Success-Story

Moonshine Animation: Applying Cutting-Edge AI & VDI Technologies with GIGABYTE’s HPC Servers

by PCDIY! / Johan
Thanks to rapid advancements in computing power, the applications of CG (Computer Graphics) are becoming more widespread and extensive every day – the magic of CG can now be found in movies, advertisements, music videos and online games, just to name a few examples. CG helps to bring vivid, authentic animation to life, to the point where we can now even to interact with characters in their own virtual world, giving humanity a door into an Avatar-like fantasy universe.

Founded in 2012 with the aim of establishing a professional-grade CG studio, Moonshine Animation is an artist-centric Taiwanese animation and visual effects company that now employs more than 150 professionals, including directors, project managers, concept designers, animators, compositors, special effects engineers, R&D engineers and interactive artists. Together they produce a variety of work that includes visual effects, animation, technology R&D, gaming, VR and interactivity, as well as engaging in business such as cultural content restoration. Moonshine has worked on animation production for a variety of major domestic companies and has created visual effects for various films, making it the leading animation production company in Taiwan.

Moonshine Animation Founder and CEO Mr. Lin

A visit to Moonshine Animation: an office that feels like a large Internet café, giving artists an enjoyable working environment

For a behind-the-scenes look inside a major animation studio to see how they configure their computer equipment and what role a newly purchased GIGABTYE server is playing, PCDIY! will take you for a tour into Moonshine Animation’s Nangang head office, featuring an exclusive interview with founder Mr. Lin to give you a deeper understanding into the field of animation and visual effects and the computer equipment required for these applications.

MoonShine Animation HQ is located in Nangang near Kunyang MRT Station. On the first floor is Moonshine Café, providing an open space to employees and customers for discussion and relaxation.

As you walk up to the 3rd floor, the walls of the staircase are covered with various works from Moonshine Animation.

A prominent Moonshine logo awaits at the 3rd floor entrance.

Moonshine Animation’s office adopts a loft-style open plan design, in a similar style as global creative companies such as Google or Pixar. Almost all employees have dual-screen monitors on their desks, providing a comfortable working setup.

A creative-oriented office also naturally needs a kitchen that provides beverages and snacks for employees to enjoy (as long as they finish their work…).

As readers may be unfamiliar with the business scope of an animation studio, Mr. Lin explains that Moonshine Animation can make concept maps, posters, 3D advertisements, animation and interactive content, as well as help with cultural content reconstruction, all of which is work an animation studio is usually expected to produce. Moreover, since many students and the public have become interested in animation production in recent years, the company will also hold online courses so that students can absorb animation-related knowledge via these classes.

One of the meeting rooms at Moonshine Animation, featuring a large 4K monitor with picture books from various films displayed on both sides.

This large book is Moonshine Animation’s product catalogue, featuring a collection of their previous work.

Shelves display picture books of various well-known films – mostly science fiction or fantasy movies.

PCDIY! interview with Mr. Lin, founder and CEO of Moonshine Animation. Listen to him talk about how his company uses the power of technology to achieve innovation in the field of animation.

Animation production is not easy! A large amount of time and manpower is needed even just for a few seconds of footage

Moonshine Animation has produced a variety of well-known animated works commissioned by many large companies. Audiences will not only be amazed by their finished work, but will also deeply admire the profound production skills of Moonshine. We believe therefore that many of our readers would also like to know how much time and manpower it requires to produce this kind of animation!

Mr. Lin explains that in addition to direct contact with customers, Moonshine also deals with third parties such as production companies and agents. Therefore, the resources devoted to a new project will usually depend on the project size and budget. A rough estimate is that a standard animation project will require around 20 to 30 staff and around half a year to complete. Since discussion and finalization of details at the beginning of the project takes a long time, the time of actual production takes only around 3 months.

