Weta Digital heads to the cloud, going all-in with AWS

Weta Digital heads to the cloud, going all-in with AWS

Weta Digital to cease investing in its own supercomputing power and head to the cloud

Weta Digital is famous for its Lord of the Rings series and Avatar effects.

Weta Digital is famous for its Lord of the Rings series and Avatar effects.

Credit: Supplied

After provisioning its own supercomputing power for decades, Weta Digital is preparing to retire most of its IT infrastructure and head for the cloud with AWS. 

The studio's datacentre cluster in Wellington regularly made the Top 500 list of global supercomputers until fading out in June 2018.

Weta will now use AWS' cloud services to create a new, cloud-based visual effects (VFX) workflow, including a set of technologies for VFX artists to support the studio’s global expansion, accelerate key portions of film production, and expand Weta Digital’s New Zealand operations.

Over the course of this multi-year deal, the studio will migrate the vast majority of its IT infrastructure to AWS to support a pipeline that includes 100 proprietary tools and its LED-stage virtual production service, which creates immersive new worlds on set. 

Weta Digital will also use AWS to produce and render original content from the newly announced "Weta Animated" and deliver on its multi-year movie slate.

The shift is quite a turnaround for the company, which in 2014 said cloud computing costs did not cut it against the costs and benefits of its own infrastructure.

CIO Kathy Gruzas said at the time that while there are many cloud applications Weta could use and which are “theoretically very attractive”, when the company has studied cloud costs they did not stack up.

Bandwidth was also an issue, both in terms of costs, but also the volume of data and latency.

Weta Digital's supercomputer cluster was then powered by 5000 HP servers.

Visual effects artists use a wide range of animation and compositing software to integrate computer-generated imagery with live action footage, creating scenes that go beyond what can easily be captured with film alone.

This imagery generates a massive volume of video and image files that can put a strain on IT resources and requires delicate load balancing to keep production facilities operating at peak capacity. 

Leveraging AWS’s global infrastructure and AWS services, can spread those workloads more efficiently around the world, freeing up talent and resources to continue to create remotely wherever Weta's creative staff were based.

“Weta Digital has been an innovator in the visual effects industry for decades," said Prem Akkaraju, CEO of Weta Digital. 

"By adopting AWS’s ultra-scale infrastructure, we can implement a proprietary cloud pipeline and globally scale our production to greater levels than ever before.”

Weta established a remote collaborative workflow in March due to the pandemic to continue work on the Avatar sequels and other films. With AWS, it could now take that to a global scale.

"Drawing on AWS’s virtually unlimited compute capacity, we can empower our artists to work safely and securely where they want without technical limitations,"Akkaraju said.

"In addition, using the breadth and depth of AWS services we can more easily test new ideas and technologies as we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in visual effects today. 

"AWS services, such as machine learning and data analytics, will help Weta deliver projects faster and more cost effectively, and our customers will enjoy the fruits of Weta Digital’s continuous innovation.”

Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS, said Weta Digital will rely on AWS’s portfolio of services to continue redefining what was possible on screen at a scale that was not previously possible. 

"Through its collaboration with AWS, Weta Digital is reducing technology barriers for those in the filmmaking industry, strengthening its operations in New Zealand and globally, and paving the way for immersive, new experiences for moviegoers," Jassy said.

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