Avatar: The Way of Water

How AWS enabled the making of ‘Avatar: The Way of Water?’

In December 2022, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, the visual spectacle and sequel to the highest-grossing movie of all time,  releases in movie theatres. Much of the visual effects (VFX) in blockbusters, such as Avatar and The Lord of the Rings trilogy is from Wētā FX, a creative firm founded by Peter Jackson in 1993. 

In order to realize the creative vision of film-makers, such as James Cameron, there is a need for high-quality VFX and animation. This, in turn, calls for significant compute power across the value chain of creative arts, from creating the imagery, to  rendering the creations, and storing assets.

For filmmakers, the scalability, flexibility and security offered by AWS enables them to render and produce their projects in the cloud. It also enables them to cut their carbon costs, and democratize creative arts, by leveraging talent globally, and improving diversity. Wētā FX recently announced that it’s going all-in on Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud.

At AWS re:Invent 2022, Jon Landau, the Producer of Avatar stated, “The difference when we went to the cloud was truly palpable and we would not have finished Avatar: The Way of Water without the support of AWS. 

 “In 14 months, we saw our first frame and then in eight months we had 3.3Bn thread hours in the cloud,” added David Conley, Executive VFX Producer of Wētā FX.

Driven by the pandemic tailwinds, there has been an explosion of unparalleled consumer demand for rich and immersive content from content consumers. Content creators are increasingly seeking to cater to this demand with rich visual spectacles.

To get a sense of AWS’s play in the media and entertainment industry, I spoke to AWS’s Samira Bakhtiar, Director, Global Media & Entertainment Sales, AWS on the sidelines of AWS re:Invent 2022 at Las Vegas.

AWS Re-invent

In the vast Media and Entertainment value chain, AWS’s play is spread across content production, OTTs, linear broadcast distribution, gaming, media supply chain, and increasingly on content monetization. 

According to Samira, “With cloud adoption and content production specifically, I think there’s some positive derivatives that we’re going to see as well in terms of access to new talent pools that may have historically been overlooked because they weren’t in a geographic hub that was desirable.”

Delivering Visual Experiences with Cloud

Netflix-original programming content including shows, such as ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Bridgerton’ amongst others, required rich  visual effects (VFX) to bring the creative vision to life. 

Netflix relies on AWS to help it innovate with speed and consistently deliver best-in-class entertainment. As the scope and complexity of VFX work grows, Netflix is supporting VFX companies to get up and running on the cloud for render workloads, a vital aspect of content production. This virtual studio, set-up by AWS, lets Netflix engage and collaborate with top artistic talent, cutting across technological or geographical barriers.

Enabling Live Streaming and Content Monetization

For the Super Bowl and the Beijing Olympics, NBC’s streaming platform, Peacock was looking provide a cinematic viewing experience with high playback and a picture quality that kept viewers satisfied. Alongside, Peacock wanted to show personalized ads at scale. 

NBCUniversal and AWS began collaborating in May 2021. and in February 2022, Peacock broke every record for customer gains and engagement due to the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and its release of a movie and new drama series. The Beijing Olympics were the most-streamed Olympic Games ever, at 1.5Mn viewers. The Super Bowl was the most-streamed Super Bowl in history, with Peacock and other direct-to-consumer apps supporting 6Mn concurrent users at peak traffic. 

Closer home, Disney Hotstar, India’s largest premium streaming platform, has been downloaded by >80Mn users globally. Behind their ability to build and deliver compelling content experiences for their customers is AWS Cloud. When it comes to livestreaming of most-watched sporting events, such as the Indian Premier League, Disney Hotstar leaned on AWS to cater to 25Mn concurrent viewers.

 ZEE5 inserts millions of ads in live and VOD content without sacrificing broadcast-level quality-of-service. Using the AWS MediaTailor service, ZEE5 can deliver live and on-demand content with video streams that combine content with ads personalized to viewers. ZEE5 uses AWS Elemental MediaLive to encode and deliver 80+ live channels to viewers.s

In 2020, SonyLiv, the OTT platform of Sony Pictures Networks India, revamped its content and interface. Sony leveraged AWS to maintain the low latency data streaming. For the iconic Kaun Banega Crorepati, SonyLIV’s challenge was to deliver questions asked by the show’s host to 1.6Mn users playing simultaneously on their mobile phones. By using the low-latency data streaming network on AWS, SonyLiv was able to rise-up to the challenge.

When it comes to the media supply chain, AWS provides support across ingest, processing, creation, and distribution to and from the cloud—as well as >80 AWS partners with dedicated tools for media supply chain and archive applications.

Content Creation will rapidly scale in 2023 and beyond

According to Samira, “With Cloud, there is now now going to be a democratization of the ability to create content, and hearing from traditionally underrepresented voices. In 2023 and beyond, content producers will seek to rapidly scale. From a consumer’s point of view, I am excited by the possibilities to have more content of choice.”

The article has been written by Prabhu Ram, Head – Industry Intelligence Group, CyberMedia Research

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