Moonbot boosts its render capacity by 5x with Google Cloud Platform

Moonbot Studios is a creative facility bursting at the seams with imagination. From Oscar-winning shorts to bestselling apps and charming animated TV series, Moonbot is a multiplatform powerhouse where artists can explore new and inventive ways to deliver colorful ideas across a variety of media.

It’s little wonder, then, that Moonbot’s latest animated short, Taking Flight, is all about letting one’s imagination run wild.

To bring this idea to life on the big screen, Moonbot needed a rendering solution that could transport their ideas between worlds and dimensions, and all within the tight four-month turnaround. They turned to Google Compute Engine to help the concept to truly take flight.

Tight timelines

Although the short hits each of its narrative beats within a compact five-minute timeframe, the project needed to be completed within a four-month deadline – a tall order when faced with the complexity of marrying 2D and 3D animation in an epic adventure.

“The timeline was definitely the biggest challenge, especially considering that Taking Flight was one of three projects being worked on simultaneously at the studio,” says Brennan Chapman, lead pipeline Technical Director at Moonbot. “We have about 50 employees, so working on this five-minute short, an 11-minute pilot episode and a 30-second commercial – all with the same team and resources in a four-month timeframe – was pretty ambitious.”

Rendering is one of the most time-intensive parts of any creative project and the part of the pipeline that can create the most bottlenecks. Moonbot needed a solution that could keep everything running smoothly while hitting the necessary deadlines. The studio turned to Compute Engine for its power and simplicity.

Speed rendering

The first tangible and quantifiable difference Moonbot noticed was GCP’s flexibility.

In the creative industry, time really is money. That’s why the ability to utilize overnight renders with Compute Engine changed things in a big way for Moonbot.

“For the most part, artists work on their shots during the day, and submit their shots to render overnight,” explains Chapman. “It really impacts the studio’s productivity and creativity when those overnight renders don’t finish by the next morning. If the render load is high enough, it can turn into a snowball effect that just keeps growing day after day and causes the entire production to grind to a halt while we wait. When our iteration count starts to drop, so too does your potential for creative exploration.”

Using Compute Engine, Moonbot’s artists can submit work to the cloud when they go home at night, and when they walk in the door the next morning, the render is ready and waiting for them.

“We can easily scale the render farm as needed each night to ensure renders complete on time,” explains Chapman. “It allows us to take advantage of the down time when nobody is here. That efficiency frees us up artistically, which means more exploration of ideas, which means a better final product!”

On cloud nine

GCP saved Moonbot physical space, an element of rendering that can often be overlooked until the render farm takes up space that could effectively be filled by something more useful, like additional artists.

During the production of Taking Flight, Moonbot had completely filled its main rack of render nodes, and was struggling to find space to fit more hardware into the fairly small server room that they operate. If they wanted to expand their render farm, the Moonbot team would need a larger space at a huge cost – and even before considering that, they would need to consider how to make such a disruptive move when stuck into the core work of the project.

“Thankfully, rendering via the cloud makes considerations around physical space and extra costs moot,” says Chapman. “We don’t need to have the hardware on site, which means we don’t need to think about power, cooling or upgrades either. Google Cloud Platform handles all of that for you. It’s all happening on server side, leaving you to concentrate on making a great short!”

Saying yes to more client opportunities

Compute Engine has become an integral element in the Moonbot pipeline, allowing the relatively small studio to render and iterate as if they were one of the world’s largest animation powerhouses.

“We boosted our render farm capacity by five times in going with Google Compute Engine alongside Avere,” reveals Chapman. “We went through 3,800 renders on Taking Flight, and that took 21,200 render hours. It would have been much larger if we were working solely with in-house hardware.”

For Chapman, that kind of extra capacity is vital, considering the relatively small size of Moonbot: “I can’t stress how important it is to have that extra capacity. We’re still very much a startup, and there are lots of really great opportunities that come to us that we need to be able to say yes to.

“These kind of solutions, which allow us to scale up when we need to and meet client demands, are what makes our company feasible here in Louisiana. We can present Google Cloud Platform as a benefit of the Moonbot pipeline to clients, instead of saying we can’t do something because of time constraints.”