Creative studio Taylor James breaks down boundaries with AWS

Cloud-based workflow brings scalable capacity, access to global talent and seamless remote collaboration.

Global creative production studio Taylor James provides the artistic firepower behind mesmerizing short form content for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including luxury automakers, consumer packaged goods, and technology companies.

Embracing a multidisciplinary approach, the awarding-winning Taylor James team spans locations in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Mexico City, and draws from a diverse skillset to deliver end-to-end creative solutions and powerful stories across platforms. Committed to pushing the boundaries of production technology, the studio prioritizes a thoughtful approach to each project to produce standout creative. That passion for progress drove the studio to adopt a cloud-based content production workflow built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) that will carry the studio into the future.

A still from a Rain-X spot crafted by Taylor James.

Taylor James first transitioned its New York infrastructure to AWS as its on-premises hardware neared end of life, a move that was also accelerated by lessons learned from remote work during the pandemic. The studio felt a shift to a hybrid co-working model in a smaller space was in order, rather than return to a 40-artist studio setup once it was safe for employees to return.

Mark Knowles, who serves as General Manager of Creative Production for TAG, the parent company of Taylor James, oversaw the initial implementation of AWS for the New York office, which was completed within five weeks.

Stills from a Pacifico campaign.

“Pre-pandemic, we considered alternate ways to work, but there was a lingering misconception that some roles needed to remain in the office. Then as we were forced to work remotely, we discovered it could be done successfully and that prompted us to rethink our setup,” noted Knowles. “As we planned to downsize our space, we knew that we’d need to replace our hardware and considered a few cloud-based and hybrid solutions, but AWS was the one that solved all our problems. Not only was our exit schedule aggressive, but also New York is our biggest studio, so it was an ambitious undertaking.”

From nearly anywhere, Taylor James artists can now log onto virtual workstations running on Amazon EC2 G4dn instances via the NICE DCV streaming protocol and a custom front-end UI. While g4dn.4xlarge instances are typically sufficient, specs can be bumped up on-the-fly for heavy simulations or other CPU-intensive jobs. Depending upon the project, the studio leverages a range of industry-standard creative applications, including Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya, Flame and Arnold; the Adobe Creative Suite; Chaos Group’s V-Ray; Foundry’s Nuke; and Maxon’s Cinema 4D and Redshift. Deadline software, developed by AWS Thinkbox, is used to manage render resources, predominately Amazon EC2 Spot Instances. Active storage is managed by pixitmedia’s pixstor powered by ngenea, and archive storage is housed in various tiers on Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), including Deep Glacier.

SIGGRAPH SESSION: Mark Knowles from Taylor James will be presenting at SIGGRAPH 2021 on Wednesday, 11 August 202 at 11:30pm PDT in the session ‘Content creation under a new creative paradigm: From on premises to cloud – Presented by AWS’.

“Beyond the sheer scalability that we now have at our fingertips with AWS and quicker compute time, our team feels like we are back in the studio again, even though we’re still working remotely. Collaboration is much easier – artists are working in the same virtual studio, sharing the same data, using the same machine image and tools. This has made us a closer production team and also provided more seamless interoperability between our regional hubs by removing software or licensing issues that arise when sharing files across time zones,” Knowles explained. “Our costs are predictable, and with a more efficient infrastructure, we can iterate more frequently across our rendering workflow, simulate more data, render more frames, and generally refine our creative output faster. This has been critical to finessing the final 10 percent of the work, where rendering and simulation time is often the bottleneck. For example, we just produced a beautiful piece for Cole Haan with a tremendous amount of simulation that our AWS infrastructure made much easier.”

With the successful migration of the New York studio to AWS, Taylor James is now shifting all of its locations to cloud-based infrastructure on AWS. Combining the scalability of AWS and the flexibility of a robust remote workflow, the company can now more easily tap into a global talent pool and quickly on-board talent. Whereas lead time for procuring a rental workstation is at least a week, they can spin up a virtual workstation for a freelancer in a matter of minutes. The company is looking at other ways to leverage AWS services, including for parent company TAG, and consolidating SAAS products to use with AWS as the backbone of the business.

A Cole Hann campaign.

Knowles concluded, “Initially, we resisted change in favor of familiarity, but fully adopting AWS has been transformative for our business. We now have unlimited access to the best talent from any location in the world, without geographical restrictions, and the ability to collaborate without borders helps us to shape a more diverse organization.”

For more information on cloud-based content production with AWS, check out: https://aws.amazon.com/media/content-production/

Brought to you by AWS:
This article is part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series here.

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