With the hit television series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon Studios is pushing the boundaries of episodic storytelling. The studio adopted cloud-based tools and workflows to coordinate all phases of this massively complex international production—and deliver an amazing entertainment experience that drew 25 million viewers to the series premiere. As its film and TV productions continue to increase in complexity and scale, Amazon Studios continues its digital transformation with the aim to become a “next-generation studio.”
The new series The Rings of Power is set thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, and follows a cast of familiar and new characters on their adventures through Middle-earth. Image courtesy of Amazon Studios.
From the moment that Amazon announced it had acquired the television rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in November 2017, a global wave of anticipation began to build among fans of the beloved books and films. Over the next five years Amazon Studios, the company’s film and television production subsidiary, developed the groundbreaking new series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power mindful of the legacy of one of the most popular fantasy epics of all time.
“Amazon Studios is the home for talent to create and produce original films and television series that premiere exclusively on Prime Video,” says Eric Iverson, head of product strategy at Amazon Studios. With its content available in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide, the studio’s creative output extends beyond TV and film via extensive marketing activities within the broader Amazon ecosystem.
Eric Iverson of Amazon Studios presents onstage at Autodesk University 2022.
To reach the highest standards of creativity, aesthetics, and production values for this new chapter in The Lord of the Rings saga, Amazon Studios pushed the limits of innovation and scale. “Today we must produce more content in shorter timelines, by more artists, working anywhere around the globe, around the clock,” Iverson says.
“Advances in our industry have brought many great new tools to create, market, and distribute content. But these advances have also led to a significant amount of complexity,” he continues. As productions move faster and remote teams have become the norm since the global COVID-19 pandemic, all phases of a project are happening at the same time—making the production process even more complex.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has definitely pushed the boundaries of episodic storytelling. The first season's 8 hours of episodic content utilizes nearly 10,000 visual effects shots supported by 20 VFX houses. It’s been like producing 6 to 8 movies all at once.”
—Eric Iverson, Head of Product Strategy, Amazon Studios
“Addressing the challenge of increased complexity requires us to think differently about the process of storytelling,” Iverson says. “How can we create a home for top talent distributed across the globe?” Amazon Studios set out to evolve into a “next-generation production studio”—and reinvent the way their teams make films—based on three principles.
First, the next-generation studio must be socially responsible by design. “Customers expect more than just great stories, ‘A-List’ talent, and stunning visual effects,” he says. “They care about how we are producing the content they watch. We hold ourselves accountable to a higher bar when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and sustainability.”
Second, the studio must be globally cloud-connected to support the future of production. The 2030 Vision Initiative established by MovieLabs, Hollywood’s research and development joint venture, lays a path forward for content to be stored, secured, and shared in the cloud.
And third, the studio must empower teams with smart, non-linear workflows to better orchestrate increasingly complex productions. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of hours are wasted because of inefficient manual steps required to coordinate tasks, move assets, and collaborate across distributed teams,” Iverson says. “The tools and workflow automations we offer must also evolve to support them.”
Filming of a scene from The Rings of Power. Image courtesy of Amazon Studios.
“We are absolutely thrilled that Autodesk is an active partner in these principles and shares MovieLabs’ 2030 vision,” Iverson says. “There are many ways that Autodesk is helping us reach our vision—in particular, with ShotGrid and Moxion.” Embracing digital transformation with these cloud-enabled production tools has helped Amazon Studios become more connected and collaborative.
ShotGrid, Autodesk’s production management software, is used on Amazon Original productions for real-time project tracking. “This tool helped us orchestrate production workflows during COVID,” Iverson says. “Dashboards help productions track many VFX shots and vendors.” Amazon Studios has also experimented with using ShotGrid’s APIs to orchestrate assets between ShotGrid and Amazon Web Services (AWS), and minimize tedious and repetitive manual tasks.
Amazon Studios uses Moxion, Autodesk’s cloud solution for digital dailies, to integrate processes from on-set production through postproduction.
To accelerate creative reviews, Amazon Studios also leverages Moxion, Autodesk’s dailies and review software for real time review. Moxion brings raw footage from on set into one flexible tool for review by anyone, anywhere, moments after capture. Studios that use Moxion with ShotGrid to connect the production pipeline in the cloud can ensure that on-set data flows to post-production in nearly real time.
“Amazon Studios uses Moxion for creative reviews for shows of all sizes,” Iverson says. “It helps streamline the handoff from production to postproduction, making the workflow more efficient.” Moxion also has been instrumental in connecting creative teams from around the world, making the creative process more inclusive. To date, Amazon has used Moxion on more than 115 productions—involving 4,500 users, 1,300 hours of content uploaded, and about 1 petabyte in storage.
“Only by working together with creative technologists and artists and passionate creative technology leaders like Autodesk can we bring the next-generation studio to life. We do this because the ‘next-generation studio’ is all about one simple idea—creating magic at scale.”
—Eric Iverson, Head of Product Strategy, Amazon Studios
On September 1, 2022, the day of its release, 25 million people worldwide watched The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power—the biggest premiere in the history of Prime Video. Millions more engaged with the 8-episode first season, and viewers are already anticipating what will come next for the show’s characters and their world.
“Creating stories and experiences audiences will love requires us to work really hard to understand our customers and what will resonate with them,” Iverson says. “To deliver on these stories requires us to work even harder.” Amazon Studios’ commitment to becoming a next-generation studio is critical to delivering on this promise.
To create the dazzling and expansive entertainment experiences that Iverson calls “magic at scale,” cloud-based production enables Amazon Studios to effectively manage highly complex projects. “We have a lot of work still to do on the invention side as we’re connecting all these tools,” he says. “We’re working hard to get there right now. However, we can’t do it alone.” A new world of possibilities is opening up as cloud-based platform technology evolves, and Autodesk is partnering with the teams at Amazon Studios to bring together data, processes, and tools in one open environment.
“All of us do this important work so creative teams can continue to love the process of telling amazing stories,” Iverson says, “stories about heroes saving enchanted civilizations like Middle-earth.” And the saga of The Rings of Power goes on: Season 2 production began in Fall 2023, and Amazon Studios progresses to become even more efficient, agile, and creative at delivering the magical experiences that audiences love.