from these locations. The company wanted to use each office as needed for production work and rendering. To solve the problem, the company designed and implemented its own synchronization so- ware, powered by its proprietary production platform, Nucleus. With it, they can define any asset, specify where it needs to be – including the cloud – intelligently get it there, and send back the results. Enter QF2 Late last year, Fotter learned that Bracket Computing was no longer going to be an option, and he began to look for alternatives. He clarifies, "I was really focused on price and performance. Who had the features that we were looking for? Who wanted to develop a re- lationship with us in VFX rendering? I thought our process was really innovative, and I wanted someone who felt the same way." While he was evaluating his options, Amazon bought Thinkbox, the creators of Deadline, soware that manages rendering pipelines. FuseFX was already running Deadline in the cloud, and AWS was looking for just such a customer, so Fotter knew he had found the partner FuseFX was looking for. One of Fotter's and FuseFX's goals was to expand their virtual renderfarm. With the Bracket solution, he was running a single, high-powered Linux instance on AWS, but the storage architecture couldn't handle more than 200 to 300 virtual machines. Fotter knew he needed fast clustered storage if he wanted to run more instances. He adds, "We came up with all kinds of ideas. We thought about leveraging S3 and syncing everything to the local ma- chines, but that didn't fit with the way we work. We talked to Avere multiple times, but they're very NFS-centric and we're a Windows JOURNEY TO THE CLOUD FUSEFX FINDS THE SOLUTION IDEAL FOR ITS AGGRESSIVE PROJECT SCHEDULE

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