In modern production, creativity and technology are inextricably intertwined, though ensuring artists have the resources to succeed can be highly complex. 

2020 may be the year that remote work was catapulted into the mainstream, but it was a sudden and necessary change that most production studios were unprepared to face. As an industry, new workflows were cobbled together to allow some semblance of status quo, despite tremendous uncertainty of how the pandemic would unfold. There was no sense of when advertisers, who initially slashed budgets en masse, would feel comfortable resuming campaigns. For established studios, the unexpected pause provided an opportunity to rethink internal operations and consider plans for the future.

Kodansha – Take Flight

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Above: Take Flight's VFX was produced by Untold Studios, a cloud-based company.

Challenging the infrastructure paradigm 

Adopting new technology is exciting for the possibilities it holds, but from a practical standpoint, timing is often driven by the resources of a studio, facility, or team at any given time. If you’ve just made investments in your current hardware, software, or real estate setups, chances are that you’d prefer to fully amortize your costs. But sometimes jumping in earlier—like when prompted to do so by a global pandemic—can actually prove more beneficial in the long run; switching to cloud-based tech, for example, made remote work more accessible and enjoyable for all our employees.

Compute resources may not be the most interesting component of creative production, but they are vital to a project’s success. Artists need workstations optimized to run their creative applications, and having appropriate render power is the difference between meeting and missing deadlines. 

Using the cloud also widens the pool of talent that we’re able to work with since we aren’t limited by a creative’s location.

Comparing cost and performance of on-premises compute resources and cloud-based resources can be lined up for an apples-to-apples evaluation on operational impact; however, the cloud also affords benefits that don’t fit neatly into a spreadsheet. With the cloud, artists can work remotely in a way that’s familiar, but also scalable. This leads to more fluid creative iteration, more seamless distributed collaboration, and ultimately the best possible end result, leading to happier clients. 

Eliminating physical challenges 

Moving to the cloud was on our roadmap at Taylor James, but the pandemic prompted us to bump up our timeline, for the New York office in particular. When we were all forced to work remotely and found we could do so successfully, we took the steps to make it a permanent arrangement. The lease was up on our 31,000 square foot office, so we downsized to a much smaller space for in-person collaboration and meetings, rather than requiring everyone to be in the studio every day. 

We started our transition in February 2021 and were fully cloud-based by April 2021, running our infrastructure on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Our aggressive exit schedule would have been a tall order to meet if we stuck with physical hardware. Also, most of our gear was near end-of-life and would have needed to be replaced, an extremely costly undertaking complicated by pandemic chip and materials shortages. 

Initially, we resisted change in favor of familiarity.

Studios in a similar boat can employ a comparable strategy to avoid the cyclical, large CAPEX investments required to maintain studio operations. It’s an imperfect process at best, and catastrophic at worst. Rather than trying to predict how many and what spec workstations, and render farm and storage capacity will be needed for the next three to five years, studios can make those decisions on a per-project basis. This also allows studios to take advantage of the latest technology,experiment and futureproofs workflows as resolutions increase. If a new $20,000 graphics card is released, a studio may be hesitant to invest in one if they’re not confident upfront that it will be used regularly. With the cloud, that graphics card could be used on a per-minute basis for a nominal fee. 

Going global with collaboration 

One of the biggest things we noticed right away working on the cloud is that we felt like we were all back in the studio again, even working remotely. We were working in the same virtual environment and sharing the same data, and since our render capacity is scalable, artists are able to spin up as many instances as needed to complete a render, leading to a better work/life balance. This is true not only for our New York studio, but also for our other locations in Los Angeles, London, and Mexico City as we roll out AWS company-wide. 

Artists need workstations optimized to run their creative applications, and having appropriate render power is the difference between meeting and missing deadlines. 

Having this level of scalability is especially helpful for simulation-heavy work that requires a lot of computing power to process, like a Cole Haan spot we recently completed. Rendering can be a bottleneck when limited to on-premises resources, but without this restriction, renders return faster so artists can spend more time on the final details of a project.  

Using the cloud also widens the pool of talent that we’re able to work with since we aren’t limited by a creative’s location, and as we move all our studios to the cloud, we can more easily tap and on-board talent on a global scale. Bringing together different skillsets and perspectives in a cohesive virtual environment allows us to elevate our creative output.

The next generation of creative studio 

Initially, we resisted change in favor of familiarity, but fully adopting the cloud has been transformative for our business at Taylor James and it’s similarly changing the ad industry. Creative studios are increasingly foregoing the on-premises infrastructure route and proving the merits of a cloud-based approach to content production. 

Two of the most innovative creative studios, Untold Studios and Preymaker, were established in the cloud, whereas other companies with long legacies like Framestore are using the cloud to scale as needed. Ultimately, with the scalability, faster render and powerful compute enabled by the cloud, studios can iterate more efficiently, simulate more data, render more frames, and have access to resources that allow them to spark their imaginations and fuel creativity.