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June 04
2020

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Working Remotely: FotoKem, SpinVFX and Jellyfish Pictures

By IAN FAILES

In this special VFX Voice series, several visual effects and post-production studios share how they’ve adjusted to remote production during the coronavirus crisis. First up are FotoKem in Burbank, SpinVFX in Toronto and Atlanta, and Jellyfish Pictures in the U.K.

FOTOKEM

In gearing up for the move to remote working, FotoKem had, prior to L.A. County and California stay-at-home orders being issued in late March, prepped DI producers at the studio with remote workstations. “Other teams such as the effects artists, DI colorists and conform editors needed a little more support,” notes Tom Vice, Senior Vice President, FotoKem Creative Services.

“For these services we focused on the current active projects and pulled resources from our pool of nextLAB dailies systems to build at-home Resolve stations. These were fully equipped with X310 displays and in some cases 4K scopes. We worked with each of the colorists to confirm their network configurations to ensure we would be able to share data and metadata effectively.”

Tom Vice, Senior Vice President, FotoKem Creative Services

Client review and approval has been one of the most challenging aspects of the remote working changes, with many clients looking to still be able to interact and provide feedback as sessions were going.

“Up until this point, most of our remote collaborative sessions had involved moving files to other locations or sending a stream across the ocean to another facility,” says Vice. “We weren’t exactly ready for sharing to our client’s personal devices. We learned quickly and have since deployed systems that allow for us to send a signal from one point to multiple points.”

Vice credits Blackmagic Design’s Resolve, which allowed for remote sessions, and FotoKem’s file-based dailies and asset management of camera original media system nextLAB, for helping to cope with the remote process.

“Having nextLAB allowed us to continue to support VFX vendors around the world with plate pull automation. This was critical because our friends and colleagues in VFX did not have time to slow down and needed to maintain continuity. nextLAB empowered us to do that and not miss a beat.”

SPINVFX

SpinVFX, too, had been researching remote work options before the global pandemic was officially declared. “We were focused on finding remote solutions that met our needs and industry standards,” outlines SpinVFX Visual Effects Supervisor/partner Jeff Campbell. “So, security, reliability and quality of data, as well as high-speed connectivity, was paramount in our search. This search led us to solutions such as Teradici software.”

Jeff Campbell, Visual Effects Supervisor/partner, SpinVFX

A testing period of the remote connection to Spin’s pipeline revealed they would need a 10 gig connection from their internet provider. In addition to these networking aspects, the studio also created a set of governing policies and standards on setting up remote dailies, rounds and final reviews.

From an artist workflow point of view, Campbell observes that there were, of course, big changes here. “Rather than sauntering over to review a shot on an artist’s workstation I became familiar with Google Meet instead. Certainly, supervisors had to adjust their approaches to best motivate and inspire artists across a digital platform.”

One of Spin’s biggest challenges came in the form of, relates Campbell, “figuring out the logistics of off-boarding our staff and delivering necessary equipment as quickly as possible so staff could feel both safe and prepared without sacrificing on client deliverables. This included mass delivery of monitors, computers, chairs and managing the needs of users who needed multiple OS’s or workstations.

“We faced challenges of adjusting to the inevitable hurdles at first while making sure our clients’ needs were met,” continues Campbell. “Hurdles were largely around connectivity issues and just finding that rhythm. This was eased thanks to super supportive and understanding clients who worked with us during this transition.”

JELLYFISH PICTURES

Early on in the crisis, Jellyfish Pictures began sending artists home in blocks of 50. This was possible because the studio had already set up a completely virtual environment.

“By sending artists home in waves, we did not overwhelm our IT department,” details Jellyfish Pictures CEO Phil Dobree. “They could note what equipment was needed where, and who needed a faster broadband connection, etc. By the time lockdown was announced, all of our 250-strong workforce were working from home, with the same access, performance and security as if they were in the studio.”

Phil Dobree, CEO, Jellyfish Pictures

The big change for Jellyfish artists came in terms of communication, since meetings and reviews, which had previously taken place face to face, now happen over Microsoft Teams.

“The pandemic somewhat forced our hand on upping our game around communication, feedback, reviews, and how we manage a spread-out crew, but it also allowed us to see that we could do this, and we could do it well,” says Dobree.

Indeed, Jellyfish has managed to hire and onboard over 60 people since the lockdown began, with these new recruits joining from places including Tel Aviv, Réunion and London. To manage the now global team, the studio has relied on tools such as Teradici Cloud Access Software, Microsoft Azure and Pixit Media’s Pixstor.

“To further strengthen the global operation,” notes Dobree, “we have integrated a review tool into our pipeline, which extends to the public cloud. This allows clients to review content seamlessly in 4K. No matter where they are based in the world, both client and artist can share the same screen, updating and annotating in real-time. This has been invaluable to the company and our projects, as we can now hire the best talent with geographical borders no longer an issue.”


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