How Cloud-Based Compute Power is Driving Innovation in Product Visualization
Staff posted on November 10, 2020 |
E-commerce and a work-from-home economy make digital product visualization more important than ever.
This content is submitted by AWS.

While many people have swapped out button-up shirts and slacks for tees and joggers this year, apparel remains a daily staple for most. Clothing and accessories can be worn as a form of expression, or simply to cover the body. Throughout the years, apparel trends have come and gone, but the process of bringing garments to market has remained relatively static compared to other industries.

With the introduction of computers, designing goods shifted from sketching on paper to using digital tools; however, samples are still largely manufactured and shipped overseas. Not only is this approach inefficient, but it has also resulted in major setbacks due to 2020’s massive supply chain disruptions.

Fortunately, with the evolution of cloud technology, companies are innovating behind the scenes to reimagine dated processes at a more rapid pace than ever before. Tapping into the compute power of the cloud, these apparel brands are creating more photoreal product renders, gaining efficiency and reducing costs (and waste) along the way. Furthermore, with e-commerce on the rise and a pandemic driving a work-from-home economy, quality digital product visualization is more important than ever.

Taking a Page Out of Hollywood’s Playbook

When it comes to digital asset creation, the more complex the output—such as a photoreal garment render—the greater the compute power required to deliver it. In this regard, brands and designers are just beginning to uncover the challenges that visual effects (VFX) and animation industries have tackled for decades as they embrace specialized 3D design in product development.

A designer reviews different jacket colorways. (Image courtesy of FNX Technologies.)
A designer reviews different jacket colorways. (Image courtesy of FNX Technologies.)

Rendering is a crucial step in digital asset creation. It’s the point where pixels and geometry are transformed into the designer’s vision. For a creative studio working on a large-scale production, such as the latest Hollywood blockbuster, the necessary compute power to render shots can be staggering. It doesn’t matter how talented your artists are if you can’t hit your deadlines and up until recently, having enough compute power on-premises was the only way to do so.

However, maintaining an arsenal of hardware on-site is costly, from the hefty initial investment to the on-going costs for real-estate, power and cooling. To minimize upfront expenses and gain more flexibility, creative studios have been increasingly offloading render workloads to the cloud, and also using the cloud to spin up virtual workstations, including for storage.

Untold Studios, the first fully cloud-based creative studio, is one such example. Another is Weta, the VFX studio behind “Avatar,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Planet of the Apes” franchise among others, which recently announced a plan to go all-in with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

So, where do the worlds of entertainment and product visualization intersect?

Creating in the Cloud

The rendering requirements for realizing an epic superhero showdown or a static product image may be drastically different, but the ability to quickly scale compute resources is fundamentally beneficial for both. Digital product visualization is not new, but high-quality outputs have largely only been accessible to well-resourced brands. The cloud levels the playing field, providing brands and designers of all sizes with access to tools for bringing products to market faster and more efficiently.

Cloud-based digital product visualization platform FNX (pronounced ‘phoenix’) from FNX Technologies, for instance, helps brands and designers accelerate product development while using industry-standard tools, including Browzwear, CLO3D, Blender, Alvanon and BeProduct. Drawing from more than two decades of experience crafting cinematic 3D VFX and AAA video games, FNX developers have automated the technical aspects of deploying a robust 3D pipeline through web-native middleware.

Jacket renderings viewed on the FNX interface. (Image courtesy of FNX Technologies.)
Jacket renderings viewed on the FNX interface. (Image courtesy of FNX Technologies.)

FNX is securely built on AWS, which enables scalability so that brands and product development teams can iterate more quickly, collaborate globally and ultimately generate photoreal images without changing their workflows. Among FNX’s growing customer base is one of the largest companies in apparel sourcing that services more than 2,000 brands globally.

While creating images digitally removes the costs for physical photoshoots, a single garment might require 100 hours of rendering to produce all of the available style variations and colorways. With FNX on AWS, higher quality and more consistent results can be achieved in minutes instead of hours, expediting the creation process at every step and ultimately reducing time to market. Installed as a plug-in, the FNX platform makes use of high-memory, high-CPU Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to render images, including Spot Instances, which are highly economical.

