Exciting news for digital-entertainment in Vancouver, brought to you in part by Rainmaker!
Three Vancouver digital production studios, a Toronto-based technology firm and Great Northern Way Campus are collaborating to attract digital-entertainment projects on the scale of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings to Vancouver.
The innovative, pay-as-you-go facility, called a "render farm," will offer the computing power necessary to rival big international centres in New Zealand and London and is expected to significantly increase Vancouver's ability to attract largescale digital-entertainment projects.
"It enables the studios here to scale up and scale down in a cost-effective manner that would enable them to take bigger projects such as a Harry Potter, rather than being given portions of these projects," Catherine Winder, president of Rainmaker Entertainment Inc., said on behalf of the three studios involved: Rainmaker, Digital Domain Productions and Image Engine. "We [will] have an infrastructure that enables us to take on the bigger projects and when those projects are finished, you're not holding the bag of all these costs you have to take on."
Toronto-based technology firm Scalar Decisions has invested more than $4 million to kick-start the data centre, named RenderCloud, with 600 servers and a technical solution they created to meet the entertainment industry's security needs, said Darren Sharpe, Scalar general manager for Western Canada.
RenderCloud will launch Feb. 15 and is expected to expand to 1,500 servers by late summer, Sharpe said. Scalar will be marketing RenderCloud's services in Montreal, Toronto, Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Great Northern Way Campus is providing 3,500 square feet at its Centre for Digital Media on "favourable" terms as part of an overall strategy to attract digital media firms to their 18-acre site.
"What this project is all about is a more collaborative approach to the rendering capability problem," said Great Northern Way Campus president Matthew Carter.
Rainmaker, Digital Domain and Image Engine are RenderCloud's first customers and have each signed threeyear agreements that together cover the dedicated use of all 600 initial servers. The studios can sublease excess capacity, or take on more servers as needed.
The expectation is that other studios will follow suit. Customers not wanting to contract for dedicated servers can simply sublet the excess capacity after paying a minimum $15,000 fee for a dedicated switch to create a secure connection.
"There's almost no studio demand that we cannot take on today," Sharpe said. "Within a matter of a couple of weeks, we can scale the solution out to thousands of servers. For many of our customers today, their render solutions are in the hundreds [of servers]."
Sharpe said the RenderCloud model can support up to 5,000 servers. The project is the first time Scalar has built its own data centre to rent out and is the company's most ambitious managed services project to date, he said.
Rainmaker's Winder said the new service will be invaluable to the studio. "We really need the flexibility that RenderCloud provides us with," she said. "Production has its ebbs and flows. Rainmaker is now delivering three different projects at the same time and we really need a lot of rendering power and when it's done, we really don't need that power .... The bottom line is [RenderCloud] makes us cost competitive."
Winder recently turned down a six-month project that would have cost Rainmaker an extra $2 million in ramp-up costs. These situations come in regularly, she said.
Rainmaker anticipates increasing its use of RenderCloud servers until, in two or three years, it expects to close its in-house farm entirely, eliminating costs for space, people, servers and air conditioning.
BC Film + Media president Richard Brownsey believes RenderCloud will help Vancouver grow into a major international content-production centre in digital media.
Most of the major international digital effects companies have either established or announced an intention to establish a studio in Vancouver in the past two years, Brownsey said.
"When you are seeing business grow that quickly, you do look at what are the infrastructure pieces that might be necessary to make sure that happens.
"We'll see how it builds out, but to me it is a very logical, creative and probably unique piece of cooperation that's going to have long-term benefits for this industry."
RenderCloud will make a "very compelling" reason for firms to locate on Great Northern Way Campus land, said Carter, whose key role as president is to orchestrate redevelopment of the site.
Great Northern Way Campus is in good financial shape with both its academic program set to break even this year and debt arising from the initial site acquisition to be fully repaid in 2012, Carter said.
The campus is owned and operated by the four academic partners behind the Centre for Digital Media: the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design and the B.C. Institute of Technology.
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