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Redshift Cloud Rendering for YouTube Originals – Featuring Giant Animation

Giant is one of Europe’s leading animation production and development studios. They needed a cloud rendering solution to deliver 2.5 million frames for their YouTube Originals Series, 'SHERWOOD'.
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Giant is one of Europe’s leading animation production and development studios based in the thriving city of Dublin, Ireland. Established in 2011, the studio has earned a reputation for high quality work across its award winning short films, commercials, and exciting TV shows for kids. They are a global leader in Redshift animation rendering for children’s animation.

YellowDog’s Jack spoke with Alex Sherwood, CEO and Co-Founder of Giant Animation, who are one of the studios behind the recent YouTube Originals release, SHERWOOD. We find out how Giant kept up with a demanding production schedule with the use of Redshift cloud rendering on YellowDog’s multi-cloud GPU platform. 

What Challenges Did You Face?

We hadn’t taken on a production on the scale of Sherwood before, so it really was a first for us in terms of its overall ambition as a show. Post-production delivery was done with our co-production partner ToyBox in Auckland, who upped the resolution to 4K before final delivery. All of the rendering was taken on by Giant.

We had 3 levels of complexity and variability to manage. The first was the sheer intensity of the tight schedule: we needed to render 2.5 million frames for this production in just a few months. Secondly, we had the challenge of managing client re-takes, which are a huge variable in the production schedule that you can’t really predict. The third variable is that we’d just not done a production at this scale before, and there was a steep learning curve to navigate whilst continuing to deliver rendered frames as we and the client needed.

As a fallback, with so many variables to contend with, we got in touch with a few cloud providers early in the production process. We spent a lot of time building relationships with them but YellowDog were always the forerunner of that – mainly because they had so much capacity for GPU which other cloud providers were still playing catch up on.

Which Parts of the Render Schedule Were Especially Tough?

We started rendering in June 2018, and by December we had rendered 10 episodes with 22 minutes of animation, which is a really intensive schedule. As we were going, we were learning how to optimise and account for a level of re-take and failure. We didn’t know how much we needed YellowDog’s cloud render service in the beginning, but they were really flexible and gave us the room to get our render output estimations on point. Having the YellowDog Platform there for us on demand really was priceless.

The single biggest challenge for us was rendering, and Redshift was crucial to the success of the show. We could turnaround something with a high visual quality with reliable assumptions, keeping everything to between 11-15 minutes per frame throughout the production. We used Deadline to manage our render farm and used YellowDog as a standalone solution for our overflow of renders.

How Did You Use YellowDog?

We set up a central asset repository with YellowDog and had people managing the render schedules in the studio. Ultimately, they decided what would get put to Deadline and what would get put out to YellowDog. It was a creative process and we would often discuss what went where with lighting leads.

YellowDog was used most effectively when we concluded that a shot was going to have a heavier render time or had a high risk of failure locally. We wouldn’t want to max out our farm on a small volume of heavy renders with Deadline. In contrast, YellowDog could churn through them much more quickly and get them back to us without us even thinking about it. Technically, the quality control of YellowDog was excellent.

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“Thinking about how to do things cost effectively and efficiently is how studios stay competitive. Rendering is a crucial part of any CG project now, so it’s an exciting period ahead for us and YellowDog.”

Alex Sherwood
Alex Sherwood CEO, Giant Animation

What Have You Learned From this Production?

Having gone through that process, we now have a much more sophisticated quality control (QC) structure in the studio, and we’re looking forward to using YellowDog again to even greater effect. We started Sherwood having never done rendering at this scale before, but we ended it having a strong understanding of how to get the most out of our render farm, and the most out of YellowDog.

What Is the Stand-Out Moment For You?

For the short films that we worked on before Sherwood, we would run the studio at peak with around 12-16 people. For Sherwood, we peaked at 92 people. We had 120 people working on it throughout the production and we were very busy.

So for me, the standout moment was getting that final edit done and approved on the very first episode. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re so busy. Finishing that and watching it for the first time all together was a defining moment for the whole crew.

Why Choose Redshift Rendering?

To us, and many others in the animation industry at the time, GPU and Redshift rendering was a relatively new solution at scale. This was also the first time that we had used Maya as our modelling software. We previously used 3ds Max with V-Ray but made the switch for this show. Couple that with the fact that YellowDog fits very nicely in a Maya and Redshift pipeline, and we had a robust and scalable solution to work with.

We used 3ds Max for short films we made such as Geist and The Overcoat. Ireland is lucky: we have a very supportive film board called Screen Ireland. They knew that we had ambitions to be a leading 3D studio, and they financed Geist with RTE, allowing us to run with our creative vision. Geist was a rare opportunity that served as our creative calling card. When landing Sherwood, which was always going to have a unique visual style, those 3D shorts really helped us to stand out. Ultimately though, whilst we kept the visual essence of the shorts, we felt a switch to Maya and Redshift was the right thing to do for Sherwood.

What’s Next for Giant Animation?

For the year ahead, we have two huge productions, and our relationship with Netflix is growing and providing lots of opportunities for us to do high-end animation. Our experience and knowledge of rendering high volumes of Redshift is really driving that.

Thinking about how to do things cost effectively and efficiently is how studios stay competitive. Rendering is a crucial part of any CG project now, so it’s an exciting period ahead for us and YellowDog.

With a number of incredible projects on the slate for 2019/2020, we will be looking to crew up at various points.

Our vacancies are posted here (www.giant.ie) for anyone that would like to join us. Applications can be made through jobs@giant.ie, and we recommend liking Giant on Facebook to see when we make hiring announcements.

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