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Deadline’’s Roots Run Deep at Whiskytree

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LR-Deadline_WT_StevenSince its inception in 2007, Whiskytree has grown from a matte painting shop into a full-service CG house, creating visual effects for feature films, commercials and video games. Based in San Rafael, Calif., the company’s employee headcount hovers around 25 but is often scaled up as projects demand so. Whiskytree’’s credits include VFX-heavy films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World, Elysium and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. To deliver the required visuals, Whiskytree has embraced a ‘strong hardware backend running software –including Thinkbox Software‘’s Deadline, a data and process management solution.

Whiskytree uses Deadline to manage the processing of all data on the render farm, not just the renders. The studio also runs deliveries through the software to create QuickTime files for review. Transcoding, conversions, file copies and system back ups are also processed through Deadline.

““We can’t always start from scratch, so we leverage the strength and effectiveness of off-the-shelf components,”” said Votch Levi, VFX supervisor, Whiskytree. ““Deadline has become a key, central tool in our operation. We pretty much run everything through Deadline in some way, shape or form.””

Whiskytree’’s primary content creation package is Autodesk Softimage, with Autodesk Maya and Autodesk 3ds Max lightly used for file format conversion. Compositing is done using The Foundry‘’s NUKE and auxiliary tools include Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Mudbox, The Foundry’’s MARI and Sitni Sati’s FumeFX. Running on Windows, Whiskytree regularly uses around 1,200 render cores, but has the capacity to run 3,000 cores if such is needed.

When Whiskytree originally installed Deadline in 2010, its render farm was far more modest. Tapped at approximately 100 VFX shots on the first Thor film, the company doubled its machine count to 20 as the project kicked off, with Levi spearheading the transition to Deadline. He explained, ““I’ve set up render farms in the past with 800 nodes in Deadline and done some really big projects where we submitted hundreds or thousands of jobs to the render farm every night. I knew Deadline would be more than up to the task of growing our render farm.””

LR-Whiskytree_EE_024-0010_finalSince the transition, Deadline has been used on every subsequent Whiskytree project, including two films shortlisted for the 2013 best visual effects Oscar, –Elysium and Thor: The Dark World.

“”If I need something to be processed more than once, I’m going to do it on the render farm. When we do transfers to other facilities and deliveries, those happen in Deadline. That way we can queue them, organize them and set priorities,”” said Levi.

In addition to file transfers, Whiskytree uses Deadline to process FumeFX caches and crowd data in Softimage. Paul Hudson, tools developer at Whiskytree, has executed a fair amount of scripting to customize Deadline plug-ins and created a proprietary application called XSI Factory, which allows the team to take jobs from inside Softimage and offload them to Deadline for processing, –whether exporting a crowd, processing Arnold Scene Source files or converting geometry.

Whiskytree has also relied on Deadline’’s ability to provide information to Shotgun‘’s production management database. While functionality is now built-in, the studio initially modified Deadline plug-ins to update Shotgun. Currently, everything from scene statistics, such as memory usage per node, render time per frame and memory per frame, as well as render settings such as frame size, render resolution and anti-alias settings, are all stored in Deadline. The software then pushes that information to Shotgun, which allows Whiskytree to build statistics and review trends for a particular job.

“”The folks over at Thinkbox really understand how render managers work and how we need them to work in a production environment. If we have a problem that we can’t sort out on our own, I know the Thinkbox support team is going to jump on it and get everything working for us,”” Levi concluded.

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