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Pixomondo Looks to AWS for Virtual Production Stage Collaboration

Leading VFX studio has integrated Amazon Web Services into its next-gen entertainment production workflow to optimize remote connectivity and support real-time iterations for immediate review and feedback.

Over the past 20 years, VFX studio Pixomondo (PXO) has experimented with different tools and techniques, innovating to meet client needs and working to create next-generation entertainment techniques. In 2020 the company launched its first virtual production stage in Toronto, with a second in Vancouver and plans for further expansion. To continue to promote the growth of its virtual production pipeline, PXO has incorporated Amazon Web Services (AWS) to optimize the collaboration of teams across locations.

“The requirements for virtual production are wildly different from traditional visual effects, so instead of trying to build on top of an already solidified pipeline, we decided to move to a more flexible platform,” explained PXO Head of Virtual Production Josh Kerekes. “We were immediately drawn to AWS as a solution because it allows us to iterate quickly. We were able to sidestep legacy processes and prototype our pipeline in an air-gapped fashion – separate from our studio’s creative arm and deploy rapidly anywhere.”

PXO’s virtual production stages are used to capture in-camera visual effects (ICVFX), accomplished by running real-time digital environments built into Epic Games’ Unreal Engine onto large LED screen tracked capture volumes. PXO artists around the world often create the visuals for the screens, but clients also use other vendors depending on the project scope. To get assets from the creators on set for production, quickly and securely, PXO uses a virtual machine running Perforce Software on Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (Amazon EC2) instances. Work is immediately synced to the stages, allowing production teams to provide feedback in real-time.

“We are currently in production on an episodic series that has almost 100 different environments and scenarios in a season; for context, 10 is about the average, so this was an order of magnitude larger,” noted Kerekes. “We have several VFX houses creating environments for the project, and even studios based overseas that said the speed at which they were able to download and submit was fantastic; they’re uploading 10-20GB commits every hour with minimal bottlenecks. To be able to implement massive changes on environments and sync those down to the stage almost instantaneously was essential.”

Traditional VFX is often delivered via FTP servers through an aggregator, such as the studio production VFX department. This approach in virtual production requires vendors to send zip files of their work to the aggregator to then share scenes to the stage for ingest – a multi-hour process. With each change, the process must be repeated, which makes for a slow, time-consuming iteration. Using AWS, PXO pulls down asset changes and displays them on the LED wall within minutes for immediate review and feedback, even during a shoot.

“I can't imagine any other way to do this,” added Kerekes. “We considered using central on-premises servers that everyone could funnel into, but it would have been a nightmare. No matter how great of a support team and hardware you have behind you, downtime is expected, either for scheduled maintenance or unforeseen fires, but with the cloud, we have seen much better uptime.”

PXO also uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store assets. With the assets easily accessible in Amazon S3 buckets, filmmakers have more flexibility to reference previous environments, which is useful for maintaining the continuity of a show’s look and feel, even if the director and cinematographer vary by episode.

“Having the ability to scale up our storage and make multiple environments available for review is so valuable for our clients,” said PXO executive producer Paolo Tamburrino. “This, of course, is in addition to being able to execute environment changes quickly while shooting, elements that typically would be done in post. It ensures that in-camera capture is as close to final pixel as possible.”

PXO’s initial cloud implementation is the first step in the studio’s planned upgrade. Looking forward, the VFX house plans on spinning up a unique virtual machine for each show, allowing producers to accurately meter and monitor usage costs for more informed bidding. The team also works with clients to understand the benefits of the filmmaking methodology and how they can better capitalize on its benefits, whether shooting a high-profile entertainment intellectual property (IP), commercial, or anything in between.

“Many filmmakers are used to a very sluggish way of working, but AWS makes a night and day difference in iteration time,” concluded Kerekes. “Everyone can collaborate and work in real-time in the same shared space, regardless of their department or the stage of the filmmaking process they typically work in. This wouldn’t be possible without cloud-based services.”

More information about AWS for content creation, including virtual production, click here.

Source: Amazon Web Services

Debbie Diamond Sarto's picture

Debbie Diamond Sarto is assistant news editor at Animation World Network.