The vision is chilling. It’s another busy day. An employee arrives and logs on to the network only to be confronted by a locked screen displaying a simple message: “Your files have been captured and encrypted. To release them, you must pay...”

Pixar’s Cloud Computing Reignites the Debate: Art Versus Commerce

Pixar’s Cloud Computing Reignites the Debate: Art Versus Commerce

Pioneer Pixar continues to push the envelope. The legendary animation studio recently announced their most serious entry to date into the cloud, with Renderman On Demand.

The cloud-rooted rendering application was launched in collaboration with GreenButton, a respected cloud services company. Currently available on Microsoft Azure, and soon to be accessible via Linux later this year, Renderman On Demand is a seminal step forward in the integration of the cloud into both arts and entertainment.

Producing animation in 3D is a potentially highly lucrative enterprise for film studios; just last year, “Rio,” released in 3D, made nearly $500 million internationally for Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox. Yet the creation — or rendering — of three-dimensional animation requires partnership between artists and designers at fever pitch. The inundation of needs to compose, edit, redraft, and share documents between a fleet of animators and designers inevitably results in a skyrocketing demand in computing requirements.

Obviously, Pixar and other houses of animation aren’t the only companies who need this ability to magnify computing ability on the spot. Industries of all stripes stand to benefit from this technology, known as “cloudbursting,” or the accessing of a software application that harnesses internal computing resources and converts them into a private cloud. With RenderMan, demands on animation teams that once took 20 days are now completed in 20 hours. That’s an enormous figure.

RenderMan On Demand might be the shiniest new application themed on cloudbursting for animators (and which could potentially be expanded to businesses in similarly needy sectors). Yet the conversation Pixar has launched in the release of this application has extended into a larger web of questions.

Can the cloud potentially monetize art? Will cloud computing instead fuel art in the future, by making it more affordable and faster? What is cloud computing’s input into the ongoing debate between art and commerce? Tom Foremski, of Silicon Valley Watcher, has compellingly concluded that cloud computing is fueling a new wave in the impact of digital arts. Individual animators with their own companies that lack the computing horsepower of titans like Pixar can now compete on an even playing field with those big boys thanks to the cloud.

Applications like Elastic Compute Cloud from Amazon are thus enabling smaller figures in the computer arts; EC2 basically offers users the processing capacity of hundreds of computers at once, with users able to dial up or down the precise amount of power needed at any given moment.

So critical has the cloud become to the animation / digital arts community that even educational programs, like the Arts Institute, are discussing its relevance for the next generation of artists.
As long as animators desire to create works of multicolored beauty in motion, and patrons exist to pay them for their services, the cloud will continue to influence and direct the progression of how such creativity takes place on their computers.

By Jeff Norman

About Jeff Norman

Jeff Norman is a freelance writer currently based in New York City. He's moved into writing about cloud computing from substantial work in culture and the arts. He earned his undergraduate degree in English at Stanford and has studied at Oxford and Cambridge.