Increasing International Production Capacity for Episodic Animation – Featuring Brown Bag Films

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Brown Bag Films has earned eighteen Emmy® Awards and two Oscar nominations. It is among the most technically-advanced studios in the world producing animation from locations including Dublin, Toronto, Manchester, and Bali.
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We chat to Brown Bag Films’, Head of Pipeline, Darren Hyland, to understand how the studio is using YellowDog technology as part of an innovative cloud strategy. They are increasing production capacity to cope with demand whilst simultaneously improving efficiency with data-driven decision making.  

Connecting Creativity with Technology

Brown Bag Films, acquired by 9 Story Media in 2015, is the studio behind some of the world’s best loved children’s shows including Vampirina, Peter Rabbit, Doc McStuffins, Bing, The Stinky and Dirty Show, and Angela’s Christmas. 9 Story’s distribution channels include Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, ABC Australia, Canal+, Nickelodeon, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and more. With such a huge volume of production and distribution, technology is a critical success factor in the smooth running of the operation.

For a technologist, tellingly, Darren is happy to remain humble about his team’s role in final show deliveries to clients. “There is so much that the public does not see. But, if all they remember are the beautiful visuals, then we are doing something right in our pipeline!” 

Although Darren and his team have received many awards, such as the 2016 Shotty Award for Pipeline Management, the Brown Bag Films’ motto is focused on more than industry recognition. Darren reflects on how ‘We Love Animation®’ is integral to their operations:

“The studio’s focus is on creativity, that’s our bread and butter, but technology feeds it. When people come to us for studio tours, they expect the old school of drawing: more desks, more drawings by hand, more pencils! We have a place for that, of course, but our technology releases our artists to focus on one thing – what they want to create.”

Data-Driven Performance

Predicting Performance

Data: its collection, storage, analysis, and optimisation is key to how Brown Bag Films forward predict production cycles.

“Our pipeline collects data over long periods of time and we feed this into our bidding systems: how long does a shot take to render or an asset to build? That information is crucial for ensuring that our production pipeline is accurate, sustainable and can meet the broadcaster demands.”

Maintaining Performance

Whilst our solutions, such as YellowDog Optima, are increasingly helping studios to forecast, react, and optimise compute-hungry workloads for productions, Brown Bag Films typically use the YellowDog Platform to burst and deliver to unforeseen deadlines.

Cloud-burst capability has enabled Brown Bag Films to grow production capacity. “With YellowDog, we can render on hundreds of multi-thread bare metal machines.”

And with the constant pressure to output a certain amount of animation on a weekly and monthly basis, Darren is clear on the advantage our solution gives him and his team.

“There is a huge amount of work going in to create shows that people love; the main benefit of using YellowDog, as we have in the past, is it enables us to hit points within our schedule when we couldn’t meet the demands of the production.”

Optimising Performance

The flexibility to react is accelerated with cloud enablement. As Darren points out: “You can’t just expand your on-premise render farm on demand.”

Furthermore, although the additional CPU and GPU power is essential for workload completion, it is enhanced with intelligent, real-time performance tracking. This increases capacity whilst simultaneously increasing operational and financial efficiency.

“We are tracking progress along the way and reducing our retake percentage because we have full visibility of render logs, preview frames, and support from the YellowDog team. Suddenly, seemingly impossible deadlines can be met.”

Reducing Risk with Cloud Contingency

Darren explains how the studio is using cloud for competitive advantage. “In the past, we didn’t include cloud rendering in our budgets or schedules; it was only during those ‘fires’ or panics that we would start to look to that solution to resolve our issues.” 

Brown Bag Films are maturing their use of cloud for bursting heavy or demanding production workloads.

“Based on brilliant experiences with YellowDog, Brown Bag Films are now putting contingencies for cloud rendering into production budgets at the beginning of a series. Rather that just reacting to fires, we include cloud rendering to turn on overflow facilities like YellowDog in times of need.”

Opening Opportunities with Cloud Capability

Brown Bag Films are considering cloud not just for workload management but for operating an entire creative studio in the cloud. Though Brown Bag Films would not be the first studio to consider, or even implement this, Darren would like to see this materialise as a new normal for animation studio environments.

This approach provides a more flexible framework for overflowing excess workloads to the cloud, remote working and creativity, and IT environment consistency across international locations.

For Darren, this is a more sustainable approach than continuing to invest and build on-premise infrastructure to meet peak demand.

“We’ve dipped our toes in and, owing to our ambition, we have to accept that it is getting more and more difficult to expand within the walls that we have here. Cloud is the natural progression.”

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