For a relatively large-scale and well-known project meanwhile, Mr. Lin used a famous animated safety video made for a Taiwanese airline as an example. Almost 150 months’ worth of manpower was devoted to the entire project, as the execution period took a very long time: from conceptualization to actual completion required around 1 year. It could be said that the beginning stages of the project from definition, communication and discussion up to finalization of the visuals were a very tedious process, which resulted in the project taking a lot longer. After the characters, material design and visuals were actually finalized, the subsequent animation production period was quite fast.

During the production process, many vivid scenes were created by combining imagination and reality. Take the toilet or the safety door inside the aircraft cabin as an example: even though an actual aircraft was not yet available, the production team needed to draw these objects according to their real-life colors, with necessary details being very close to true scale, and having structural rationality. Only then would the customer and the audience feel like the scene is real.

During the interview Mr. Lin gave a presentation about Moonshine Animation, which introduced his company’s office setup, a history and a gallery of their work, and details of recent research & development into AI-assisted animation and design.

A gallery of work from Moonshine Animation, mostly showing scenes and characters from video games.

A gallery of work from Moonshine Animation, mostly showing animated special effects.

This image from the company’s introduction slide deck shows some filming scenes taken from their production studio; using blue screen technology, scenery can be instantly projected behind the host.

Using AI technology to assist in animation production leads to increased efficiency and great results!

As special effects in animation become more advanced, many companies have been using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to assist them with production. Moonshine Animation has also adopted AI technology, and Mr. Lin briefly explained the general processes involved during production of their work.


First of all, Moonshine Animation has a virtual film studio in Neihu, where 3D motion capture (MoCap) is performed and used to create video game content. During the process of creating an animation, characters must be presented with a lifelike disposition, but a computer cannot figure out by itself how to create human expressions, so this can be done by training AI with deep learning to assist in the rendering process. For example, the above images include some scenes illustrated using a Japanese gouache method in the style of Hsueh-Hu Kuo (a famous Taiwanese painter). After undergoing AI training, the computer is able to learn the illustration method including brushstrokes so realistic pictures can be rendered, and the resulting effect won’t look like a filter. With the help of new technology, Moonshine Animation hopes to further improve other animation methods in the future.

During animation production for a video game, a single “styleframe” can be used to create a style setting, which can then be combined together with different “previsualization” frames and transferred (“previsualize transfer”) to create the final animated clip illustrated according to the style setting.

In 2D animation, you can also make a single frame from a comic into a style setting, and then combine it together with a real person’s motion capture (MoCap) footage to synthesize a final animated clip. This technique is one of many already commonly used to create many different animated films.

After that, a simulation of an animation can generated in a preview pane, by first using a single “styleframe” to set an illustration style and combining it with video footage of the scene we want to create. Using AI the computer will apply the styleframe to the footage to instantly present the desired result, and can even clearly depict light and shadow details! A 2D-style of illustration can even be synthesized with live-action motion capture footage to achieve a style of animation similar to Japanese Manga cartoons, using a method known as “Toon Shading”. Of course, AI technology can also be used to create “Deep Fake” imitations of people’s faces and expressions.

360-degree character image capture area

After a character has been photographed, the 360-degree image can be used for all different kinds of animation

To put it simply, AI can simulate the appearance of a finished piece of animation even before colors have been painted in, reducing the amount of work previously required to draw each frame one by one, and improving animation quality. Although it cannot completely replace manual production, AI-based animation production can assist in creating many scenes that previously required a huge amount of manual illustration (such as animated scenes that haven’t been seen before, or scenery that does not exist in the real world). So long as some allowance is first given to creativity, data from the artist’s drawing methodology and illustration style can be fed into the computer system, and after being trained with this data the AI can then produce the desired animation.


Naturally, AI can also be used to enhance an image from 2K to 4K resolution, and from black & white to color! It could be said that this kind of disruptive technology will change the future of animation production, not only solving problems that could not be solved in the past, but also accelerating the completion of finished work. Therefore, AI has the potential to become a major tool used in the animated films of the future.

Moonshine has two main uses for GIGABYTE’s HPC server – the first is for AI computing!

