Milk VFX : How to bring dinosaurs to life with Google Cloud

About Milk VFX

Milk VFX is an independent visual effects company creating innovative and complex sequences for high-end television and feature films. Milk VFX has created visual effects for feature films such as Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, The Martian and Ex-Machina and television projects like Sherlock and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. To learn more, visit www.milk-vfx.com

Industries: Media & Entertainment
Location: United Kingdom
Products: Compute Engine

With Google Cloud Platform, Milk VFX built a cloud-based render solution that dramatically expands the scale at which it can work and still stay affordable.

Google Cloud Platform Results

  • Rendered 77 million frames in under three months with Google Compute Engine instances
  • Set up Google Cloud Platform compute farms using hundreds of machines in minutes instead of days
  • Cut costs with flexible pricing and preemptible VMs

Rendered 77 million frames in under three months

In only four years, visual effects studio Milk VFX ’s experienced team has worked on prestigious film and television projects, racking up more than a dozen awards including an Oscar in 2016 for Ex Machina. Visual standards have soared in recent years from high definition to 4K resolutions, straining the technological capabilities of effects studios everywhere. A small to medium sized studio based in London and Cardiff, Milk needed to be able to compete with bigger, more established firms for large projects. Google Cloud Platform (GCP) gives Milk VFX the ability to do that.

“We knew that if we wanted to compete on a bigger scale, we needed to be able to expand and contract our render farm as we went,” says Dave Goodbourn, Head of Systems, Milk VFX. “We realised that we don't have the physical space to put more machines in. This was around the time that Google introduced their preemptible VMs which are vastly cheaper than anything else around. That’s why we went with Google Cloud Platform.”

“There's no real way we could have done Dinosaurs in the Wild without Google. Leaving aside the artistic side of things, this volume of data and the amount of processing needed, we knew if we didn't have Google Cloud Platform, we couldn't take the job on.”

Dave Goodbourn, Head of Systems, Milk VFX

Rendering in the cloud with GCP

When Milk VFX won the Dinosaurs in the Wild project, they knew it would be a significant challenge and would require an innovative solution to tackle the rendering. Attraction visitors would expect to watch life-size dinosaurs from an observatory, where every scale, hair and feather could be studied for a high resolution 7K, 8-minute uninterrupted 3D video experience. On top of that, it needed to be delivered with a rendering window of under 3 months and to a strict budget.

Rendering frames for visual effects requires an extraordinary amount of computing power and studios assign whole rooms full of computers to act as their “render farm.” As visual quality has escalated over the years, most studios either limit the scope of their projects or buy or rent new machines to cope with the extra rendering needed. With limited space and power at its premises, Milk VFX looked for a more creative solution, opting to expand its farm into the cloud.

To do that, Milk VFX turned to GCP. The studio aimed to use around 30,000 cores for around 10 weeks for its render farm, something which would take days to set up in house even if it had the space. Placing a render farm in the cloud with Google Compute Engine takes mere minutes and eliminates the hassle of transporting, installing and configuring physical machines. Google’s flexible pricing and the option of preemptible instances meant that Milk VFX only paid for the compute power it used, minimizing costs and expanding the scope of projects it could work on. Adding checkpoints into its rendering solution meant that on the rare occasion that a preemptible VM went down, the work would not all be lost.

“Fundamentally, we just used Google Compute Engine. We just needed as many cores as possible in Google Compute Engine. We were spinning up three times the size of what we have in house. To do that with physical machines, the costs would have been astronomical. Even if we had the space and the power we still have to deal with the logistics,” says Dave. “It can take hours or days depending on how many there are. With Google Compute Engine, we'd set up a whole cluster system with several hundred machines or a couple of thousand machines in ten to fifteen minutes which is incredible!”

“We employed a system with the rendering where it gets checkpointed. So even if the machine dies, another instance will pick up that job. That way, if you’re doing a big 18-hour render, we only lose five minutes or so restarting the task instead of the whole 18 hours.”

Dave Goodbourn, Head of Systems, Milk VFX

High quality, high speed

With its Google Compute Engine render farm, Milk VFX rendered an astonishing 77 million frames at 4K resolution in under 3 months, delivering 72 minutes of detailed dinosaur footage in breathtaking, terrifying clarity. Without the cloud, the same render could have taken 2 or 3 years to pull off. The Dinosaurs in the Wild commission proved that with GCP, Milk VFX does not need to be limited by technological constraints and can continue to compete at the very top of its industry.

“Google Cloud Platform has freed up massive resources. We don't need to keep the infrastructure and the space ready for new machines,” says Dave. “It saves costs as well because we're not using instances for 24 hours, we're only using it for a few hours here and there. You only pay for what you use, which is great. If you buy a physical machine, that's it, you want to be using it for 24 hours a day to make your returns. Going forward, I can see us potentially not buying any more render nodes internally and just spending the money in the cloud.”

About Milk VFX

Milk VFX is an independent visual effects company creating innovative and complex sequences for high-end television and feature films. Milk VFX has created visual effects for feature films such as Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, The Martian and Ex-Machina and television projects like Sherlock and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. To learn more, visit www.milk-vfx.com

Industries: Media & Entertainment
Location: United Kingdom
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