On the outskirts of Munich, just an hour’s drive from the alpine mountains of Mittenwald, are the offices of KMS Blackspace. For more than three decades this full service creative agency has been working on integrated campaigns, exhibitions, and product launches for leading global brands.
Led by founder Michael Keller this creative powerhouse is the recipient of nearly 500 awards from Cannes Lions, ADC, Montreux and more. And they boast an impressive portfolio that includes Audi’s recent rebrand, Vodafone’s flagship store in Cologne, and even work on the Munich Philharmonic’s new concert hall. But it’s their exhibition design that really sets them apart.
In 2015 Blackspace was approached by the Volkswagen Group - a long-standing client - to create two booths for the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) in Frankfurt. One for Volkswagen, and one for Audi. As the world’s pre-eminent motor show, the IAA has a reputation for immersive environments and pushing the limits of what’s possible in an exhibition space. It’s a stage ideally suited to the particular talents of the Blackspace team. The trick would be how to meet the tight deadlines and deliver a visually stunning result.
Like any boundary-pushing agency, Blackspace always want to go further than they have before when tackling a new project. And one as open as the IAA booths meant creative latitude of almost unprecedented levels. Volkswagen had asked for something centred on their campaign “Think New,” and for Audi it was simply to be inspired by the iconic slogan, “Vorsprung durch technik”. Tantalizing remits for someone as design savvy as Keller.
Taking visualisation to the next level, however, usually throws up the issue of rendering capacity. With higher resolutions, increasing datasets, and shorter deadlines than ever before CG professionals are looking to the GPU for a solution. Created specifically for its ability to work with 3D imagery, GPUs provide an almost bespoke solution to the rendering problem. And because they’re so uniquely capable they’re also a lot faster than the more traditional CPU renders.
In order to meet the needs of their clients KMS wanted to employ a GPU solution to increase their rendering abilities. However, most leading renderfarms operate on Windows or Linux and the studio was exclusively powered by Apple technology.
Whether it’s GPU or CPU rendering, both types of farm run on either Linux or Windows. For a Mac house this provides an added layer of difficulty - mixing operating systems is generally not advisable. Escape Technology recommended that Blackspace trial a Supermicro Quattro renderfarm connected to an HP Z840.
After this proof of concept was completed, KMS Blackspace became convinced of the value that GPU rendering provides. Undertaking a massive upgrade project, the motion graphics department invested in a full GPU rendering setup. Escape Technology provided state-of-the-art networking, storage, rendering, and workstations to the team. Fabio Ticca, Escape’s technical expert in Germany, was on-site for all installations and worked with KMS to create the ideal solution.
The motion graphics team is now fully equipped for GPU rendering. HP Z series workstations provide the interface and local artists’ platforms, while Supermicro Fat Twins deliver high-end performance. All are networked to a central NAS to ensure a smooth workflow and fully integrated pipeline.
A change to an established workflow is always going to be a bit of an upheaval. And moving from one platform to another can provide more challenges than you might think. KMS Blackspace is now a hybrid house, but with rendering capacity to tackle their flagship projects for the coming years. The best part is that all this hardware can be expanded and improved on upon - not simply replaced.
This has opened up the department infrastructure, enabling them to use freelancers both locally and remotely. More software is now supported thanks to the Windows-based workstations and a new central storage system better facilitates workflow. Storage throughput has, in fact, jumped from 200MB/s to 1,000MB/s.
Now capable of delivering 4K material in an efficient and effective manner, KMS Blackspace has solidified its position as a world leader in delivering high quality brand experiences.