Arsenal FX and Sohonet: Working remotely, working seamlessly

Arsenal FX on performing VFX & editorial reviews, title sessions and other finishing workflows throughout lockdown over ClearView Flex

High-end post-production studio Arsenal FX Color provides full-spectrum services to the television industry, supported by a world-class staff of artists, technicians, and producers.

Nothing was going to derail its state-of-the-art colour and editorial workflows for tier one clients including Disney, Sony Pictures, NBCU and HBO. Not even a global pandemic.

With the foresight that can only come from scrupulous preparation and unwavering client focus, the LA-based facility has been routinely offering remote review and creative sessions for several years.

“Whether you are in LA, Vancouver or London it is often inconvenient and time-consuming for producers, directors of photography and other key creatives to attend sessions at a single fixed location,” says Josh Baca, Conform Artist, Technologist and Partner at Arsenal. “It’s been one of the pillars of our service since we set up the business in 2012 to make available a variety of methods for screening whether that’s at client offices, a production house or to their homes.”

FOR LIFE – “For Life” on ABC. (ABC/Giovanni Rufino)

However, when the facility found its existing remote collaboration product to be underpowered in several areas, Arsenal jumped at the chance to see Sohonet’s real-time, remote review tool, ClearView Flex in action.

“We engaged Sohonet to demonstrate if it was a better product than the one we were currently using,” says Baca. “Categorically, it was. We immediately made the switch to ClearView Flex, and fortuitously had it installed just before the Covid-19 shutdown.”

A principal motivation for Arsenal was the higher degree of security offered by Sohonet. Specifically, the Trusted Partner Network endorsement for ClearView Flex by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA).

“We do a lot of work with Apple, HBO, Disney and other top tier studios that demand a very high level of security. Our prior box was secure but didn’t have a security certification rubber-stamped by every Studio.”

Another game-changing factor was the superior ClearView Flex experience. Baca explains, “The ease of use of is significantly better than anything we have had before. With ClearView Flex, clients can simply receive sessions on their iPad, phone or laptop or whatever device they want to use opening up a world of convenience.”

Before lockdown, many of Arsenal clients would meet in a central location such as the production office or post-production house for remote collaboration. Arsenal would simply set up a remote screening at the location with the colourist to facilitate the session. When quarantine and social distancing measures came into force and everyone was forced to isolate this was no longer an option.

Arsenal swiftly assembled colour kits for critical review including a Sony 24-inch OLED monitor calibrated by the facility’s colour scientists and an Apple TV. The ClearView Flex App for Apple TV is free, and the interface requires no training.

 “We sent this kit out to the client enabling them to view a colour calibrated image with no delay and fantastic picture fidelity,” says Baca. “The ability to use an iPad or laptop to connect everyone remotely to the same stream using ClearView Flex was invaluable.”

Using a combination of Sohonet’s fibre network and consumer ISPs, the facility can stream from its centralized location and from its remote-artists’ locations.

“ClearView Flex enables our clients to view streams over broadband to the home including 4G LTE. Unlike our previous product, which had a very stringent set of minimum bandwidth requirements and IT hurdles to pass, Sohonet takes care of all that and allowed us to quickly deploy without any difficulty.”

As a result, Arsenal has managed to fulfil a busy schedule throughout lockdown by finishing and delivering TV drama and comedies on deadline without comprising quality.

These shows include Lovecraft Country for HBO, NBC medical drama New Amsterdam, Netflix sitcom One Day at a Time and Sony Pictures’ legal drama For Life.  

“With our previous product the lag was hugely frustrating to the process,” says Baca. “It took time to shuttle and communicate. We were running up against 2 to 4 seconds of delay and guessing what each person is talking about.

“With ClearView Flex the latency is fantastic. It’s basically instantaneous. You can stop the stream and ask for a check on a specific frame and all parties know exactly the spot being talked aboutbecause it’s instant.” 

The team are also performing VFX editorial and reviews, title sessions and other finishing workflows all over ClearView Flex.

“Anything a client would normally come into our studio for, even remote QC, we are able to accommodate over ClearView Flex,” says Baca. “The whole work from home experience has opened client’s eyes to the fact that remote can be significantly more efficient and productive. When everyone has such tight schedules and when traffic can easily eat up an hour or two getting to and from a session, the benefits of being able to get the same result without leaving your office or home, are obvious.”