Universal, Microsoft Partner to Develop Cloud-based Animation and Live Action Production Processes

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom-Publicity Still-Photofest-H 2018
Universal Pictures/Photofest

Universal Filmed Entertainment and Microsoft have formed a strategic partnership to use the cloud to build new live-action and animation production processes.

Plans are to expand DreamWorks Animation’s remote collaborative workflow—which operates on a local, private network and is being used to continue production on upcoming projects including The Bad Guys amid the pandemic— to the Microsoft Azure cloud, opening up the capabilities to a wider, global base of animation talent. The next step would be to offer this same system for Universal’s live-action tentpoles such as Jurassic World: Dominion, which from physical production to VFX and post are often produced across multiple countries.

Pre-pandemic, nonprofit MovieLabs (which was founded by Hollywood studios) researched and distributed a "2030 Vision" white paper, outlining its belief that the cloud will enable the studios to working more efficiently and creatively. Since the pandemic began, the ability to work remotely has only become more vital.

This vision is steering the Universal effort, according to the studio’s senior vp and CTO Michael Wise. In addition to advancing its production capabilities, he also believes a cloud system will serve to better store and organize studio assets.

"Together with customers like Universal and DreamWorks, we are prioritizing cloud and edge technologies to help transform workflows, increase production output and reduce friction for creatives," said Hanno Basse, media and entertainment CTO at Microsoft Azure and former CTO of Twentieth Century Fox. Microsoft has also formed partnerships with entertainment industry companies including Disney and editing technology maker Avid to develop cloud-based systems.

Wise emphasized that with the Microsoft partnership, Universal is working to develop non-proprietary systems. "This is not just tailor-made for Dreamworks Animation or Universal," he said. "The goal is a solution that works broadly for the industry."

"The pandemic put Hollywood’s foot on the accelerator pedal," Basse adds of cloud applications. Microsoft is also developing systems for the business aspects of movie production, including tools to help studios manage safety procedures amid Covid-19.