PipelineFX's Render Farm Manager Helps the Emmy Award-winning Commercials Studio Create New Breed of 360-degree and VR Experiences
Psyop's partnership with Supercell is one of the most successful in games marketing: over the past five years, its spots for “Clash of Clans,” Supercell's massively multiplayer mobile strategy game, have been viewed over 600 million times on YouTube. Now the award-winning CG studio is taking “Clash of Clans” into virtual reality, through a string of 360-degree ads and VR experiences. And to handle the extra complexity of the work, Psyop relies on Qube!, PipelineFX's intelligent render farm manager.
Powering one of the industry's most acclaimed studios
On its foundation in 2001, Psyop quickly became one of the advertising industry's most acclaimed creative studios, in particular for its Emmy and Annie Award-winning work with Coca-Cola. With a client list that ranges from Microsoft and Toyota to Estée Lauder and The Hershey Company, the firm also creates its own animated series – and most recently, its own VR experiences, with Kismet, its fortune-telling virtual reality app, now available through Steam, Oculus and PlayStation VR. All of the rendering work for the new projects is managed through Qube!, which Psyop's Los Angeles office has been using since its inception, and which its New York headquarters adopted in 2013.
But it is for commercials work like Clash of Clans that Psyop remains best-known. Its quirky, chunkily appealing CG visuals lead every aspect of Supercell's marketing, and have helped to transform the game into one of the most successful titles in the notoriously fickle mobile market. Revenge, created for Super Bowl 2015, became the year's single most-watched YouTube ad, while Hog Rider 360°, its recent 360-degree commercial, has notched up over 45 million views since its release last November.
“One of our big challenges lately has been rendering 360° and VR content,” said Andy Jones, Psyop's Head of VFX. “Typical VR projects are high-resolution, stereoscopic, and have a high frame rate. On top of that, the number of assets that need to be loaded into a scene is often much larger than for a typical shot, since the viewer needs to be able to see in all directions at once.”
Not only does that mean processing three times more data per frame than for a conventional animation but rendering eight – or even 16 – times as many pixels. Such intensive VR experiences – which are usually produced in parallel with other animated and live-action projects – place a heavy load on Psyop's render farm, which scales up to 500 nodes when operating at full capacity. Therefore the studio’s pipeline crew are using Pipeline FX Qube! render management software to help them use the farm’s resources more efficiently, equitably and in a manner that prioritizes work as required at any given time.
“What drew us to Qube! was its open architecture,” said Alon Gibli, Head of Pipeline at Psyop. “Its Python API gives us very wide flexibility when it comes to integrating software with the render farm.” Flexibility is critical because Psyop uses a lot of different software, including Maya and Houdini for 3D animation, NUKE for compositing, Shotgun for production tracking, and RV for media playback. For each of these, the studio has created its own custom submitters, and even entire proprietary tools.
“We have developed tools that rely on Qube! to perform a variety of pipeline tasks, for example, transcoding and uploading media to Shotgun. Using the configuration options in the application, the artists can open their rendered images in a pipeline-aware RV session directly from Qube!'s WranglerView. 'Pipeline-aware’ refers to the fact that we use Shotgun Toolkit in RV, a set of pipeline tools that can be customized depending on the current project or shot context. One of the tools, for example, allows us to submit the currently loaded media through our transcoding pipeline for review.
Minimizing Support Costs
Psyop relies heavily on in-application batch rendering rather than generating standalone archives. The ability to use scripted logic from inside the application gives a lot of control over how data moves through the pipeline, and helps us avoid file server bottlenecks They have found that Qube! is one of the few render managers that can properly manage such a workflow.
For jobs that are running on the farm, artists usually don’t need to be aware of the extent to which Alon’s team has customized their rendering with the API. This work can happen behind the scenes. They have designed submission UIs depending on the application, but once a job is submitted, artists and TDs are left with the familiar ArtistView (above) and WranglerView (below) GUIs built into the Qube! software.
ArtistView includes only what an end user needs to manage their own render jobs such as a breakdown of current and planned jobs, estimated completion times, a log history and rendered frames previews. WranglerView allows wranglers and system administrators to monitor and manage servers and other network equipment on the render pipeline in a comprehensive view.
Alon said, “One case where we do think it is important for artists to understand our unique process is to dissuade them from submitting jobs using ‘chunks’, where each item comprises multiple frames. While chunks can be used to minimize the cost of application startup and scene opening for a traditional command line render, in our system it is not usually desirable.”
As well as avoiding production-derailing technical problems for artists to deal with, Qube! helps Psyop limit support staff. The ability to customize job priority through the API, rather than managing it manually, means that projects rarely need a render wrangler.
Another important aspect of Qube! is the way it enables Psyop to work on the fly. The software's choice of built-in job types means that the studio can use additional tools when a project calls for it – one recent job called for the studio to work with a team of Cinema 4D users – while PipelineFX's new metered licensing system lets it expand its render farm on a moment’s notice. Metered licensing, included as standard functionality in Qube!, means users can rent extra software licenses on demand. Clients are only charged for the time the extra machines are actually in use.
“As a commercials-oriented studio, our rendering demands tend to be very irregular,” said Andy. “Before metered licensing, whenever we started to fall behind on renders, we would have to consider whether we would be able to take advantage of a full month of license rentals. In some cases, that would mean making guesses about future projects. Metered, on demand licensing fits much better with how our business actually works.”
Full Story published here: http://www.cgsociety.org/news/article/3267/qube-helps-psyop-take-clash-of-clans-into-virtual-reality