Brown Bag Films is one of the world’s most original and successful creative-led animation houses and they decentralised their editorial workflow with ClearView Flex. With studio and office locations in Dublin, Toronto, Bali, and New York. Brown Bag Films’ much-loved TV shows include Doc McStuffins, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Vampirina, Bing, Peg + Cat, Olivia, The Magic School Bus: Rides Again, and Octonauts for channels including Disney Junior, Netflix, and PBS Kids. Since its founding in Ireland in 1994, the studio – part of 9 Story Media Group – has earned 18 Emmy® Awards and two Oscar® nominations.
Enabling its artists to share ideas with full animation, picture and audio post-production facilities in-house has been at the heart of Brown Bag’s creative success. The pandemic could have threatened that ethos. Instead, the company accelerated a move to remote collaborative solutions, as Darren Hyland, director of Technology explains. “At the beginning of 2020, we started to use our research knowledge of remote technologies to fully support a remote workforce. The prevailing view, at Brown Bag and a lot of industry, was that a creative studio meant artists and directors working side by side in specialist facilities. While in-person collaboration remains important, we could see that remote working was becoming more of a possibility for the future and we had started working with our teams to design a remote working strategy. We completed several Technology POC’s to test remote solutions with our production teams.”
“The pandemic changed things overnight. As soon as it hit, we accelerated the deployment of our remote working strategy, and in a matter of weeks, we had 1,000 of the workforce across all our sites working remotely.”
What solution did you put in place?
“The primary solution put in place was Teradici for connecting all of our artists, editors and directors who were working at home. Everyone was supplied with monitors, keyboards, mics, webcams and headsets and devices such as 10 Zigs and laptops. Again, like so many in the industry, we had no idea how long the lockdown would last. When it became clear that lockdowns and quarantines were going to last longer than a few weeks we began to look at additional technologies to streamline our remote workflow even more.”
“With ClearView Flex, we found we were able to keep it in sync. Even those people with the lowest bandwidth were able to see it in sync all the time.“
What was missing from your workflow?
“Even though Teradici was an excellent solution to connect our production team to their PCs in the studio, we didn’t have every phase of production covered. Notably, we had no solution for interactive offline reviews and editorial sessions. That started our research into streaming captured sessions from editorial to try to and bridge the gaps in our remote review workflows. That’s when we came across Sohonet.”
Did you trial ClearView Flex?
“Yes, we completed extensive tests with our technical team. The problem we had with the other solutions was that we were experiencing sync issues. With ClearView Flex, we found we were able to keep it in sync. Even those people with the lowest bandwidth were able to see it in sync all the time. There were no dropped frames in playback. The stability of ClearView gave us a much more robust viewing scenario and with that in mind we scaled up to four boxes from November 2020 principally to connect our editors with our directors.”
How did your workflow improve?
“Previous to introducing ClearView our editors would send QT files to directors for them to review and send back notes. Our editors would interpret notes, apply changes, make and send another QT for director review and so on. The whole process was losing time. There are so many little decisions that go into finessing a project. It is so much more efficient if you can get everyone together watching the same media in a two-hour streaming session. ClearView Flex enabled that.”
What is the company culture like now regarding remote?
“It has completely flipped. The strategy going forward is that we are a hybrid studio – meaning where it makes sense we can work remotely as well as in the studio and no one should feel excluded. If an artist or director is working remotely, he or she should have the same experience as if they were in the studio, and with ClearView Flex that is possible.”
“It is so much more efficient if you can get everyone together watching the same media in a two-hour streaming session. ClearView Flex enabled that.”
Is Brown Bag using ClearView for other aspects of their workflow?
“We began using it with Flame for online review as well as pretty extensively for final audio mixes. We’re able to do this between our sound stages in Dublin, New York, and LA where showrunners, key production coordinators and directors can join a live session with a mix engineer. If we didn’t have ClearView Flex, it would add hours to the process. ClearView eliminates having to repeatedly issue files and notes allowing everyone to contribute live to the mix.”
How far along the road is Brown Bag Films from moving from hybrid into a fully cloud-based set-up?
“What cloud does allow us to do is to scale for short periods. If we need additional workstations or render nodes to scale up for a peak period it is cost effective, but it is too expensive at this time to host all operations natively in the cloud. We are continuing to look at new technologies and will continue to research the market to ensure Brown Bag Films remains the most technically advanced animation studio on the planet.”