Encore VFX reduces 4 days of rendering to 1 with Zync

Formed in 1985, Encore VFX is a post-production studio with a broad remit. From television shows to feature films, commercials to branding spots, Encore works across the board, meaning it needs a rendering solution that can scale with its ambition.

Rendering in stereoscopic 3D

Encore VFX’s experienced team has worked on feature films such as Maps to the Stars and Forsaken, while also providing high-class visuals for television, straddling sci-fi, drama and comedy in award-winning projects such as The Newsroom, Orange is the New Black, Falling Skies, Extant and The Flash.

For its latest work, a new approach was required. Cineplex Entertainment, one of North America’s largest movie theatre operators, hired Encore to create a 35-second spot in stereoscopic 3D – the process of rendering an otherwise flat image to create the illusion of depth.

“Often, given the time and budgets, working in high-quality visual effects means finding new creative approaches and methodologies,” says Michael Kowalski, director of VFX at Encore Toronto. “The Cineplex brand spot for its UltraAVX theatre experience was a prime example of that — and Zync Render proved to be just the kind of creative methodology we needed to get the job done.”

The raw speed of Zync

“When you’re working in stereoscopic 3D you’re thinking about a left eye and a right eye, so you have to render everything twice,” Kowalski says. “Considering that we were working with assets like the dragon and the portal, and a landscape with elements ranging from tree and fog to mountains and planets, the renders were very heavy, and that required more CPUs and time to process.”

Since the Encore team needed to render fast and efficiently for quick project turnaround, it turned to Zync Render, Google Cloud Platform’s cloud-based rendering solution. Ultimately the Encore team logged over 10,000 hours of render time on Zync.

“When rendering using our in-house environment, we had to launch renders on a Friday and leave the hardware chugging away over the weekend,” he explains. “We knew that ultimately we would need to work faster than this, and that this would require more horsepower than our setup would allow. That’s when we turned to Zync. Suddenly we were able to turn things around in a night, instead of a weekend!”

This streamlined workflow, empowered by the speed, efficiency and power of Zync, reduced rendering time from four days to one. It also meant that the Encore artists could get even more creative than normal: “One of the big problems with rendering locally is that it can take literally days to see the result, and if you don’t like it and want to make changes, you have to wait another couple of days to see those alterations,” Kowalski says. “Thankfully, with Zync you have that flexibility to start the render, go home, then come back in the morning and start making changes right away. That means more iterations, which in turn means greater scope for creativity.”

Security and ease of use

Working on projects prior to release demands security. For Encore, Zync doesn’t have to worry.

“Security was something we investigated as it’s always a concern, but the Google Cloud Platform team provided us with details around audits done by a major studio that covered the underlying infrastructure and storage, so I was more than happy with the security measures in place,” says Kowalski.

Accessibility was another important factor in Encore’s selection of rendering solution. With its turnkey suite of simple yet deep rendering options, Zync was just what the team was after. “The interface is really intuitive and offers a variety of tools,” say Kowalski. “The Google team was really mindful of our timeline and helped us work out any solutions to get the job done on time.”

The future is in the cloud

For Encore — and many other studios like it — this kind of enhanced pipeline is absolutely key to their success and ability to be creative.

“We can keep a small render farm for our day-to-day stuff, but when we have deliverables or unique projects that requires a lot more rendering, like the Cineplex short, we can turn to Zync and really ramp things up,” says Kowalski. “Having access to that extra CPU is vital. It gets you over the hump versus having extra gear all that time.”

With benefits across the board, Kowalski sees a bright future for cloud rendering. “It’s definitely the future — not just at Encore, but for the entire industry. The cloud is where it’s at.”