Bending the Rules of Time & Space – LBB on Remote Working

Little black book, post untethered

VFX and post-production have long been tied to fancy big facilities in central city locations, but thanks to technology and soaring rents things are getting flexible, finds LBB’s Laura Swinton

Post UntetheredWorking from home. Sitting in your dressing gown, looking out to the garden, whilst clacking away quite productively is a pleasure that has long been denied to those working in post-production and visual effects. But thanks to broadening bandwidth and mighty processors being packed into smaller boxes, even that highly technologically reliant industry is finding new flexible ways of working.

“You can do a lot with a laptop these days and as technology becomes lighter, cheaper and easier to transport then that makes it easier to be more agile when it comes to post,” says Sophie Hogg, EP at Jogger, who reckons that post companies like hers can be more accommodating and adaptable than ever. “Coupled with the sophisticated tools that allow for seamless remote working in real time for grading and online it does mean that we can move with the fact that directors and agency aren’t always able to be there in the room for post.”

Remote working – bending the rules of time and space

Absolute Post is one of the pioneers on this front; nearly two years ago they moved their data centre and render farms offsite, outside of London, and connected to their main locations by a dark fibre cable.  At the same time, Absolute reconfigured their workspaces and infrastructure to be fully flexible, meaning that artists can access their workstation remotely from more or less anywhere.

“The days of machine rooms located in basements for Absolute are truly gone; we were the first to move the entire post infrastructure off-site to a data centre,” says Phil Oldham, who is Creative Director at the company. “As for the future of artists working remotely, that is happening already. As the cost of living in London increases and the demand from artist to be untethered from central locations we have full-time staff that work hundreds of miles away and the systems in place allow for totally seamless integration.”

In fact, one of the companies senior CG artists, Matt Burn, has recently relocated to Wales. He heads back to London once a week but for the most part, with a 50mb downstream Internet connection, he can access his workstation as if he were in the office. A number of compositors do the same when working in the evening or at weekends. Absolute’s Chief Engineer Tom Spenceley says that they can tap right in. “Crucially – because they are accessing the very same infrastructure regardless of their location – there is no change of workflow or compromise on performance. A compositor working from home still benefits from an incredibly powerful server-format workstation, high-bandwidth storage and access to all resources we provide in-house.”

As for Matt, currently in Wales, he acknowledges that certain tasks and projects lend themselves more easily to this way of working. “Standalone tasks that require input from only one artist are the easiest to achieve due to their self-contained nature. A lot of CG tasks work perfectly; preparation of assets (models, textures, rigs, camera tracks, simulations) to be included in projects of any size can all be completed by artists remotely and supplied to all other members of the project team in near real-time, as can the compositing of standalone shots,” he says. Things get more challenging when there are multiple artists involved and the workflow is more intricate, though he reckons that platforms like Slack and Shotgun makes even these projects perfectly manageable.

Talking of technology and tools, secure private networks are more accessible than ever too. Ian McCarthy is the Technical Marketing Manager at Sohonet. “Our historic flagship service, the Sohonet Media Network (SMN), is the largest global private network for media and entertainment companies. We connect the sites and facilities for ‘the storytellers of the world’ across the whole media production lifecycle: studios, production companies, post houses, VFX shops, advertisers, etc. By skipping the public internet — with all of the associated contention, security risk, speed limits — the digital distance between collaborators’ offices and facilities is considerably decreased, while reducing the risk of leaks. In a world where people are still shipping hard drives, this strengthens and opens doors for increasingly sophisticated global collaboration.”

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