On cloud nine Amazon Web Services Thinkbox opens office at The Forks

Two years ago, Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), the world's largest cloud computing operation, acquired a small Winnipeg software company called Thinkbox.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Pay $19.00 every four weeks. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled anytime.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/04/2019 (1396 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two years ago, Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), the world’s largest cloud computing operation, acquired a small Winnipeg software company called Thinkbox.

The company makes tools to help creative industries do things like create complex digital renderings for animated films.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Hanging on the walls in the new office space are posters for movies AWS was involved in helping to produce.

On Friday, AWS formally acknowledged the commitment to the company and to Winnipeg by showing off AWS Thinkbox’s new 13,000 square foot office space on the fourth floor of the Johnston Terminal at The Forks.

AWS Thinkbox, whose signature tool, called Deadline, makes it much easier and more efficient for artists and creators to interact with the computing power required to produce high quality digital renderings, now makes those tools available to the millions of customers of AWS cloud computing services.

The Thinkbox tools have been used on the world’s largest feature films including Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor, Green Lantern, Harry Potter and Avatar, and hundreds of other films, music videos, commercials and hundreds of hours of creative content.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSChris Bond, founder of AWS Thinkbox.

“My personal mandate is — empowering the artists and helping them scale,” Thinkbox founder and president Chris Bond said. “If I can touch all these artists and empower them and help them deliver projects, I feel like I am part of it, even if my name is not on the credits anymore.”

Joshua Burgin, general manager compute services at AWS, has been travelling to Winnipeg for a couple of years working with Bond and the Thinkbox team. He said he was impressed with the city and the talent that’s here.

“It is important for us at AWS to keep great talent here in the city and even repatriate a few Winnipeggers once they hear about the great opportunities here,” he said.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Joshua Burgin, general manager at Amazon Web Services, speaks during the official opening.

The AWS people were non-committal about exactly how many jobs they hope to create in Winnipeg, but the facility has the capacity for more than 100 and the expectation is that they will be hiring “dozens” per year.

Coming about a year after the opening of Ubisoft’s video game production studio a year ago in Winnipeg, it is further evidence of the serious attention some of the biggest players in the digital industry are paying to Winnipeg.

Bond, who was the co-founder of Frantic Films in Winnipeg in 1997 and then re-acquired the software tools it had created after selling off it animation division to an Indian company in 2007, clearly helped lay some of the original build blocks of the industry in this city.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Ken Zorniak, CEO of Tangent Animation.

Ken Zorniak, Bond’s old partner at Frantic Films and CEO of his own animation company in Winnipeg called Tangent Animation, said, “If there is ever a person who truly justifies the Order of Buffalo Hunt, it’s Chris Bond who has brought all these tech and artist jobs to the city. It is really quite amazing. He made the investment long before any one else.”

Alumni of both Bond and Zorniak’s companies now hold senior positions in Winnipeg at places like Ubisoft and Skipthedishes as well as Thinkbox and Tangent.

Provincial industry minister Blaine Pedersen and Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman were both at the event and there was widespread acknowledgement of the impact the film and interactive digital media tax credits have had on the development of those industries in the city.

AWS forecast: very cloudy

Amazon is obviously a big company with $233 billion in revenue in 2018 with a five year annual revenue growth of about 26 per cent. Its Amazon Web Services division is growing even faster, at about 45 per cent per year, with revenue of $36 billion US in the last year.

Amazon is obviously a big company with $233 billion in revenue in 2018 with a five year annual revenue growth of about 26 per cent. Its Amazon Web Services division is growing even faster, at about 45 per cent per year, with revenue of $36 billion US in the last year.

The cloud computing division of the on-line retailer opened its first office in Canada in Toronto four years ago and last year said it would be adding 6,300 people in development offices in Toronto and Vancouver as well as opening a data centre in Montreal.

With the opening of the new AWS Thinkbox office Winnipeg becomes the company’s fourth Canadian city it has a presence in, but it already has tens of thousands of customers across the country.

Eric Gales, president of AWS Canada, said, “It (cloud computing) is a new computing paradigm. There was a time when some people had cell phones and some who did not. Now they are ubiquitous. Similarly, this transition from running computer equipment on your own premises is transforming to…. there’s no requirement to do that now. There are very few businesses where it makes sense.

“It used to be an advantage, if you had the capital, you could invest in that infrastructure. But the paradigm has changed which is why we anticipate, in the fullness of time, very few companies or governments will run their own infrastructure. It just does not make any sense any more.”

With more computing capacity than all the businesses in Winnipeg combined, AWS has become the largest cloud computing service company in the world.

Gales said that 90 per cent of the services that are available are the ones their customers tell them they need and they keep adding more.

Even the largest companies in the world use AWS services.

After an interview with the Free Press Gales said he had to dash to meet one of his Winnipeg clients, Great-West Lifeco.

– Martin Cash

But for a company like AWS to take a chance on letting an important niche shop like Thinkbox grow in Winnipeg, where AWS previously had no presence, is important for the industry here.

“The investment in new jobs in this office space and this sector is incredibly exciting and it’s a tremendous vote of confidence in the future of this sector and our community,” Bowman said.

It becomes only the fourth AWS office in the country and likely fortifies Winnipeg’s growing reputation as a hidden gem in the tech world.

Bond said as Thinkbox started to become successful it attracted a lot of suitors, but he said it was obvious some of them were not real. The AWS connection was serious from the start and the cultural fit was important, he said.

“They said if we show them there is talent in Winnipeg they will continue to invest,” he said. “I think it is up to us to keeping showing them that and they will keep investing.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The common room area of the office includes a pool table and small kitchen.

Thinkbox tools work on solutions for the entertainment, design, architecture, and engineering industries. With the exponential growth in the production of all sorts of content it is not hard to see how its tools would be in demand.

Bond said, “An artist creates a scene, a car, a person, a character and a computer has to render it and that can take hours or days to process it for a final film image… per frame.

“So you need hundreds or thousands of computers and we connect the computers to the artist in a very easy way so that one artist can control millions of computers if they wanted to. And Amazon has those on AWS. It makes it a whole lot more efficient.”

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

Report Error Submit a Tip