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Pixomondo Links Global Render Farm with Deadline

International creative design and VFX studio Pixomondo has evolved at the pace of the entertainment industry, bolstering its technology infrastructure and diversifying capabilities along the way. Founded in 2001 by CEO Thilo Kuther, the company spans six offices on three continents and offers a range of services starting from award-winning VFX for film, TV and commercials to interactive digital content, VR, live events, theme park entertainment and original IP. By sharing render resources across facilities, Pixomondo maximizes efficiencies; its globally dispersed farm runs 24/7 thanks to a proprietary process built on top of Thinkbox Software’s Deadline, on which the company standardized in 2010.

Patrick Wolf in front of the Deadline Monitor.“Part of what influenced us to integrate Deadline so deeply is its open architecture and usage of the Python programming language. With the source code for application integration available, we can constantly tweak the software to our own specifications; it’s very extensible. Also, the Thinkbox crew has always been willing to grow with us and is quick to respond to our needs,” shared Patrick Wolf, Pixomondo’s Global Head of Pipeline.

Deadline high-volume compute management software is used to render, manage and process files locally and across the cloud. Pixomondo primarily leverages Deadline for remote rendering between branches. Wolf and his team customized Deadline’s job submitters to allow users to select the branch(es) to render in; they also extended the Deadline GUI to allow render wranglers to split local jobs to render on one or more remote farms simultaneously, a feature that has been extremely helpful on tight deadlines.

When a remote job is sent to the farm, event scripts in Deadline automatically determine the job dependencies. Necessary file transfers are queued and then a replica job is created on the remote farm recreating the settings of the user that submitted the job locally as well as remapping job priorities, pools and group configurations. As soon as a frame is rendered remotely a Deadline after render event informs Pixomondo’s Celery-based global queuing system. Celery then triggers the transfer of the rendered frame and also marks the task complete on the local side so that the remote render is transparent and seamless to the artists. After the remote render is complete and all frames were verifiably transferred back, a cleanup job removes the frames on the remote side to save storage space. Celery is then used to mark the job as completed locally, which allows dependent follow up jobs to run like a proxy image generator. Pixomondo’s production management system, Autodesk’s Shotgun Software, is also notified when the render finishes. Currently, the studio solely uses physical computing resources but Wolf is already investigating the integration of cloud rendering to the workflow.

“One of the cool things about our remote rendering setup is that every step is a separate dependent Deadline job with automatic retry and failover. Since every job has log files attached, you can easily see and troubleshoot if a connection drops or there is some other issue. It’s very easy to monitor how a job is performing, whether it’s local or remote,” Wolf explained.

Game Of Thrones, Season Five

Deadline jobs’ associated log files provide a wealth of statistics that help Pixomondo optimize its render farm performance. For “Furious 7” and “Game of Thrones” Season Five, supervisors concerned with RAM usage leveraged metrics from Deadline job log files to guide how they utilized various machines. Another appreciated Deadline feature is bracketing: for example, rather than waiting days for frames 1-100 to render, Pixomondo requests Deadline to render frames 1,100,50,25,75 first, then every 5th frame and only then the rest. This allows artists to quickly determine render issues before wasting resources on executing a complete pass.

Remote Rendering dialog.

In addition to remote rendering, Pixomondo taps Deadline for file transfer and its asset library. With file transfer, coordinators can select a playlist with hundreds of associated versions in Shotgun and queue them for transfer to another branch in Deadline. Deadline then automatically retries failed transfers, provides detailed logs and notifies users on completion. For asset archival, once a show finishes, Pixomondo selects the assets to archive in Shotgun and then a script generates Deadline jobs that asynchronously perform the actual archiving on the farm, allowing for hundreds of assets to be archived simultaneously, without blocking the computer. The archived assets are then automatically entered into an Asset Library project in Shotgun. The restore is again triggered from Shotgun and kicks of a custom Deadline asset restore jobs. In case an asset isn’t yet available locally, a transfer job takes care of pulling it from a remote branch. On completion of the restore Deadline automatically notifies the user via email.

“Deadline is incredibly fast. With its new database repository, I can connect to a remote branch easily from my desk and watch the jobs output as it occurs; I don’t have to wait until a job is finished. To maintain consistency, we've committed all our repositories to a version control system so that we can change any of the plugins in one location and it will apply the changes across the other branches,” said Wolf.

Further simplifying workflow customization, Deadline’s event framework allows Wolf to hook into any stage of a job on Pixomondo’s farm and tailor its execution. This allows for useful functions like the ability to customize jobs directly after submission in one central place, rather than being required to implement these code changes in every plug-in. Regarding applications, Wolf rarely encounters one not already supported by Deadline. Additionally, Deadline’s pools, groups, and limits groups make resource sharing frictionless.

