The Value of a Hybrid-Cloud Solution for One of Europe’s Most Respected Studios – Featuring Rise FX

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Rise FX are an award-winning studio in Europe, working on popular films and television series, such as The Avengers and Stranger Things. Learn why they chose YellowDog's award-winning cloud solution to stay ahead of the game.
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Rise FX are one of the most respected VFX studios in Europe, with offices across Germany and soon-to-be the UK. They have worked on award-winning feature films and television series including: The Avengers: End Game, Stranger Things and Black Panther.

YellowDog caught up with one of the Rise FX founders, Robert Pinnow to learn more about the studio, their view of cloud and why they chose YellowDog to stay ahead of the game.

A Medium Sized Studio That Takes on Large Scale Challenges

Rise FX have been constantly growing over the last thirteen years. Starting with just four people, they have expanded to a studio of around two hundred artists.

Not limited by their physical number, Rise FX take on work that rivals that of the biggest players in the industry, creating big water simulations, detailed creatures, as well as large environments. This complex geometric work, which is often very render heavy, has attracted some big names to work with them, including Marvel.

According to Robert, this quality can also be attributed to their level of IT knowledge, “We have always made sure we have the necessary people and resources to prepare for the next challenge. Compared to studios of the same size, we have a large team with knowledge of IT and pipeline. This can be a bit of an overhead, but it means things always run smoothly, which is important to us and our clients.

Another factor that contributes to their success is the way in which they work with their clients. As they’re working on some of the biggest projects in VFX, they recognise how important it is to get prompt feedback. Robert comments, “We send versions very early on in the process, sending wedges where it makes sense, instead of single shots, so our clients have the possibility to make key decisions on the creative direction. This way we don’t spend as much time going back and forth and the client can be happy before we finalise the production.

Prioritising Workloads Between On-Premise and Cloud Infrastructure

Prior to working with YellowDog, Rise FX were managing their workloads solely with their on-premise render farm, which consists of 600 render nodes in total – 400 dedicated and 200 workstations. However, recently they have been running into some problems with capacity.

While cloud rendering was always a viable solution, it was important to Rise FX that they found a provider that had an understanding of the Media and Entertainment industry and could therefore, address these common concerns:

  • Very high security standards
  • Complex pricing models

Cloud Security Standards

To work on international, highly anticipated projects, Rise FX have to maintain high security standards and meet requirements, such as TPN certification, for many projects.

Working with YellowDog ensured that Rise FX were able maintain those demanding security standards when it came to the cloud infrastructure they were using, only working within highly secure architecture and with data centres that met the appropriate ISO standards. However, sending jobs to the cloud remains a challenge for Rise FX’s clients so will only be done on a case-by-case basis, where producers have provided the necessary approvals.

Robert comments on this challenge, “We know what we are doing is aligned to high security standards, but it would be amazing if there was a global standard or process to certify the cloud rendering process and for everything to have a few checkboxes where you simply say, ‘Yes everything will be encrypted’, ‘Yes it’s a private network’, ‘Yes connections are only possible with a pre-shared key’, etc. Then we would be able to use cloud rendering services more often and producers would be more open to using it for the bigger, international projects.

The Complexity of Cloud Pricing

Another factor that often deters studios from adopting cloud rendering solutions, is price. Many of the major hyperscalers have complicated pricing models that can be time-consuming to understand. When you factor in the varying ways people define their workloads it can be hard to establish if your calculations are correct.

“Going through the whole complicated setup process of porting our pipeline to a cloud render target is just too much work to find out afterwards that 'the sides cost you more than the steak'.” Robert Pinnow, Rise FX

For Rise FX to commit to a cloud provider, they wanted a solution that would have a clear pricing model in place. They were first introduced to YellowDog’s transparent pricing by dve advanced systems. Robert comments on his working relationship with dve’s Managing Director, Jürgen Firsching, “I’ve worked with Jürgen for 20 years, so I really know if he’s saying, ‘Check out these guys,’ it’s worth talking to them and there will be no surprises.

Adding a Human Element to Cloud Rendering

After meeting YellowDog, Robert was impressed. He comments, “YellowDog left a really good impression from the very beginning. I really liked the way they approached our requirements. They didn’t enforce their way of working on us, instead they fit around our pipeline, so we could use our own render manager and dictate how we wanted our solution to be built.

He adds, “One of the things that I liked most about YellowDog was that they’re really focused on rendering. They’re not just providing cloud space and compute power. They know what they’re doing and have a team of experienced people working on the solution. It’s the human factor. We were able to see what was being built and we had people to talk to if we needed to work anything out. The level of experience and support offered by YellowDog was very compelling.

Maintaining Efficiency and Creativity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As for most studios around the world, Rise FX have had to quickly adapt to working remotely. They currently have around two-thirds of their team working from home, which has presented a number of challenges – namely around communication and security.

While conference calls are part and parcel of the working day now, they can’t surpass the value of face-to-face interaction. Robert comments, “Talking about a creative process over a video call is a lot more challenging. Although we have tried to simulate office conversation by setting up our own video conference server, which has a conference room for every team to connect to throughout the day, it still isn’t the same.” He adds, “You miss out on the passing-by observations you make when you’re sat in the same room.

Another difference caused by the pandemic has been client flexibility, both in terms of security and project timelines. Robert comments, “The clients have gotten a twist in terms of security. While regulations are still reasonably strict, studios have quickly become more open to people seeing images at home to ensure work can continue.

Opening a New Studio and Future Success

Later this month, Rise FX will be opening their first studio outside of Germany, in London. Due to the amount of work that is happening in London, this move marks a positive step in the studio’s future. Robert comments, “I’m really looking forward to having a studio nearer some of our clients. Having the ability to host screenings there will definitely be a plus.

We’re only going to have a moderate technical setup to begin with. However, we do have the space to ramp up when it is right to do so. Based on the level of contact we’ve already had with clients, we’re really encouraged by the outlook. We also have an amazing team ready and waiting to jump on the ship and sail with us!

Although it may seem like a tough year to open a new studio, Rise FX are very positive that it will be a success. Based on the projects they are set to release in 2020 alone, it’s bound to be.

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