Want to know what the creative studio of the future will look like? Then it’s worth paying attention to Untold Studios. Launched in 2018 by former executives at The Mill, Darren O’Kelly and Neil Davies, and underpinned by AWS (Amazon Web Services) technology, it’s the world’s first fully cloud-based creative studio.
This means that, rather than sinking money into expensive real estate, the East London firm has instead harnessed AWS tech to work more flexibly. This has enabled it to be scalable and innovative, not to mention attract the best talent both locally and around the globe, and of course, remaining totally lockdown-proof throughout 2020.
Despite being such a young agency, Untold Studios’ tech-enabled workflow has helped its artists deliver world-class projects for high profile brands, including Nissan, Apple, Nike, Samsung, and Netflix, across a number of formats. From live action production and motion graphics design to creating photoreal creatures and developing original content, they’ve been able to work fluidly, infusing every step with imagination and artistry.
In its first year alone, its artists were recognised with Visual Effects Society (VES) Award nominations for three separate projects; the only studio worldwide to do so. Their work to digitally recreate the Aberfan disaster for Netflix’s “The Crown” was recognised for Outstanding Supporting VFX in a Photoreal Episode, while the skateboarding bulldog Churchie (advertising Churchill Insurance) and the loveable but incident-prone dragon Edgar (advertising John Lewis) received nods for Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial.
So what are the secrets of its success? Read on as we outline six ways basing operations in the cloud with AWS has helped Untold Studios become the global player it is today.
01. On-boarding in under a minute
Untold Studios’ head of technology Sam Reid estimates the studio’s on-boarding and provisioning process for artists now takes less than one minute, making the company extremely agile compared to studios using on-premises workstations.
“Apart from creative, we can automate nearly everything,” he says. “We can on-board artists quickly and hire remote talent without worrying about their workstation setup. It’s all done through our home-grown launching platform, so the technology team can concentrate on improving other areas of our workflow and taking on the new challenges to revolutionise our industry.”
02. Artists can work from anywhere
Since all of Untold Studios’ computing power and storage resides on AWS, artists are able to work from anywhere in the world. This flexibility proved advantageous as the studio transitioned to a full work-from-home model in March 2020. “Moving to a working from home environment was easy for us,” recalls Reid.
03. Troubleshooting is easier
Another benefit of being based in the cloud is the flexibility this offers the studio. “Every aspect of our infrastructure can be managed in the cloud, with detailed metrics easily accessible across machines, allowing artists to troubleshoot if any issues arise,” says Reid.
“We can also develop builds faster than most as we launch from machine images,” he adds. “Once changes have been made to the AMI – the Amazon Machine Image – it takes seconds to capture the new one, and even less time to change the launch code across workstations. This is much quicker than it would be with on-premises workstations, where an engineer would have to take the time to update each physical machine.”
04. Collaboration is more creative
Artist collaboration has also benefited from Untold Studios’ embrace of AWS. Each person can now access and view project files securely and instantly from anywhere in the world, which means artists can work alongside their teams and take immediate action, allowing for a more fluid creative journey.
“Our collaboration capabilities with AWS have profoundly impacted our creativity,” says Reid. “Whether we’re in the same room or across the world, our teams can visualise work, as well as give and receive feedback in seconds. In our studio space, all the desks are identical so there’s no re-configuration needed once an artist has moved seats, saving valuable time. Also, we don’t have significant hardware, so our tech team isn’t weighed down by having to move kit around.”
05. Artists can work faster
The flexibility of AWS also means Untold Studios can work in the most efficient ways possible. For instance, its artists have recently been tapping virtual workstations on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) G4 instances, which are optimised for digital content production with NVIDIA T4 GPUs and Quadro technology.
“G4 has had a huge impact on how we work,” says Reid. “We can upgrade a whole fleet of workstations with one line of code, so artists can work faster, improving creativity within everything we do.” With expanded instance options to select from, Untold Studios can more accurately match virtual machine types to specific workloads, an approach that is beneficial both creatively and economically.
By working more efficiently, the studio can devote more resources to R&D, thus continually elevating its work and technical capabilities to realise increasingly ambitious creative visions. Having near-infinite storage capacity with AWS has also been key to the studio’s success, as it can easily scale resources to take on jobs it wouldn’t have been able to execute otherwise.
06. Growth without capital expenditure
Basing their setup on AWS means Untold Studios can more reliably plan for the future without having to worry about their tech or resources keeping up. Right now, Reid envisions that Untold Studios will continue to grow its talent pool and broaden its capabilities.
“Using AWS, we can work with an infinite number of people, including directors, designers, animators, copywriters and script developers,” he enthuses. “So we’d love to keep adding to our arsenal as we take on new and exciting creative challenges in original content, advertising, music, and beyond.”
As digital content becomes increasingly complex and data-rich, with shots taking longer to render and requiring more powerful machines, Untold Studios is well-suited to take on such formidable projects. “And we can do so with no capital expenditure,” he points out. “We just need to change a few lines of code.”
And Reid would highly recommend other studios follow the same path. “For those considering the cloud for content production, take the leap,” he urges. “It’s an exciting journey and you can confidently say you are building a studio for the future, with a key balance on technology and creativity that will remain current and efficient throughout all areas of the business.”
For more information about virtual workstations, visit the AWS website.