Wolf concluded, “The beauty of Deadline is that we basically don’t have to worry about it processing our jobs. And if we do have to investigate the level of detail we’re able to pull out is fantastic, it’s extensible and it’s very user friendly. We’re happy that we standardized on it and really like how the feature set keeps growing year after year.”

For more information on Deadline, visit


About Thinkbox Software

Founded by Chris Bond in 2010, Thinkbox Software develops production-proven tools for visual artists and backs each product with highly responsive support. Used across entertainment, architecture, engineering and design, Thinkbox’s products include Deadline® high-volume compute management software used to render, manage and process files locally and across the cloud as well as standalone point mesher Sequoia and particle renderer Krakatoa, which are used to create, visualize and modify massive datasets. For more information, visit or follow @thinkboxsoft on Twitter.


Pixomondo Creates Large Scale Underwater Scenes for Journey 2 Using Thinkbox Software’s Deadline, Frost and Krakatoa

International visual effects company Pixomondo has created VFX for over 30 feature films as well as numerous television series, commercials, and mixed media projects. With 12 facilities on three continents, the company boasts a true 24/7 workflow and their offices across the globe often collaborate on jobs. Frequently sharing work between studios, the company has a flexible tool pipeline that evolves based on project and artist needs. 

Recently, Pixomondo created 81 fantastical VFX shots for the 3D family tale Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, released in theaters February 2012. Five of Pixomondo’s facilities, including Los Angeles and Burbank, contributed to the project. Much of Pixomondo’s work involved creating sweeping underwater shots of full CG environments filled with explosions, underwater cliffs cleaving, clouds of silt dispersing in the water and lava oozing out of cracks. To achieve these effects and ensure a smooth workflow, Pixomondo employed a number of Thinkbox Software’s tools including the Deadline render management solution, Frost for generating particle meshes and Krakatoa for dust simulations. 

Deadline has been Pixomondo’s standard for render management since the company implemented the solution worldwide in April 2011. Currently, the company has 500 seats of Deadline. The complicated full CG environments in Journey 2 required extensive render times and Deadline was aptly suited to the task. 

“With Deadline, we didn’t have to waste resources render wrangling,” explained Pixomondo VFX Supervisor Michael Wortmann, who is based in Berlin. “When we finished for the day, the LA office could plug in to our workstations and remotely monitor our jobs. Deadline has been very reliable for us. The customization options are nice and it is easily implemented. Thinkbox’s customer service is great, they work with us to accommodate our changing needs.” 

Much of the particle simulation and rendering for Journey 2 were done in Berlin. With 50-70 render nodes, most of their farm was continually in use on this render intensive project. 

“In the beginning, extreme render times were needed. We were able to bring those times down with Vray in Deadline but we were still working on a massive scale,” said Wortmann. “The scene with the Nautilus submarine – which has a width of 25 meters  – is a three-minute-long sequence with all sorts of destruction going on, long trenches to pass through, rocks falling, along with schools of fish and jellyfish and such. On top of rendering all that activity, the film was shot was in full stereo so everything had to be rendered twice. Deadline’s performance was fantastic, even when we had a lot of jobs queued up.” 

“At Pixomondo, we rely on Thinkbox Deadline for our render management needs across all facilities and this was no exception on Journey 2,” added Los Angeles-based Pixomondo CG Supervisor Andrew Roberts. “Our ability to monitor render progress on these demanding scenes, check RAM usage and CPU activity helped us differentiate between data load time vs render time and thus organize cache data more efficiently. We were simultaneously in production on Hugo and Red Tails along with Journey 2, and Deadline made it very easy to share render resources amongst multiple shows, departments (comp, cgfx, lighting) and cater to software specific needs (3ds Max, Hairfarm, Krakatoa, Maya). Our setup allowed us to distribute renders across the world taking advantage of all Pixomondo’s render resources from Berlin to Burbank.” 

At Pixomondo Los Angeles, CG Supervisor Rob Ward relied heavily on Thinkbox’s toolset for shots toward the end of the film in which Luis Guzman greets his adoring fans on a crowded dock with the CG Nautilus and ocean in the background. 

“Boyd [Journey 2 VFX supervisor] sent us some incredibly detailed LIDAR of the surrounding village as well as the dock as a super dense point cloud,” Ward said. “When we tried to process this data, the resulting mesh was not clean enough even for tracking usage. One of our technical artists brought up the idea of using Frost to mesh these point clouds and within a couple hours had a very nicely meshed set piece ready for tracking artists to use.” 

 © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

The Los Angeles artists received a similarly dense point cloud of sections of the Nautilus that were physically built as set pieces including the interiors and the rear deck that Sean and Hank stand on to fight a giant eel. 

"Again, Frost worked quite nicely," said Ward. "We loaded in a section of XYZ formatted data, set a threshold and out popped a mesh the modelers could use for scale and detail reference." 

Since much of the work Pixomondo did on Journey 2 is set underwater, the artists had to create thousands of air bubbles and they relied heavily on Frost to make these bubbles. A major shot in the film features the Nautilus sub torpedoing a large rock that is blocking its way. 

"For this shot, we had to create a realistic torpedo trail and the actual underwater explosion," explained Wortmann. "We didn’t want to do just a volumetric simulation but instead wanted the explosion to be filled with air bubbles that would burst but were filled with dirt and silt. We ended up doing the particle simulation first in Fume, then had it refract through Frost. I didn’t think this would be possible but it came out great. We had to do this particle simulation in Frost for giant sphere with a 20-meter diameter and had to mimic all the air being compressed underwater. We had the Fume simulation inside and could render the bubble like glass in Frost to see how it would look before making it final." 

A mix of Frost and Fume was also used to create the ‘alka seltzer’ effect when giant rocks hit the water leaving a trail through the water.  Additionally, Pixomondo used Frost for an up close shot of the torpedo coming out of the torpedo hatch and the bubbles that come off the propellers. 

"It’s pretty unbelievable what we were able to pull out of Frost," Wortmann said. "Even with high particle counts, we were never let down. The quality of the geometry is excellent and rendering any shape with fancy effects is possible. I’m really impressed with how stable Frost is. We played around a lot with the explosion and really tested its limits but it always performed beautifully." 

© 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

Another challenge Frost helped Pixomondo tackle on Journey 2 was the creation of large quantities of sea life. Pixomondo technical artist Sungwook Su worked out a very dense fish swarm system using particle flow for motion and Frost to turn thousands of fish into a mesh that could be both worked with easily in scene, and rendered without splitting out into an uncomfortable number of layers. The simplified shot layout, rendering and compositing were used on a number of jellyfish swarm shots. Foreground jellyfish were rendered individually in Maya with Vray and the background swarms, which contained hundreds of complex sections of geometry, were handled with Frost in 3ds Max. 

Thinkbox’s Krakatoa was also used on select shots, most significantly to create the torpedo propeller effect and underwater bubbles. 

"Krakatoa is very powerful and can do stuff no other program can do. When it made sense to bring it in, it always worked and we were able to add any additional elements to shots as needed," concluded Wortmann. 

About Thinkbox Software

Thinkbox Software provides creative solutions for visual artists in entertainment, engineering and design. Developer of high-volume particle renderer Krakatoa and render farm management software Deadline, the team of Thinkbox Software solves difficult production problems with intuitive, well-designed solutions and remarkable support. We create tools that help artists manage their jobs and empower them to create worlds and imagine new realities. Thinkbox was founded in 2010 by Chris Bond, founder of Frantic Films. 

About Pixomondo

Pixomondo is an international visual effects company boasting 24-hour production capabilities, sharing projects across a global network of 11 facilities in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Berlin, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Beijing, London, Munich, Burbank, Toronto and Hamburg. Founded by CEO Thilo Kuther in 2001, Pixomondo has created visual effects for more than 30 feature films including Journey 2: The Mysterious IslandRed TailsHugoSucker Punch, Super 8Fast Five, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and 2012. The company is currently in production on upcoming features including Snow White and the Huntsman and The Amazing Spiderman, and TV series including Game of Thrones, Terra Nova, Hawaii 5-O and Grimm. In addition to visual effects, Pixomondo delivers the full range of creative, production and post services required to produce design-driven storytelling for commercials. More information on Pixomondo can be found here: 


Pixomondo uses Thinkbox Frost for "dancing metal" in a Grammy awards ad

As reported by 3D World Magazine, the international visual effects company Pixomondo recently collaborated on a TV spot featuring liquid metal pulsating to the music of Best New Artist Grammy-award Nominee Skrillex. It was produced as part of the "We Are Music" campaign.

The video used a large palette of software applications, including the Thinkbox FROST particle mesher in conjunction with Autodesk 3ds Max.

According to Creative director Simon Mowbray, 

"3ds Max with Thinkbox Frost was invaluable – it generated beautiful meshes from Particle Flow efficiently and with lots of control."

For the full article, please visit 3D World Magazine's website.