Bringing The Mill’s world-class finishing and colour team into a remote workflow and utilising ClearView Flex for critical live streaming sessions with both clients and teams, with Head of Technology, Rizzo Islam.
The Mill has long been at the forefront of technology – to the point of being on the bleeding edge – something which put them in an extremely good position to address lockdown. The Soho-headquartered global creative partner for agencies, production companies and brands, had streamlined most of its workstations with PC-over-IP connections some years ago. Extending this to a wider area network was the task of Rizzo Islam, Head of Technology at The Mill. He also had to find a way to bring The Mill’s world-class finishing and colour team into a remote workflow.
We’ve been using PCoIP internally for more than six years to give our artists the autonomy to work in different suites without needing an engineer to lift, move and plug in any machinery. That way of working is a thing of the past. So, when the pandemic hit, we created a gateway to extend that PCoIP connection to people’s homes.
We sent a PCoIP client and a keyboard mouse and tablet to each artist’s home. Going forward we sent them a workstation, monitor and a chair for those who didn’t have the right furniture. Over time the PCoIP tech increased efficiency and reduced lag as we introduced new versions of the software.
How many staff were remote in this way?
At any given time, we had 113 artists remote from our London office – a mix of 3D artists using Maya and Nuke, 2D Flame artists and also our editors and design team with Affect Effects and Adobe Creative Suite. Our admin, human resources and finance were working from home as well.
What about the grading team?
The biggest challenge we had was getting our colour team working from home. We’re not talking about a laptop or a workstation, these are Baselights – sophisticated pieces of equipment with many complex components like blackboard grading, a reference monitor and two UIs. You can’t extend that over PCoIP easily – and we only had a couple of weeks to get our colourists mobilised.
Tell us about your solution?
We quickly got all our creatives set up with Mac
Being honest, I’ll admit I was sceptical. A lot of companies claim user-friendliness and Sohonet have never let us down, so I said let’s give it a go. We got a ClearView Flexbox in as a trial and tested it in the office first. The UI was amazing, but it was the end-user client side that blew me away.
You get an email link, click on it and the picture appears. It’s that simple. We checked the picture on multiple monitors and the colour accuracy was very good too.
Then, we tried it at the home of our Head of Colour who lives outside London in a rural area where the internet connection was at that time not great. ClearView Flex proved it could work with a really low bandwidth. We had no trouble with the low internet connection to the point where we bought more boxes. From the first lockdown last year to now we’ve gone from one Flex on a rental agreement to now having two in the main building and three in the wild.
What type of projects are you using ClearView Flex for?
The bulk of our remote workload is for commercials and most of the work using ClearView is reserved for critical live streaming sessions with the client. Our Flame and Nuke also use ClearView rather than Teams when they have sessions with multiple people all over the world. ClearView Flex works better because it is so seamless. You can dial in dial out, the audio is there, everything is in sync, the quality never drops.
How did your clients respond?
When we first started going remote some clients were adamant, they wanted the ‘over the shoulder grade’ and we tried to do this using a private YouTube channel, but it required so much equipment to be hooked up. In comparison, ClearView Flex is an all-in-one solution that clients love because they just dial in. Sohonet provides an iOS app which we recommend to clients. If they do have an issue, it’s typically their home WiFi connection that has dropped out. They love the fact they can just click a link and can be confident that the stream is secure and encrypted.
Do you think the flexibility of hybrid office and home working is here to stay?
My opinion is that the benefits of working from home – which include saving hours on the commute – are really important for quality of life. In my team, I have one person who requested to work from home all the time and another person who house-shares and has a terrible internet connection. Either way, we can accommodate this with dynamic workflows and tools.
Do you think clients will want to work remotely too?
If a client reaches out to a producer and says they’d like to be in a grading suite we continue to offer that. The only difference is we need 24 hours’ notice to make sure the suite is sanitised.
Has security ever been of concern for working remotely?
That’s the great thing about ClearView Flex and working remotely. You might be working from home, but the actual machine isn’t there so, if someone would break into my home and take my personal laptop there are no NDA jobs to steal. Artists at home are connected to a machine in the office which is secured by locks and a security team and the stream itself is accessed by two factor authentication. If there is any data breach, we can shut it down.
How do you work with Sohonet daily?
We work very closely with them for any kind of R&D. Stephanie White [Sohonet Customer Success manager] will call me and say, ‘We’ve got this new feature, want to try it out?’ And I am more than happy to help give our feedback.
Every now and then I get a nice surprise. For instance, you can now have up to 25 streams live in one session. Of course, you need to have an email address to send to. If only there was a way to bulk copy and paste those addresses into ClearView Flex. Turns out there is! Nice little touches like that make life easier for us.
We believe in empowering our artists. We don’t get IT to sort our ClearView streams. Our artists log into ClearView and set up sessions themselves. We’ve given them training and if they get stuck, they give us a shout. It’s that user friendly.