A lot of animation relies heavily on High Performance Computing (HPC) to speed up image processing and rendering, including for visual effects, ray tracing and post-production work. So how does Moonshine Animation select their HPC servers, and what are their typical specifications? Mr. Lin explained that in the past, the main consideration for purchasing was mostly based on the number of CPU cores, with the procurement of a new machine based on an evaluation of a {clock speed x core count / price} formula. However, considering that CG production has become a mainstay in recent years, they will also now refer to Cinebench benchmarks to evaluate performance. In any case, these are both typical evaluation methods.

In addition, since the demand for using AI computing in animation production has been increasing in recent years, GPU performance ratio will also now be included as part of any evaluation criteria in addition to CPU performance. Calculating GPU performance is a little more complicated; for a computer dedicated to AI computing, a GPU with a large amount of onboard memory is required. For example, AI used for facial simulation is very memory intensive - if you train on a GPU with not enough memory (such as less than 8GB), it may take up to 30 days to complete the run, but switching to a professional grade GPU with 48GB of memory will allow you to achieve the same result in 1 day! With this situation, you can easily see the effect of a performance gap.

Mr. Lin explained that there are two main uses for their recently purchased GIGABYTE G191 Series server, and the original purpose was to use it for AI computing. Most 1U servers on the market can only support up to two graphics cards, but in a 1U form factor, GIGABYTE’s server can support up to four professional grade graphics cards. The design of this server is therefore quite remarkable, not only saving a great deal of space in the rack but also increasing computing performance. In addition, the server has a dual-socket processor configuration that can help it deliver a large number of threads (a total of 36 cores and 72 threads), and adopts a front to rear air-flow chassis design to maximize heat dissipation efficiency – so you can not only attain the best performance when using it for HPC, but also achieve maximum energy efficiency. For these reasons, Moonshine Animation purchased GIGABYTE’s G191 Series server to deploy it as a host for AI computing.

A glance at the internal configuration of the GIGABYTE G191-H44 server used by Moonshine Animation. It features dual Xeon Gold 6240 processors, together with 768GB in system DRAM when fully loaded and a total of four NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000 graphics cards (with 48GB GDDR6 memory each), making it the company’s strongest dedicated graphics server for VDI.

Looking at specifications, Moonshine Animation’s newly purchased GIGABYTE G191-H44 server is equipped with dual 2nd Generation Intel Xeon Gold 6240 Scalable Processors, providing a total of 36 cores and 72 threads; GPU-wise, it features four NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000 graphics cards (with 48GB of GDDR6 memory); and it has been installed with 24 DIMMs of 32GB DDR4 memory, providing a total of 786GB system memory. As for storage, the server is equipped with four-2TB SSD drives – as this server will be mainly used for HPC, there are other specialized storage servers used to provide additional storage. These specifications have made it Moonshine’s strongest dedicated server for AI computing.

So why are there no Tesla-level graphics cards installed? Mr. Lin says that this is related to their different application scenario, as Tesla GPUs are used in industry fields that need to perform a huge amount of AI computing. However, they choose a Quadro GPU because it can already satisfy the needs of building their own graphics rendering farm – not only does the Quadro RTX series feature a large amount of onboard memory necessary for applications such as facial simulation as previously mentioned, but it also features ray-tracing capabilities, which helps them speed up animation production. For an employee’s personal computer meanwhile, using a GeForce gaming graphics card is fine! The main reason is that when animation software tools are running on the user’s local side, a GeForce GPU can provide enough graphics performance to improve visual effects and meet the needs of most other applications.

GIGABYTE’s G191-H44 system diagram – it can support dual Skylake SP (1st Generation) or Cascade Lake SP (2nd Generation) Xeon Scalable processors, and features four PCIe 3.0 x16 expansion slots for GPU cards, as well as a total of 24 DIMM slots that can support up to 768GB of system memory if 32GB DIMMs are installed in each slot. And via the Southbridge Intel C621 Lewisburg I/O control chip, the system can support up to four 2.5 inch SATA HDD / SSD as well as other peripheral devices.

The most powerful use for GIGABTYE’s G191-H44: the best remote desktop server!

