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The future of filmmaking is cloud-based production'


The Rings of Power producer Ron Ames discusses how cloud was a major part of the shows production process, enabling the production team to make art with technology as a support

By Jenny Priestley

Published: November 28, 2022 Updated: November 29, 2022

The Rings of Power producer Ron Ames discusses how cloud was a major part of the show's production process, enabling the production team to make art with technology as a support

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To create the world of Middle-earth you need an army. From Peter Jackson's epic trilogies to Amazon Prime's The Rings of Power, creatives and artists across the globe helped bring JRR Tolkien's stories to the big screen.

In the latest adaptation of Tolkien's work, technology was at the heart of the workflow, and central to that was AWS.

Speaking at AWS re:Invent 2022, producer Ron Ames discussed how AWS and the cloud helped the production team achieve many of the jaw-dropping visuals seen in the show's first season.

The power of the cloud Much of the production employed cloud, with areas from pre-visualisation to exhibition interconnected, including, camera capture, colour pipeline, post production, visual effects, and delivery to Amazon's platform. That was the key, said Ames. When we were on set, and a director was chasing the light, we had every possible asset at our fingertips. We had crews spread across New Zealand, a studio in Los Angeles, artists all over the world, we were able to connect, communicate efficiently, scale as necessary, and meet all of our goals and deadlines, cost efficiently. This is not about technology as a standalone thing, it is actually practical, useful and efficient.

Ames added that showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay believed that the technology used on the project helped them to imagine the craziest things .

In 2018 we started in Los Angeles in an office, and the writers room was down the hall from our production office. We would sit there and they would come out of the writers room and give us outlines for this fantastic story, Ames explained. We would look each other and our jaws would drop. We said, how are we going to do this? We said this is too big for the tools we have.

The team began to answer those questions by looking to JRR Tolkien himself for inspiration. Tolkien said that when he started to create the world of Middle-earth, he started with a map and made the story fit. So we started that way as well. We recognised that we were going to have to plan this very carefully.

Their map involved working with AWS on building a cloud-production pipeline. AWS is creating the future of filmmaking, Ames told the audience. The future of filmmaking is cloud-based production.

That decision to employ cloud-based production became even more important when three months into filming in New Zealand, the Covid pandemic hit. We were told that we had to shut down, explained Ames. We took all of our hardware, sent it off to our teams because we couldn't completely shut down, we would lose our vendors, our staff, all these artists we'd collected around the world. We had to continue the visual effects post production because we had already shot an episode. Within a weekend, we started cloud-based production in earnest. We were doing it anyway, but Covid made it a requirement and sent us to the next level of development.

In total, the production team worked with 12 global vendors, including DNEG, ILM and Company 3, on the show's visual effects, creating 9,146 shots. The price of admission to join us was a willingness to explore new technology, to share assets in a standard way so that every visual effect could be used by a different vendor, said Ames. By creating a standard, and everybody knowing they would be working together, we determined that we could actually do this.

The power of the metadata Another key part of the workflow that helped the production team throughout the project is metadata. Ames explained that when he started working in the industry, metadata was edge code on negative film. typed script notes, call sheets and production notes. But again, working with AWS meant that the Rings of Power were able to push the boundaries of data forward. Now, every single frame has every piece of content that went into making that frame from beginning to end, said Ames.

We are using metadata in ways that when we started our production we never dreamed of using on set. Each department had their own software that they fed into QTAKE. From that point on the metadata stayed with the shot all the way through. We could always identify the nature of that frame, where it came from, and how it was connected to the rest.

With each department accounting for the metadata that was important to them, we knew the information was accurate, added Ames. By the end, we had total faith. We never lost a frame, we never lost an asset. It was trackable and easily shared with our vendors, and all the technology companies that worked with us everybody was willing to play and discover these tools and help us to figure out how to do this.

The power of the team Ames finished his talk by paying tribute to all of the production team who worked on the series, adding that many came to the project from more traditional ways of filmmaking. There were many people on this project who made films in traditional methodologies their whole life and they were introduced to this new methodology and every single one of them adopted these new technologies, he said. This is filmmaking of the future, people making art with technology as a support.

The other thing that I think is important to remember is that filmmaking is no longer, if it ever was, a linear process. It's dynamic. Set drawings, tests, and materials are being c
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