Tribal Imaging Virtualises Post and VFX Production on AWS Compute Cloud

Tribal Imaging virtualized its VFX workstations on AWS. Artists now connect to virtual machines running on Elastic Compute Cloud to help scale the team and avoid upfront hardware costs.

The work of artists at creative studio Tribal Imaging in Alberta, Canada often seems invisible to the untrained eyes of cinema and TV audiences – but that’s by design. From previs and matte painting to compositing and 3D tracking, the studio’s visual effects support the stories of feature films and episodic television series, most recently ‘Superman & Lois’ for CW, ‘Van Helsing’ on Syfy/Netflix, ‘The Order’, ‘Wu-Assassins’ and ‘I-Land’ for Netflix, and ‘Hell on Wheels’ on AMC. Tribal also carries out full post production services for short-form advertising and indie films.

The studio’s eight-person core team is frequently augmented to double that size as projects ebb and flow, adding freelance artists in-studio or connecting to remote talent as needed. Facing increased demand for their services amid the global content boom and aware that their on-premises workstations were nearing end of life, Tribal Imaging recently shifted their creative pipeline to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Systems provider IMT’s Cloud Services team were hired to help with the transition.

Cloud and Connectivity

“We’d been looking at the cloud for a while, but now the internet connectivity requirements and costs have come down to a point that made it a viable move for us,” said Tribal Imaging Managing Partner Darren Bierman. “We chose AWS because it gives the studio the flexibility to expand rapidly when the schedule get busy, to work with artists outside our immediate area in a unified environment and to reduce overhead during quiet periods. At the same time, we’re not paying for hardware upfront. Since all client assets go into a secured private network on AWS and nothing is local, we are also able to comply with industry standard security requirements.”

Working with IMT Cloud Services, Tribal Imaging virtualised all of its VFX workstations. Instead, artists now connect to Windows-based virtual workstations running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) G4dn instances or G5 instances via NICE DCV, a remote display protocol that delivers remote desktops and application streaming from a cloud or data centre to devices over varying network conditions.

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is used for storage and archiving, and the Amazon FSx for Windows File Server manages shared storage built on Windows Server, combined with data access, management and administration capabilities, and accelerates file throughput. Further virtual workstations handle the rendering load. IMT and Tribal Imaging optimised this setup to meet the studio’s specific requirements and support its creative applications, including Adobe After Effects, Foundry Nuke, Blender, Autodesk Maya and a library of plug-ins.

To describe the transition, Darren said, “The IMT Cloud Services team laid out how everything would work and how we’d get there. They built the studio a new cloud-based pipeline on AWS from the ground up in a few weeks, including all our plug-ins, and have been quick to support us anytime we’ve encountered a hurdle.

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