This ultra-powerful GIGABYTE server was originally purchased to be used for AI computing applications. However, due to this year’s virus pandemic, many large animation projects have been delayed one after another, with employees even needing to work from home if necessary. In this situation, it was not feasible to expect that every employee had a powerful computer at home they could use for animation production, but providing employees their own high performance computers is very difficult to manage. Mr. Lin and his IT department therefore uncovered another use for this server: remote desktop applications!

Mr. Lin revealed that Quadro graphics cards were also selected because of their requirement for remote desktop / Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) use, allowing users to connect to GIGABYTE’s server for remote animation production via the Internet using an entry-level Mini PC or Thin Client computer. An important consideration was that none of the current remote desktop solutions available (such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer) provide optimal compression processing or can utilize the advantages of hardware acceleration, which can result in a glitchy user experience. However, Quadro professional graphics cards and their drivers not only provide real-time video output, but the Quadro RTX6000 and above feature GRID (GPU virtualization) support. When combined together with Intel’s multi-core processors that are optimized for use with Adobe’s creator-related software suite, and CUDA hardware acceleration that is included in many professional-grade NVIDIA graphics cards and can provide acceleration even to virtualized GPUs, these features all complement each other to multiply performance several times over! In this way, a GPU-accelerated remote desktop environment can be built, making the G191-H44 a powerful remote desktop animation production server.

Mr. Lin says that their GIGABYTE server is now mainly used for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), allowing employees who are working remotely to use Microsoft RDP (remote desktop) tools to connect to the company’s server to run business critical GPU dependent software applications, so they can work on animation production at home. Even if they are not working on animation, employees can still use RDP to connect to the company’s server for secure Internet access and to complete paperwork.

A peek into a computer classroom at Moonshine Animation – each monitor seems to be missing a computer?! However, they all have been turned into professional workstations using remote desktop technology.

According to current specifications, the GIGABYTE server can provide the following virtualized resources: a total of 72 vCPUs (virtual machine CPU cores), nearly 768GB of vMEM (virtual machine memory), and 4 vGPUs (virtual machine GPUs) with an equivalent total of 18,432 CUDA cores and 384GB in vGPUmem (virtual GPU memory). Therefore, Mr. Lin has divided these resources into 24 professional-grade virtual machine accounts or 192 general-purpose accounts, and these resources can also be dynamically allocated to those employees who need them to maximize the benefits of the server! The following is an estimation of virtual machine resource allocation by PCDIY!

(1) 24 professional-grade virtual machine accounts: each account can utilize an average of around 3 vCPUs, 32GB of vMEM, 768 CUDA cores, and 16GB of vGPUmem for animation production.

(2) 192 general-purpose virtual machine accounts: further splitting the resources of a single professional-grade account by eight, each can utilize a single 1GHz vCPU, 4GB of vMEM, 96 CUDA cores and 2GB of vGPUmem for general web browsing and office work as well as video streaming.

By using the resource allocation mentioned above, this single GIGABYTE server can provide the equivalent benefit of 24 professional workstations, allowing the employees who need them to all work from home. And as mentioned earlier, the server can also provide the equivalent computing power to 192 general purpose computers. The purpose for this second configuration is to help prevent attacks by hackers or harmful software (such as ransomware). A user’s local computer only allows Intranet (local network) connectivity, and in order to connect to the Internet (external network) to go online or for other external communication the user must use RDP to connect to their GIGABYTE server virtual machine account first. This layered management approach not only helps prevent computer virus infection, but also makes it easier for the IT department to create a safe working environment and enhance the information security level of the company.

Moonshine Animation computer classroom: running animation software without any computers

Next, let us look inside Moonshine Animation’s computer classroom, which is an ideal situation to apply VDI. Each computer here only consists of a simple display, keyboard and mouse connected to a USB Compute Stick. This Compute Stick is an older model from 2016, equipped with an Atom Z8300 processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM and 32GB eMMC flash memory, running Windows 10 32-Bit Home Edition – a very basic entry-level computer.


