Walt Disney Studios Teams Up With Microsoft to Make Movies in the Cloud (EXCLUSIVE)

A Gate is Seen at the
Brendan Mcdermid/EPA/Shutterstoc

The Walt Disney Studios has partnered with Microsoft to move key parts of its movie-making and distribution processes to the cloud. The five-year partnership is being spearheaded by Disney’s StudioLab, an internal innovation incubation lab, and has the ultimate goal of using Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform all the way “from scene to screen,” as the two companies put it in an announcement Friday.

“There are tons of benefits of being in the cloud,” said Walt Disney Studios chief technology officer Jamie Voris in an interview with Variety this week. Voris said that the initial focus of the collaboration will be on moving some of the studio’s editing to the cloud, something that will be aided by Microsoft’s existing partnership with creative tools specialist Avid.

Cloud-based editing will allow Walt Disney Studios to more easily collaborate across multiple locations, explained Voris. “We can be on a set in Australia and editing in Burbank,” he said. “Filmmaking is a global process.”

And with Hollywood embracing global streaming services, like Disney does with Disney Plus, it’s only logical that the industry would also look to technology to future-proof its global production pipelines. “It really feels like we are at the tipping point for cloud in media and entertainment,” said Microsoft US president Kate Johnson.

Working collaboratively on the same project in the cloud will also cut down on the need to store and administer many different copies of a file, explained Voris. “For big films, we produce petabytes of data.” And with all that data comes the risk of footage getting lost, or falling into the wrong hands. “Moving around physical files is a risky proposition,” he said.

Voris said that Walt Disney Studios chose Microsoft to kick off its cloud ambitions because some of the company’s cloud competitors weren’t as focused on the media space. Johnson acknowledged that the company was trying to beat the competition in Hollywood. “We like to think of us as the platform cloud for media and entertainment,” she said.

Part of this was due to Microsoft embracing media as a strategic growth opportunity for Azure. However, Johnson also mused that some in Hollywood might be hesitant to work with competing cloud giants that were operating their own media businesses — a not-so-subtle dig at Amazon and Google, which at times have been accused of using some of the data insights they’re getting from partners to supercharge their own businesses. “We just don’t do that,” she said.

Walt Disney Studios and Microsoft have already begun to implement production workflows on the Azure platform, and a StudioLab representative told Variety that the audiences may see first movies that have been edited in the cloud on the big screen in 12 to 18 months. Asked about the prospects of seeing the Microsoft logo appear in the credits of a Disney blockbuster, Johnson quipped: “I can’t wait.”