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M&E Journal: Making Movie Magic Securely in the Cloud: A New Wave of Innovation

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By Ziad Lammam, VP Product Management and Marketing, Teradici

Hollywood is no stranger to digital transformation. Evolving from silent, black and white films, today’s entertainment landscape now consists of high-definition, three-dimensional movies with immersive surround sound audio technologies. However, with innovation comes new challenges. Modern media and entertainment companies are now faced with the daunting task of uprooting traditional approaches to data security management and workflows in order to elevate workloads to the cloud.

Imagine making movie magic happen securely on a computer thousands of miles away from Hollywood – this is the reality of filmmaking today. With the advent of new data management and virtualization technologies, the imaginative minds behind media and entertainment shops are taking their digital film creations to the cloud, where they can collaborate on workflows in real-time and independent of location. For a truly mobile industry, the agility to remotely access workloads accelerates collaboration, cuts cost and organizational hurdles, and ultimately provides the scaling necessary for the secure creation of full-length feature films.

Additionally, moving to the cloud enables studios to leverage remote visualization solutions, which provides creative professionals with the flexibility to work at their preferred pace and environment.

With the introduction of cloud computing comes a new wave of innovation for filmmakers. Just as the Hollywood of yesteryear transitioned from silent, black and white pictures to color film and sound, the cloud heralds the next frontier for the media and entertainment industry.

Driving accessibility and flexibility with cloud

As a result of the niche skillset required of VFX and animation professionals, the creation of a feature film is a complex operation, requiring collaboration from individuals across multiple teams, satellite offices and worksites. To further complicate things, even short clips of raw motion picture footage can reach file sizes of 100 GB or more, severely impeding project timelines and hampering productivity for all parties involved.

To address these challenges, VFX studios are looking to public and private cloud solutions to better promote real-time collaboration and cut costs with a secure, centralized and employee-oriented workstation environment that creatives can leverage in their day-to-day work life. For a truly hybrid solution, modern studios are now able to extend beyond private cloud capabilities, which enable a flexible, high-performance, yet secure solution for remotely accessing centralized assets, with public cloud solutions to accommodate professionals operating outside the confines of a studio. Ultimately, this hybrid approach creates a seamless experience for end users to collaborate on these massive datasets.

With many studios seeking to revamp their operations by tackling the core problems associated with post-production workflow delays, a cloud solution provides the comprehensive capabilities necessary to accelerate work processes while simultaneously cutting costs. Specifically, cloud-based studios can implement a centralized source for data assets to reduce the time spent on moving files from one place to another; instead of storing data at individual endpoints, such as your laptop or a physical data center, a virtualization setup enables a central storage point for key files, which can then be securely accessed from a remote client (similar to how a Google Drive or Dropbox solution works, except more robust).

This cuts time on file collaboration significantly, as production teams no longer have to delay their work waiting for raw video and audio files to upload and download, especially from less than ideal network setups.

Setting up remote workstations also reduces costs on upfront investments. Why build IT infrastructure from scratch for a temporary project? A remote desktop promotes an “anytime, anywhere” mentality, allowing studios to scale production teams appropriately and with a high degree of flexibility, ultimately fostering workforce and project efficiency on a global scale.

One significant concern on the minds of many studios is their overall data security strategy in the face of a rising volume of cybersecurity attacks. Cyber threats and hackers are no longer confined to the plots of cheesy ‘90s spy films – they are a reality many companies are only beginning to wake up to. Leading VFX studios are moving to the cloud, not only to enable remote creative talent, but also to take advantage of the matured security controls and infrastructures that cloud providers have invested heavily in over the last decade. When properly leveraged, the security measures ensuring the confidentiality, integrity and availability of sensitive data are much stronger than what individual VFX studios can afford to implement on their own.

By adopting a remote workstation setup with a centralized source of data, studios’ IT security professionals can focus on solving other risks as data transfer between remote sites and endpoints are minimized – what is not exposed cannot be compromised. And by segregating the corporate network and sensitive data storage away from employee devices, a virtualization setup also avoids the problem of malware or viruses spreading from employee endpoints to a corporate network or an employee device being the culprit of a data leak, as no studio data is physically stored on the endpoint.

Finally, remoting protocols like the PCoIP (PC-over-IP) protocol allow desktop and application content to be securely encrypted while in transit and delivered to the endpoint as pixels only. Users only visualize what is presented on their desktop, without any data or content files actually traveling over the network. This means that hackers cannot sniff and put together confidential data sets like video files.

There are other cloud security controls that help studios better manage their data security in storage as well. For example, you can leverage cloud services to automatically encrypt your data at rest and auto-rotate the encryption keys periodically. From managing your encryption keys to identity management, cloud services offer robust security controls for you to implement creative, yet secure data workflows.

The intangible benefits of a cloud-based solution extend beyond costs associated with setting up IT infrastructure, such as flexibility in device usage and location. This can have a dramatically positive impact on workplace productivity and end users can setup a workstation that is easy to use and emulates the same viewing capabilities of an in-office setup. This is especially important for the artists creating the stories we see on screen, who can now be afforded the time and space to innovate and create.

How modern studios are moving to the cloud

One innovative studio embracing the cloud is Jellyfish Pictures, a London-based, award winning VFX and animation studio supporting the post-production of films like Star Wars: Rogue One and shows like Black Mirror. Recently, Jellyfish pioneered Europe’s first virtual studios, supported by a plethora of technology solutions (including the PCoIP protocol) that elevate workflows into a virtualized and cloud-based workspace.

The studio’s new hybrid cloud-based virtualization solution relies on a combination of its VFX cloud and Teradici Cloud Access Software, which allows the studio to extend its environment to Microsoft Azure and enables ultimate workforce flexibility when supporting new projects or reallocating resources for existing ones. Jellyfish can now hire freelancers from any location using remote workstation technology and avoid costly infrastructure investments, saving upwards of $100,000 that would otherwise be invested in building new storage and servers within the studio.

VFX studio Atomic Fiction also uses the cloud to support large-scale rendering needs. By purchasing commoditized public cloud services from a major cloud provider, studios like Atomic Fiction are able to substantially reduce costs while simultaneously boosting the computing power behind graphically intensive VFX renders. According to Atomic Fiction co-founder and VFX supervisor Kevin Baillie, the studio was able to cut costs by 50 percent after moving to the cloud from traditional infrastructure through reductions in fixed costs and capital expenditures (such as computer equipment).

And cheaper also means faster compute in the cloud; Baillie says his company is now able to leverage more computing power in a shorter time for tasks that would normally take ten times longer on traditional computer equipment.

Famed VFX and animation studio Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) also implemented a unique, private cloud-based workspace virtualization solution powered by the PCoIP protocol, which supports the visualization of even the most demanding graphics-intensive applications. Using remote workstation solutions, ILM created a centralized, on-premises data center from which animation teams can remotely access their workstations, data and applications. Although ILM leverages a private cloud solution, its use of PCoIP on remote workstations allows for secure and accelerated collaboration on locally hosted workloads, similar to a public cloud use case.

A new frontier

Industries continue to face pressure to innovate or risk falling behind. The M&E industry is no exception when it comes to the accelerated migration to the cloud for enabling remote talent, better-cost management and ultimately faster consumer delivery. Moving to the cloud is on the agenda of many CIOs and CTOs in order to keep up with the growth in Hollywood content for films and shows. High-performance remoting technologies and rich security controls are at their disposal to create modern, competitive and secure workflow environments to guarantee profitability in the present day, and for the future.

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