Head-Turning Animation: ‘Bobbleheads: The Movie’ First Feature Completed Remotely on Microsoft Azure Using NVIDIA GPUs

With post-production struck by the COVID-19 pandemic, Threshold Entertainment and Incessant Rain Studios use the cloud to bring 3D animators and VFX artists together from around the world.
by Rick Champagne

When it comes to 3D animation and visual effects, studios need a lot of high-performance compute power — and in the new remote work environment, distributing those resources to where they’re needed is more important than ever.

For the upcoming family film, Bobbleheads: The Movie, production company Threshold Entertainment and Incessant Rain Studios set out to create a completely new animation pipeline in the cloud with feature film-quality visuals for a globally distributed team of artists.

The film, which features a cast that includes Cher, Jennifer Coolidge, Luke Wilson, Khary Petyon, Brenda Song and Karen Fukuhara, tells the story of three bobblehead toys that lead a battle to get rid of intruders in their home.

The movie is the first animated feature to be completed remotely on Microsoft Azure using NVIDIA GPUs and Chaos Group’s V-Ray renderer. GPU rendering in the cloud helped the team complete the movie while working remotely.

“Relying on the Microsoft Azure platform with NVIDIA’s GPU cloud rendering allowed us to focus on the production quality of the film without having to worry about the technical rendering challenges even during the COVID-19 pandemic. It really was a game changer for us,” said Kiran Bhakta Joshi, CEO of Incessant Rain Studios.

Artists Take to the Cloud to Power Animations

Incessant Rain Studios collaborated closely with the Azure team to develop an animation production pipeline in a cloud-based environment.

With the help of the Azure support team from various locations around the world, they developed a system that was specifically designed to meet their production requirements. Along with the availability of GPU virtual machines, the team took advantage of GPU rendering in the cloud.

Quickly setting up the infrastructure and collaborative tools was essential. First, the studio in Nepal tapped Azure’s data center in Singapore, which allowed the teams to move data back and forth easily while minimizing latency and optimizing bandwidth.

The artists were able to smoothly bring up shots and render them using NVIDIA V100 Tensor Core GPUs with Autodesk Maya and Chaos Group V-Ray. The sets and characters of the film were completed in one pass, while effects like motion blur and atmospherics were done in separate passes. In total, the movie consists of 1,660 animated shots.

“We designed V-Ray to work well in cloud rendering scenarios, and we are very pleased to see that Incessant Rain successfully produced such a large production on Microsoft Azure, where V-Ray GPU on V100 instances delivered super-fast turnarounds for their effects shots,” said Phillip Miller, vice president of product management at Chaos Group.

To manage the virtual machines, Azure provides a wide array of tools including centralized logging, activity security, auditing and monitoring, and other features from the Azure portal.

Scaling VMs was easy as Incessant Rain was able to quickly deploy as many as needed through the Azure portal. The operating system licenses were always updated and security was managed by Azure itself, which saved the team lots of time during the deployments.

The image size produced by the renders were significantly large, so, to optimize the workflow process, the artists used Azure Remote Desktop to review the render sequences on the cloud before downloading them on premises, which further helped them manage the internet bandwidth.

And with the production pipeline already developed on Azure, the transition to remote working after COVID-19 hit was smooth, allowing the team to meet the tight deadlines and complete the movie by November.

As early adopters and innovators in cloud-based animation, Threshold Entertainment and Incessant Rain are now looking toward the future of the studio in the cloud for upcoming productions.

New Frontiers with Infinite Scale

The innovation generated through this process is ultimately making Azure better at supporting the AI needs of their customers, even at scale. With the Azure NDv2 VM series, Azure was the first and only public cloud service offering clusters of VMs with NVIDIA V100 Tensor Core GPUs, connected by high-bandwidth, low-latency NVIDIA Mellanox InfiniBand networking.

The latest NCas T4 v3 Series VM from Azure is specifically designed for the AI and machine learning workloads, as they feature four NVIDIA T4 GPUs with 16GB of memory each.

The recently released ND A100 v4 VM series, Microsoft’s powerful and scalable AI virtual machine, starts with a single VM and eight NVIDIA A100 Tensor Core GPUs, and can scale up to thousands of GPUs with 1.6 Tb/s of interconnect bandwidth per VM.

Each GPU is provided with its own dedicated 200 Gb/s NVIDIA Mellanox HDR InfiniBand connection. Tens, hundreds or thousands of GPUs can then work together as part of a Mellanox InfiniBand HDR cluster to achieve any level of AI ambition.

Learn more about NVIDIA GPUs in media and entertainment.