February 6, 2020
As the CG animation studio responsible for the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Trolls and How to Train Your Dragon franchises, DreamWorks Animation (DWA) is an enormously respected business. In part it has achieved this status by wholeheartedly embracing the need to transform its core processes and operations – over and over again.
When DreamWorks Animation was launched in 1994, for example, the animation industry was still creating hand-drawn animations and a movie typically took 5-6 years to make. Acting on its aspiration to create a home for the very best animation artists and engineers, DWA got to work building a “digital pipeline” — a set of digital animation tools and infrastructure that supported artists’ workflow end-to-end. It enabled the studio to revolutionize their production process and, by 2001, the studio had created their very first entirely Computer-Generated Animation (CGA) movie, Shrek.
Acquisition and acceleration
In 2016, DWA was acquired by NBC-Universal. By this point, the company had already reinvented its creation processes and tools twice, and was already able to work on multiple movies in parallel and release two movies every year (where most animation studios released one every 18 months). However, along with its new parent company came new opportunity for increased content creation beyond feature films including television series, theme park attractions and other emerging multimedia platforms. It became clear that even though DWA was highly effective at building and managing digital creation workflows and infrastructure, it was going to need to move beyond owning all its own infrastructure and instead embrace a hybrid infrastructure that would harness both on-premises and public cloud resources.
DWA realized that, to accelerate and diversify its production output in line with business demand, it had to find a technology partner that aligned with those ambitions. DWA entered into a multi-year partnership with DXC Technology, with the specific aim of helping the company create a capability that would enable it to embrace “transformation as lifestyle.”
Creating a seamless experience for artists in a hybrid cloud environment
DWA is known worldwide for its storytellers and branded filmmakers. In each of their films, everything you see is computer-generated, crafted from the ground up and intentionally designed. That creates a lot of data. In fact, a single, completed DWA film creates 500 million digital files, together requiring around 750 TB of data storage (and that’s not including backups). What’s more, the digital processing for a modern CGA movie requires the use of around 25,000 compute cores for a total of around 150 million core-hours.
For DWA to optimize its artists’ experience, it needs to provide them and the tools they use with an effortless connection to all that data in a way that’s thoughtfully and strategically architected. DWA has already done this on-premises, but it needs to create the same level of connection with cloud-based resources — and do so in a way that’s completely seamless, regardless of the location of that data and compute.
What makes DWA’s challenge more complex is the knowledge that the infrastructure-as-a-service landscape is highly dynamic, and the provider with the best-fit portfolio for DWA today might not be the same as the best-fit provider in two or three years, as DWA’s requirements continue to evolve.
Presently, the studio’s key technology initiative is focused on expanding its production capacity in order to respond to the unprecedented demand for multiple types of animated content. That demand creates the need for a more analytics-based, cloud-enabled pipeline to increase availability of digital resources and maximize artist’s time. The ultimate objective of this initiative is to engineer solutions that will allow for on-demand digital resources and cross-pipeline, simultaneous production allowing for the creation of any type of animated content at any time.
So DWA is turning to DXC for their expertise in cloud architecture to help the studio develop a hybrid multi-cloud platform that bridges production resources and toolsets on-and-off premises. DXC is providing the studio with engineering acumen to develop capabilities that seamlessly manage operations between multiple private and public cloud instances.
How will DWA measure the success of its relationship with DXC? Success flows from DWA being able to see DXC’s resources as an extension of its own engineering capabilities — so with DXC alongside it can accelerate this latest phase of transformation. As DWA moves to a cadence of five movie releases every two years, along with expanded types of content creation, it wants a platform that lends itself to well-informed decisions about how to best utilize infrastructure in service of its growing production ambitions. That’s what business success looks like – “creative infrastructure as a service.”