With this ultra-basic Compute Stick, Mr. Lin demonstrates connectivity to the GIGABYTE server and uses the 3D special effects software program Houdini FX to render multiple sets of 3D models in real time. The results are instantaneously shown on the screen with a smooth and lag-free transition! Students can learn and create very effectively using this setup, and even can enjoy the same experience at home.

The computer classroom can be used to run many different types of software, such as Adobe CC, Maya 3D, Unreal and other creative art software, animation software, video editing software or game production software. This image shows the use of Houdini FX software for real-time rending of multiple 3D models.

Mr. Lin used an ultra-basic Compute Stick to connect to the GIGABYTE server and run 3D special effects production software Houdini FX for real-time rendering of multiple 3D models.

You can see behind each screen that there is in fact only a single “Compute Stick” installed! This ultra-compact computer only delivers very basic performance, featuring entry-level specifications of an Atom Z8300, Windows 10 Home 32bit, 2GB of DDR3 and a 32GB eMMC drive, and is connected to a keyboard, mouse, screen and the Internet. Using a VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) environment to connect to GIGABYTE’s G191-H44 server allows students to learn and create animation. Of course, employees working from home can also connect to the server via this remote desktop method.

Moonshine Animation has also prepared some Mini PCs that can be combined with a regular screen, keyboard and mouse to become a Thin Client, connecting to GIGABYTE’s server to provide professional workstation capabilities for animation creation.

As for the benefits of deploying this GIGABYTE server, how can it help increase productivity? Mr. Lin explains that by dividing the resources of this server into 24 professional-grade virtual machine accounts, the average cost of each virtual machine is only around $25,000 NTD ($835 USD), but delivers the same capabilities of a professional artist’s workstation. In addition, with VDI employees can now not only use their own computer to perform animation production, but also continue their working progress when they get home. If necessary, the company can also dynamically allocate virtual machine resources based on the number of accounts being used, greatly enhancing the efficiency of employees’ work.

Moonshine’s vision: to become a leader in the animation industry

Generally speaking, most Taiwanese animation companies have adopted an OEM business model to take on a variety of animation projects for customers. These projects may be split between multiple animation companies, and are subject to NDA constraints so any details about the production cannot be released to the public – it is even impossible to list the names of the creators responsible. Being ignored like general office workers will surely have an impact on the creative development of these animation artists in the long run.

Therefore, when Mr. Chia-Chi Lin founded Moonshine Animation, the projects he took on were less OEM-based and more biased towards retaining creative control (ODM-based), including having role as a director or creative consultant and even making decisions about the product design and script. The finished work could then be co-credited to Moonshine to help promote their own brand. With this approach, Moonshine Animation expects to be listed in their customer’s “behind-the-scenes” team, and will stand at the forefront of the creative supply chain.

From this interview, we have found that Moonshine Animation is not only realizing their dream of creating a professional grade animation studio but doing it with a very pragmatic attitude. Moreover, they are determined to become a leading force in the animation industry, and impressing their peers in the industry by adopting an innovative combination of hardware and software technology. Take the deployment of GIGABYTE’s G191-H44 1U high-performance server as an example - equipped with dual Xeon processors and NVIDIA Quadro graphics cards, its original purpose was for AI computing. However, it was reassigned to support VDI, providing employees working from home a perfect environment for remote animation production and secure Internet access, and making Moonshine a pioneer in their industry by creating unlimited possibilities for remote work.

Of course, Moonshine Animation has built their remote VDI configuration not only for the purpose of employee health and illness prevention, but also for use when they establish their Kaohsiung branch and connect it back to their Taipei head office in the near future. It has allowed them to create an environment where they can animate anywhere, at any time and using any device.

Let your dreams shine! A signature slogan from Moonshine Animation’s 1st floor café.

※Original article from PCDIY! PCDIY! (http://www.pcdiy.com.tw/detail/16057)
Realtion Tags
HPC
AI Inferencing
Artificial Intelligence
Server
CUDA
Render Farm
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