Worldwide FX has crafted cinematic illusions since 2001, handling visual effects for more than 70 feature films and commercial projects to date. Headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria, the midsize studio established a London outpost specializing in CG creatures in early 2018, with the new facility’s first major project being the CG-heavy prologue to the “Hellboy” reboot directed by Neil Marshall. Starring David Harbour, Milla Jovovich and Ian McShane, the latest incarnation of Mike Mignola’s graphic novels finds the eponymous superhero battling an ancient sorceress bent on revenge. The film’s ten-minute prologue introduces audiences to Hellboy as he goes head to head with a massive werebat – a half human, half bat creature; nearly half of the sequence features significant VFX, including the full CG werebat and digital props.
Initially focused on asset creation, Worldwide FX UK’s 14-node farm and idle artist workstations provided sufficient render resources in early production. The studio added nodes a few months into the project, but as render needs continued to grow, it looked to the Conductor cloud platform to take them over the finish line.
Milen Piskuliyski, who heads Worldwide FX UK with Matt O’Sullivan, led the studio’s search for cloud-based resources that would be compatible with its Linux-based workflow. He shared, “Cloud rendering was always in the back of our mind as an option for scaling when we opened the UK studio, then we hit our delivery crunch on ‘Hellboy’ and that kicked off the search for viable a solution that supported both RenderMan and Katana. I like how everything is clearly laid out on the Conductor website; I could easily create my own account without contacting anyone, but they were very helpful once I reached out.”
Using Conductor allows Worldwide FX to turn around 4K shots quickly and receive timely feedback, ensuring high quality delivery. “The sheer power of Conductor is unbelievable,” added O’Sullivan. “Space in London is expensive, and with Conductor, we can get the rendering help we need, without the physical considerations of growing our own farm or complicated license negotiations. Sending jobs to the cloud with Conductor is very simple and efficient, and we didn’t need to change our connectivity to get up and running.”
Ultimately, Worldwide FX UK completed about 25 percent of their “Hellboy” rendering with Conductor, using 720,000 core hours to generate over 100,000 frames throughout the project and peaking at 14,000 simultaneous cores to offset the demands of heavy, high resolution CG shots that occupied ample screen space. Locally, the studio processed 464,246 frames that required 753 days of render time and resulted in a total data output of 11.1 TB.
“After a bit of trial and error, we figured out how to get the most from pre-emptible instances on Conductor and could boost up when we needed with fantastic results,” O’Sullivan explained. “Time is money and Conductor gave us what we needed. Our final product would not have looked the same if we weren’t able to view it on a regular basis, and our artists were happy to improve on their work rather than waiting around.”
Noted Piskuliyski, “The werebat has massive wings with a ton of subsurface scattering for realistic light interaction, which was difficult to render in 2K and 4K. We dedicated our local render farm for these type of big ‘money shots,’ but then our farm was fully utilized so we’d have to wait hours to complete our utilities and different passes, like comps and shadows, that wouldn’t typically take a long time to render. Conductor relieved the pressure of having our local farm maxed out and allowed our artists to continue iterating, even all our resources were being consumed.”
Looking to future projects, Worldwide FX UK will continue to rely on Conductor for crunch time deliverables but is also considering exploring other ways that using the platform could be beneficial.
Concluded O’Sullivan, “From a production standpoint, Conductor is very helpful for budgeting since we’re able to project costs using our own farm and the cloud. As cloud technology becomes more prominent in the VFX industry, Conductor stands out, providing a quality option for achieving fast, quality renders. We’re an emerging studio in a challenging city and Conductor has been invaluable in our forward momentum.”