Cloud Computing Brightens Indies’ Outlook

Virtual resources help modestly budgeted shows realize grand ambitions

Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle

Cloud computing was once an esoteric tech tool, something for visual-effects companies and tech-forward filmmakers.
But as they’ve come down in price, cloud services — like such once-exotic tools as CGI and digital intermediate — have been adopted by independent films and live events, changing filmed entertainment production along the way.

Cloud advocates that it liberates creatives from the limitations of whatever physical infrastructure they could afford. David Peto, CEO of Aframe — which recently unveiled version 3.0 of its cloud platform — calls it removing “friction.”

“Friction is all the stuff that gets in the way, every day, of anyone who’s creative,” says Peto. “Waiting around for stuff to come back, waiting to see what’s going on in the edit, waiting for stuff to be changed from one format to another … all of those things that slow down the process.”

Cloud storage, the most familiar cloud service, makes shipping tapes, reels or disks obsolete. But cloud services include rendering and more.

Matt Wood of Amazon Web Services likens his company’s offerings to a utility: “Customers dial in for the resources they need, and they only pay for it as they use it.” For smaller productions, says Wood, that means being able to realize a larger vision with smaller resources.

“Instead of saying, ‘Our render farm is full, we can’t build the scene that you need,’ they say, ‘Of course we can do that.’ So you get this remarkable benefit of being able to break down the walls that have constrained the visual feeling of cinema for so long.”

Victor Borachuk of JupiterReturns used Elemental Technologies’ cloud services to live-stream over 100 runway shows from Lincoln Center during Fashion Week. “(The cloud) is like having infinite resources, but you don’t have to own them,” says Borachuk. “Things that were only available to huge television companies with incredible budgets, you get a box that gives you all that power.”

Cloud services are a boon for small productions with big ambitions. David O. Russell’s film “American Hustle” had a short shooting schedule, with 2013 Boston standing in for 1973 New York.

“The way David O. Russell shoots, it’s very intense, it’s very energetic,” says visual effects supervisor Sean Devereaux. Russell would even turn the camera around in the middle of a take, going from Christian Bale to shoot the reverse angle on Amy Adams or Jennifer Lawrence. “(There was) no cutting, no time to put up a new greenscreen or new tracking markers,” says Devereaux.

The production used Amazon Web Services to run Zync for rendering digital backgrounds and the Shotgun asset management app. That let Devereaux show CG backgrounds to Russell on set during shooting without slowing the process down.

Cloud services aren’t ideal for everyone, however. “In a lot of ways, the cloud is like renting or leasing a car,” says Dustin Encelewski, director, product management for Elemental. “If you buy the car outright, you spend more money up front, but if you continue to use the car, you’re going to spend a lot more money renting or leasing. So it depends on what the use-case is.”


Variety at NAB

April 6, 11:30 a.m. Variety senior features editor David S. Cohen moderates “Gravity Gravitas” at the Technology Summit on Cinema. Panelists from the space drama include cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki; colorist Steven J. Scott, Technicolor; re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay; CG sequence supervisor Harry Bardak.

April 9. 3 p.m. Cohen in a one-on-one talk with an industry expert at the Media Management in the Cloud conference.