Off-Site, On-Target:
Mobilizing Artists at The Third Floor

Intro:

There is more to movie magic than what meets the eye.

Behind the scenes are not just a director and a handful of cameras. There are assistant directors (focusing on costume, photography, etc.), swathes of shuffling professionals and artists (from make-up to voiceover), an army of editors (each with their own hefty knapsack), and kilograms upon kilograms of what is described loosely as ‘equipment’ – enough to fill a small hangar or a 15 minute credit sequence when the movie ends.

What touches all these people is technology. And between the human capital and the hardware, it is evident that every day of unnecessary shooting represents millions of dollars in sunk cost.

Challenge:

Ironically, TTF is not immune to these challenges. To work with Marvel, one must be as agile as Marvel.

In August, TTF might need fifteen artists “off-site,” who will work not in TTF’s studio setup but in the client’s locality and network. Come September, that number may increase to forty-eight, balloon to eighty-four by November, and be back at fifteen after New Year’s. Each of these artists must be provisioned with hardware, apps, relevant data for assignment, and then be joined to the client’s ultra-secure network.

Configuring these users at client site, which is to say, have TTF’s IT team travel back and forth by user demand, is out of the question. To get around this, TTF has used VDI on-premises, setting up server hardware remotely for editors to access wherever they worked. This setup made TTF’s work possible without truly alleviating the scalability problem.

These words beg the question: “Is this hardware necessary?”
More than any other single phrase, this question defines the motive for cloud computing
and propels us into action here at itopia.

The Solution and Outcomes:

TTF came to us by chance, meeting after a demonstration of our cloud desktops at Google offices in LA. They already had the desire to go cloud and understood on-premises VDI was their stack’s liability, but they needed a product that could offload the manual work and cut out the clunkiness.

After listening to the challenge at hand, it became clear itopia
software makes the difference in a few key areas:

  • itopia creates a complete domain inside a Google Cloud project whose VMs are configured automatically. This means all IT needs to do is expand or contract it based on their needs.
  • itopia autoscaling builds or destroys VMs when users enter or leave the domain, an exact solution to the “45 artists on Tuesday, 84 on Friday” problem. Where before, this entailed having team fumble with complicated servers, now it’s automated and far more responsive.
  • itopia simplifies creation of custom images in Google Cloud, so when artists login to their remote desktop, it will have all their apps (determined by custom image) and all their files (stored in a file server in domain) every time, no matter whether they were provisioned yesterday or last year.
  • itopia makes it easy to turn VMs off when not needed, so TTF’s team can focus on running only what they need by the minute, saving tremendous amounts on total cloud consumption instead of spending hours with servers, cajoling them to run intelligently. Hardware, once paid for, puts stress on the owner to extract value or take a loss. Cloud compute, with its liquid billing model, encourages its caretakers to optimize and reap savings every month.

We conducted an itopia pilot, and after positive feedback from users and bright ideas from our engineering team, TTF was delighted to move this workload to Google Cloud.

The final solution involves artists bringing their high-class film devices to work with clients (including ultra-sensitive client IP) while accessing their company work session and business services like Office, email, and Google Earth (for visualizing locations) via Google Cloud. This way, TTF artists continue to do pre-visualization as they’ve always done it, but are pleased to find all their business ops are, all of a sudden, simple, fast, and extremely available.

This represents an inversion of the traditional hybrid data security model, where sensitive data is boxed-up in the cloud and business ops go on inside local devices. There are countless companies in Media & Entertainment who want to guarantee their clients maximum security without handcuffing their mobile artists. For TTF and others, making client IP local while granting access to hyper-accessible cloud work sessions represents a new way forward.

Here’s how Jeremy describes the benefits:

The reason why the solution makes so much sense is because we can create a bigger divide between our show content that absolutely needs to be secure and not leaked out to the internet. Being able to push that portion up on the cloud, and say, okay, there’s no way that it can touch our show content—that gives us a lot more confidence we’re protecting our clients’ IP, and by extension, protecting us. If they don’t have confidence in us, then we’re not going to get to work.

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