Jacket renderings. (Image courtesy of FNX Technologies.)
Jacket renderings. (Image courtesy of FNX Technologies.)

The parallels between FNX and how many creative studios are leveraging the cloud reflect the experience of FNX CEO Darcy Reno, who has led considerable 3D pipeline efforts for major studios such as DreamWorks Animation, where he capitalized on the scalability of cloud-based technology.

In similar contexts, both industries aim to create visuals that captivate an audience and motivate a purchase, whether an OTT subscription, movie ticket or physical good.

E-commerce and Digital Twins  

Even before the global pandemic mandated the closure of brick and mortar stores, e-commerce was on the rise, projected to hit $709.78 billion for 2020 in the U.S. alone. When retailers are able to accurately visualize their wares, consumers are more likely to be confident in online purchases, which is especially important for large items such as furniture. Creating these images digitally versus using photography results in significant efficiency gains at nearly every step of the product lifecycle management (PLM).  

A photoreal product rendering, or digital twin, provides more flexibility throughout the product lifecycle. Using 3D technology to visualize goods helps retailers and brands bring them to market faster. Creative decisions can be made with a better understanding of final appearance, without having to source physical samples, and these photoreal assets can be used downstream for marketing the products across various channels, such as in catalogs, on social media and through augmented reality (AR).

In fact, many retailers are now offering an AR component for furniture, allowing potential consumers to view how an item would look in their own home via smartphone or uploading an image to their website before purchasing.

Recognizing the growing importance of digital twins in the design and manufacturing industries, international fabric supplier Bru Textiles prepared for and is now offering a digital twin service, TwinBru. Leveraging technology and creativity, TwinBru helps close the imagination gap between digital visualizations and the corresponding physical products by rendering photorealistic digital twins of Bru’s extensive fabric library on a wide range of interior furnishing models.

Digital fabric sample. (Image courtesy of Bru Textiles.)
Digital fabric sample. (Image courtesy of Bru Textiles.)

To date, Bru has digitized more than 10,000 different fabrics through a high-resolution scanning process and offers around 40 customizable prebuilt assets. Manufacturers, designers, architects, wholesalers and retailers can enlist TwinBru artists to apply digital materials from Bru’s vast fabric library to any model for seamless integration into 3D scenes, which are rendered as photoreal images using the cloud and are nearly indistinguishable from a high-end catalogue layout.

Room rendering showcasing various fabric selections. (Image courtesy of Bru Textiles.)
Room rendering showcasing various fabric selections. (Image courtesy of Bru Textiles.)

For each TwinBru render, models and scenes are typically created in Autodesk Maya on local Linux-based workstations, then rendered in Chaos Group’s V-Ray on Amazon EC2 Spot Instances, with render management handled by Deadline, software developed by AWS Thinkbox. Assets are managed through a proprietary internal system and stored on Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3).

Looking Ahead

As far as FNX CEO Darcy Reno is concerned, cloud usage will only continue to grow across industries, especially those reliant on quality imagery. He shared, “Using cloud is non-negotiable if you want to be a successful company. Simply put, if you’re not cloud-native, your success is limited. I fundamentally believe that, and have been an advocate of cloud computing for years.”

“A lot of brands still use local machines or private data centers to render designs; an approach which puts physical limits on how quickly they’re able to scale their workflows due to hardware capabilities and capacity, as well as capital investments,” he adds.

Bru Innovation Consultant Ben Brabant shares a similar sentiment in terms of the impact of the cloud on his workflow and its role in driving innovation. “With TwinBru, we’re setting a new industry standard for digital fabrics. Consumers are increasingly making purchases remotely and they want to be confident in their choices, especially for big ticket items. When realistic visuals can be rendered quickly, as we’re able to do on AWS, the decision process timeline is significantly reduced as projects can be conceptualized without the need for the physical fabrics,” Brabant explained.

To learn more about how creators are leveraging the AWS cloud to realize photoreal digital imagery, check out:

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