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Dr Who visual effects studio builds desktop as a service for graphics

Archana Venkatraman

Jellyfish Pictures, the visual effects and animation studio behind popular programmes such as Dr Who, Line of Duty and Natural History Museum Alive 3D, has developed a desktop as a service (DaaS) for graphic processing units (GPUs) to boost the competitiveness of British creative production industry.

The Bafta award-winning company has collaborated with UK cloud provider Exponential-e to launch the desktop infrastructure hosted in the cloud to give animation and production experts from the film, television and ad worlds on-demand access to scalable computing resources.

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“We are fundamentally reliant on creative and innovative technology delivery,” said Jellyfish CTO Jeremy Smith. “Scaling in the picture industry, at speed with security and privacy centre stage, is inherently difficult.

“We can now also make use of the best talent and enable flexible working – people won’t have to go to the physical studio to work,” Smith said.

DaaS - GPU will enable the studio to be responsive and not worry about scaling up compute resources to meet the requirements of new projects quickly.

A GPU is a computer chip that performs rapid mathematical calculations, primarily for the purpose of rendering images.

DaaS - GPU reduces the need for hardware and software refreshes, allowing Soho-based Jellyfish to move from a capital expenses model to an operating expenses structure and save IT costs.

“The nature of the VFX [visual effects] industry is project-based with companies often requiring technology resources and freelancers on demand,” said Lee Wade, chief executive of Exponential-e.

DaaS - GPU will enable VFX studios to quickly respond to fluctuating project requirements by providing easy access to additional computing resources that can be deployed anywhere in the world, Wade said.

The cloud graphics service means that Jellyfish Pictures need not rely solely on its existing on-premises architecture when processing power or capacity is requested by animators. Instead, the company can provide additional resources on demand, such as blade servers and processing power.

By operating in a virtualised desktop environment, DaaS - GPU ensures that users can work on graphics applications from any device in any location.

“Firms such as Jellyfish can concentrate on what really counts – delivering award-winning, state-of-the-art animation and visual effects (VFX) for clients,” Wade said.

Exponential-e uses Nvidia GPUs in a VMware virtualised desktop environment based in the cloud to deliver DaaS - GPU.

Nvidia Grid technology is key to having a true workstation experience when using virtualisation because it can handle graphics-heavy applications,” said Will Wade, director of Grid at Nvidia.

The hosted service is based on a Local Area Network (LAN) to deliver secure and private services via a 100 gigabit ethernet layer – a key requirement for visual effects studios.

“For the first time, this means that we are highly flexible when bidding for future work,” Smith said. It also supports other developments within the Jellyfish group, including the opening of Jellyfish Animation, its new, purpose-built, 4,000ft2 animation studio in Brixton, where 60 artists and supporting production staff will be based.

“Through our work with Exponential-e and Nvidia, we will be able to create a system that allows work to be shared in real time between our studios so that our employees and contract/remote workers can effectively collaborate on projects all on the same logical workspace.” 

According to Exponential-e, this is the first major collaboration between a British visual effects production company and cloud company.


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