As the Digital Media Specialist at Dawnrunner I work very closely with Geoff Peck to find viable workflow solutions for our team, and implement them as smoothly as possible. Since for the most part I work from home, I am the ideal guinea pig for testing the GRID; and arguably have more actual real-world production hours with the hardware than anyone else in the world. I’ve done just about everything on the GRID, from 3D design and rendering to video editing, compositing and even some graphic design. So far my experience with the GRID has been pretty eye-opening, greatly increasing my productivity, and exposing me to an entirely new way to work from anywhere.

Work from anywhere, anytime

Since the team at Dawnrunner scales from project to project, there are often freelance artists working from home, or remote locations. Our productivity with offsite artists (myself included) is always disrupted by the time it takes to ship hard drives around or to sync proxies over the internet. It’s frustrating as an artist to be tasked with a small portion of a very large project, with definite deadlines and dependencies, and have to wait for IT. We have known for a long time we needed to move to remote computing but there were no feasible software solutions that would accommodate working with high resolution images and video. The GRID was both a hardware and software solution that solved our immediate problems, and even a few we did not realize we had.

Grid Start

The Grid gives me the power of an entire workstation through my Macbook pro at Starbucks.

The GRID exists physically in our main office with all our assets and is accessible remotely via VPN. This means I can work on projects that have terabytes of assets without having to create and download a single proxy. I should also note that not all our projects can be worked on via proxies either. Any work we do that requires any visual effects like green screen and 3D compositing, can’t be done effectively with proxies. So in the past either I just could not work remotely on those projects, or I had to wait for the footage (often 4K) to sync from one location to another. This was a grueling delay in an otherwise creative process. Having all our assets accessible remotely via the GRID means I can now work on larger projects than ever before, and at an unparalleled speed.

I’ve found a 4 Mbps connection is all you need to work fluidly within the GRID. This means I can access and work on projects from almost anywhere I have an internet connection. While I mostly work at home; I’ve used the GRID all sorts of places from Starbucks on a laptop to on-location during  a shoot. In a pinch I have even accessed the GRID bouncing from my smartphone to my workstation via remote desktop and into the GRID.  Not recommended, but desperate times… I have yet to use the GRID on a plane but that’s next on my checklist! With the GRID, any artist who works with us has the power of up to eight GPU-accelerated workstations in the palm of their hands, at all times. Without worrying about syncing assets back and forth, the artist can focus completely on their work.  In this next generation of ultra-high resolution formats, this addresses a major pain point for freelance artists and post-production facilities alike.

This isn’t remote computing as you know it

When we realized we needed a way to work remotely at Dawnrunner we looked at solutions like Remote Desktop or VNC and immediately realized they weren’t responsive enough to do any real work. We could use them to start renders on our farm but we basically had to fully prep the file on a local machine first, then send to the remote machine over the internet. The GRID changed all of that.

VirtualCursor

NVIDIA Grid allows for custom cursors to be used lag-free.

The experience using the GRID is unlike any remote desktop you have ever used, and is for the most part indistinguishable from working on a local machine. Its response time is for all intents and purposes lag free and with the GRID’s  “local mouse” mode, I sometimes forget I’m using a computer almost 100 miles away. I’m not sure how NVIDIA did it, but if they told me the GRID was powered by magic, I’d be inclined to believe them! In fact the only hiccups I ever come across are bandwidth related, and for the most part on my end.

Anything I would do on a local machine I can do virtually on the GRID with the exception of fine tuning grades or composites. You have to remember that while the feed from the GRID is smooth, it’s still compressed. I always like to have my worked checked out locally before I start the final render of any given project. This is especially true when working in larger color spaces like P3 or doing any sort of texture management, whether it’s reducing grain or adding it. It’s just something to keep in mind, although it hasn’t disrupted our workflow so far.

Powerful, yet flexible

Since I work on almost all aspects of a project’s pipeline, from footage ingestion and prep all the way to color-grading and final print, I often find myself using more than one seat at a time. There have been times where four artists have been logged into two GRID sessions each, doing camera matching with one seat and rendering them out with the other. The session I’m actively working on has no apparent slow-downs, despite the GRID being under a heavy workload.  This kind of flexibility, at least in my experience, is unparalleled.

The machine is also wicked fast at anything that’s GPU accelerated. From de-noising 100 gigabytes of footage from a night shoot with Cinnafilm’s Dark Energy to using the Liquify tool on 8K texture maps in Adobe Photoshop; the GRID does it with surprising speed. While not every tool we use is CUDA or GPU accelerated, the pool of available tools is already growing at a rapid pace and we’re bound to see widespread industry adoption.

Constant evolution

The team at NVIDIA has been amazing about supplying software patches to fix bugs we find or even add features that speed up our workflow.  This makes an already impressive tool, an absolute must have for the post-production facilities wanting to flex their technological muscle.  Dawnrunner had the unique opportunity to assist with the beta-testing of the GRID VCA, and we quickly realized the power it represented.  As such we radically researched and implemented an entirely new workflow.  NVIDIA was quick to help support those efforts and the evolution of this appliance

From a user standpoint there is nothing better than being able to mold the tools to your workflow, and Nividia has provided us with just that. The GRID is something that has fundamentally changed our workflow at Dawnrunner and created new expectations for what the future of virtualized computing can provide for the film industry. Our goal is to always stand at the edge of innovation looking forward, and find the technologies that will in the best way disrupt our industry. NVIDIA’s GRID VCA is one of those technologies.

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