My Startup: Athera

Josh Peachey's picture
by Josh Peachey

Athera is Foundry's new cloud platform that allows creatives to collaborate remotely on visual effects projects. The software allows users to scale resources up and down as projects ebb and flow, so they only ever pay for what they use.

Needing only a web browser, Athera gives you access to industry applications running on powerful cloud workstations. You can log in, set up a studio, find people, and manage your projects all in one place. 

Founder: Simon Pickles

Founded: 2018

Website: athera.io

Simon Pickles, Lead Software Engineer at Foundry

Why did you start Athera? 

We are seeing first-hand how the VFX industry is changing, moving from an on-premise model to the cloud - and Athera is our vision for where it’s all going. 

Traditionally, VFX studios have a tough time. They have to bid for jobs and work to make a profit, against the backdrop of a fixed infrastructure of computing power and licenses. Not to mention the fact that setting up a VFX company is incredibly hard, requiring major investment and technical ability. 

Thinking out of the box when it comes to optimising process is essential for VFX, and studios are constantly innovating when it comes to the tools they are using. That's where Athera comes in. It provides the cloud-based platform that centralises storage, creative tools and pipeline, so users can have flexible access to their preferred industry tools.

By moving the entire VFX studio to the cloud, the studio becomes 'on-demand' with infrastructure provided elastically. Need to add more artists? Just give them an account - no need to buy an expensive workstation. Need more computer power for rendering? Well, it's provisioned just-in-time and disappears when you're not using it. 

Perhaps most importantly, Athera allows you to work from anywhere. It helps you collaborate remotely with artists across the world, work from the beach in Brighton and avoid the daily commute! 

"We are seeing an increase in our video-on-demand customers, who are leveraging Athera to compete"

Tell us more about software behind the product? 

Athera runs the latest in VFX production software from a range of vendors, provisioned using cloud-based virtual machines and deployed using containers. These applications are accessed remotely by artists, and can be backed by anything from small cheap VMs, right up to multi-gpu monsters with 160 CPUs and terabytes of RAM. 

The system uses Kubernetes under the hood, with a custom storage layer we call 'Atlas', allowing you to bring-your-own-storage, like Dropbox, Google Cloud Storage or Amazon S3. 

Where’s the business at right now? 

Athera soft-launched in April 2018 at FMX in Germany in collaboration with Google Cloud. Since then, our user base has been growing and we've been developing the offering, improving artist workflow and performance. Of course, increased security is a constant objective. 
We have considerable levels of interest in the platform and some exciting projects in production using the system.

For example, we are seeing an increase in our video-on-demand customers, who are leveraging Athera to compete alongside traditional broadcasters and film studios. 

What are your aims for the next year? 

Getting started with Athera is not as easy as we would like it to be, so we're working to streamline the onboarding process for new artists. We're also planning a UI overhaul which will increase artist productivity. 

"We're also planning a UI overhaul which will increase artist productivity."

What’s been the hardest thing about getting Athera off the ground? 

With so much interest in the platform, it’s hard to please everyone all the time. We have a lot of interesting discussions about how to plan our 
roadmap to satisfy as many users as possible. Fortunately, we have a dedicated and talented team who are passionate about delivering a great experience for artists. We want to democratize VFX production! 

Why should more people be using or investing in Athera? 

The hurdles to setting up in VFX are high. Athera offers artists a way to access pro-tools, limit risk and run a studio on the same infrastructure that powers Google Search and YouTube. 

How much will it cost users? - and why is it worth the investment? 

Costs for the platform vary, according to what you want to achieve. We offer some of the most flexible licensing terms available for using the top-level software in the industry, used by studios to make every VFX Oscar-winning film, award-winning TV show and commercial for more than a decade. 

The elasticity available means you can start small and scale up according to your needs, then scale down in quiet periods, becoming a truly agile force in the VFX world.

Find out more about Athera