WORKING REMOTELY: ILM, MR. X AND CINESITE
By IAN FAILES
In the latest VFXVoice.com story looking at how visual effects studios have taken on the challenge of responding to the coronavirus crisis and implement remote working, we speak to Industrial Light & Magic, Mr. X and Cinesite.
INDUSTRIAL LIGHT & MAGIC (ILM)
ILM has five locations around the world – San Francisco, London, Vancouver, Singapore and Sydney – and so is already one of those VFX studios accustomed to distributed work.
But, notes SVP, Executive Creative Director and Head of ILM Rob Bredow, for employees the move to remote working “meant setting up a secure space to work from at their residence, and, for many, layering work atop other responsibilities such as caring for children or other loved ones. In some cases, our employees also became part-time teachers as schools struggled with the switch to online learning.”
“Another challenge,” continues Bredow, “revolved around managing work/life balance when you’re working at home. For some, it’s been a smooth transition, but for many it required a substantial adjustment, and we’ve been focusing on making sure our employees can take necessary breaks for mental health, walks or exercise, meditation, yoga, stretching and childcare.”
Rob Bredow, SVP, Executive Creative Director and Head, ILM
To manage the change at the studio level, ILM’s technology teams had already made several preparations. Bredow says that, in relation to the San Francisco office, “in less than 24 hours we went from having no remote work, to everyone working securely from home. Our remote workflow then rolled out over the course of the next 14 days around the world following local government guidance.”
“In addition to traditional remote display workflows, video conferencing, our online collaboration tool suite, we’ve enhanced some proprietary tools to enable secure, real-time, high-resolution, remote dailies for our teams,” adds Bredow. “That has been a key enabler helping to keep our teams highly productive in this configuration.”
When the crisis hit, MR. X – now with locations spanning Toronto, Montreal, Bangalore, Los Angeles and Adelaide – deployed a work-from-home solution that included provisioning equipment loans, establishing remote lines of communication across all staff/sites, educating its clients on the plan and securing their approval.
“This enabled us to have staff working efficiently from home in small numbers the day after the state of emergency was issued,” outlines Luke Groves, Head of Studio with MR. X Toronto.
Luke Groves, Head of Studio, MR. X Toronto
The tool Groves says helped most in making all these adjustments? The internet. “We are fortunate to have such robust infrastructure in North America. And consumer-level bandwidth is all it takes. If you can stream Netflix, you can work from home for MR. X. Video conferencing also became an invaluable resource to supplement the lack of direct communication – and every day that goes by it becomes more natural.”
Groves notes that a major challenge, however, was ensuring all staff had the hardware needed to continue working from home as efficiently as they would in studio. “You assume everyone has a computer and workspace at home, which is not the case these days. We had to create a loan system, including inventory trackers, user agreements, and ways of getting gear to those that had already exited the office. while obeying sanitization and social distancing orders.”
“It’s amazing how quickly people can adapt in a time of crisis and push forward to support their teams and the work. Our teams truly went above and beyond.”
Cinesite has offices in London, Montreal and Vancouver. In London, the studio was in the midst of delivering work on Black Widow as lockdown approached. Various final efforts on that delivery were coordinated remotely.
“Unsurprisingly,” shares Cinesite Visual Effects Supervisor Ben White, “tasks that required a very fine level of interaction such as animation, painting and sculpting were more challenging. In addition, editorial work with its need for frame accurate audio/video synchronization was harder than it would be if we were sitting in our digital cinema or at a workstation. Despite being in the midst of a global pandemic our comp team did an amazing job. Every week we’re improving and adapting to refine and strengthen our remote workflow.”
Ben White, Visual Effects Supervisor, Cinesite
Cinesite’s working from home technology approach is based on remotely accessing workstations via HP RGS (Remote Graphics Software) that are still located in the office. “Cinesite’s RV wrapper is used for reviewing and ‘remoting’ into dailies,” details White. “We all learned at home to optimize bandwidth, so no streaming 4K movies during dailies!”
“Communication is largely based on using Google Apps: Gmail, Calendar, Chat, Meet, which cover the basics of email, meeting planning, chatting, video and audio conferencing,” says White. “The fact that we are all working remotely and always available for video calls has evened out any geographical differences between our European and Canadian studios.”
“Also, my amazing crew in itself was a great tool! Their adaptability and continued engagement in the lead up to delivery as we transitioned to working remotely was amazing. The crew are the backbone of Cinesite, and I can’t wait to all be back together again.”