Goodbye Kansas: Cost-effective rendering with Preemptible VMs

About Goodbye Kansas

Headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, Goodbye Kansas Studios provides visual effects and CGI animation for film, TV, games, and commercials for clients worldwide.

Industries: Media & Entertainment
Location: Sweden

By using Preemptible VMs for extra capacity, visual effects studio Goodbye Kansas found an easy, cost-effective way to supplement its in-house render farm and handle additional rendering needs.

Google Cloud Results

  • Eliminates the need for additional physical servers to provide extra capacity
  • Creates confidence in infrastructure capability to take on more projects
  • Brings down costs by rendering on Preemptible VMs

Simple, cost-effective rendering with Preemptible VMs

If you’ve seen CGI zombies in The Walking Dead, watched recent commercials for Nike or BMW, or explored a distant galaxy in Mass Effect: Andromeda, chances are that you’ve encountered the work of Goodbye Kansas Studios. Headquartered in Stockholm, the company has more than 200 employees at studios and offices in Sweden, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom, creating visual effects and CGI animation for film, TV, games, and commercials.

“We do everything that you can't do in camera,” explains Thomas Ericsson, CTO at Goodbye Kansas. “Today, there is some aspect of this kind of post-production work in almost everything you see in TV and movies. It’s an intensive, frame-by-frame process. We deliver images created by our talented 3D artists in sequences, computed or rendered on high-performance servers. When those images are put together, they form a movie.”

“Rendering takes a lot of computational power. Our in-house render farm covers a lot, but when we get a lot of parallel projects or work on an extra-demanding production, we can't deliver with the computational power we have here. That’s the main reason why we picked Google Compute Engine.”

Thomas Ericsson, CTO, Goodbye Kansas

Goodbye Kansas relies on servers for every project it takes on, which can cause logistical issues and limit the potential to bring in work. “Planning resource allocation is a really complicated puzzle,” explains Thomas. “We have meetings every week to assess the render needs of different projects, and we might reassess them daily if things change. When a really complicated shot does not come out as expected, we have to redo that render. Server demand is something that we're toggling all the time.”

When demand for rendering exceeded the capacity of the Goodbye Kansas servers, the company resorted to stopgap measures, bringing in physical servers from elsewhere at short notice. To create a more long-term, workable setup, Goodbye Kansas looked to engineer a solution that burst out to the cloud, instead.

“Rendering takes a lot of computational power,” continues Thomas. “Our in-house render farm covers a lot, but when we get a lot of parallel projects or work on an extra-demanding production, we can't deliver with the computational power we have here. That’s the main reason why we picked Compute Engine.”

Bursting out to cost-effective Preemptible VMs

Balancing server capacity for rendering against the demands of multiple projects is, at best, a headache for companies creating visual effects and CGI animation. At worst, it can halt production, require expensive stopgap solutions, or lead the company to reject new projects.

“In 2014 we had a really challenging project,” remembers Thomas. “The only way we could resolve it was to go to some former competitors and rent their surplus equipment. Then we had to transport all these servers to our server room, make space for them, and set them up. The production worked out, but it was just too cumbersome an operation, it wasn't that economical, and the CPUs that we got were ok, but not the best. We knew that it would not be a sustainable solution for the next time.”

“We exclusively use Google Cloud Platform for cloud bursting. We love the ease with which the API hooks into its services and Preemptible VMs cut costs and suit our purposes very well. We're not dependent on 100% uptime, so if a server is closed down, we just retry the job it was doing.”

Thomas Ericsson, CTO, Goodbye Kansa

To better secure its server capacity, Goodbye Kansas began to investigate options for bursting out to the cloud. “We looked into a virtualized cloud solution with several major providers,” says Thomas. “Google was very competitive in its pricing and we liked the ECG API. It was really easy for us to adapt that and get going. We developed for a couple of days and built a small set-up that hooks right into our pipeline here.”

Now whenever it needs additional server capacity, Goodbye Kansas connects to Compute Engine, predominantly using Preemptible VMs to optimize cost-efficiency. “We set it up in groups so we always have one running and can spin up more as the need arises,” explains Thomas. “Once jobs start to drop off, they close down automatically. It's working really well.”

“We exclusively use Google Cloud Platform (GCP) for cloud bursting,” says Thomas. “We love the ease with which the API hooks into its services and Preemptible VMs cut costs and suit our purposes very well. We're not dependent on 100% uptime, so if a server is closed down, we just retry the job it was doing.”

Matching jobs to the latest server specifications

As in many areas of computing, computational demand for graphics rendering is constantly increasing. In the past, that could mean servers to accommodate additional demand would regularly need to be replaced. “When we started using GCP in 2014, our standard configuration was 32GB of RAM,” says Thomas. “Maybe as little as half a year later, the requirements were for 64GB. Now we're looking at 124GB and 256GB of RAM for a lot of our productions, so things are changing really fast.” Because Goodbye Kansas can match instances on Compute Engine to its needs, the company can keep up with technology without upfront investments in surplus servers.

“The flexibility of GCP means we can run our renders closer to the specifications that we actually need, keeping our own render farm ready for heavy jobs” says Thomas. “In fact, the new data centers Google has built have even higher RAM and CPU specifications than we have locally, should we need it.”

“In the future, should we get work that doesn't fit our local render farm, we can easily take it to the cloud instead. That's given us confidence to take on more commercial projects, knowing that we can get them through the pipeline with the help of Google Cloud Platform.”

Thomas Ericsson, CTO, Goodbye Kansas

Providing confidence in capacity that brings in new work

Goodbye Kansas set up its burst out capacity at the end of 2014 and has been running on Google Cloud Platform ever since. Now the team also uses Cloud Storage both to transfer work between offices and for backup operations at branch offices using Google Archival Cloud Storage: Nearline and Coldline.

“In the future, should we get work that doesn't fit our local render farm, we can easily take it to the cloud instead,” says Thomas. “That's given us confidence to take on more commercial projects, knowing that we can get them through the pipeline with the help of Google Cloud Platform.”

About Goodbye Kansas

Headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, Goodbye Kansas Studios provides visual effects and CGI animation for film, TV, games, and commercials for clients worldwide.

Industries: Media & Entertainment
Location: Sweden
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