Advice on building remote workflows for when travel is NOT an option
As you approach the problem of defining remote working solutions for your team, there are a few simple steps we would recommend for each creative activity: 1) Connectivity. Assess quick and cost-effective ways to get your team connected from their end (home, remote office) to where the creative tools are going to live (i.e. your office, machine room, data center or cloud). You need to consider the scale requirements of both ends (i.e. 5 users is much different than 500). 2) Security. Factor in secure remote access from the beginning. That includes properly segmenting/exposing remote access to various resources, securing the traffic itself, and providing 2-factor authentication and proactive monitoring through modern firewalls and intrusion detection. A remote VPN is part of this process, but it does not end there. 3) Control. Depending on the creative tool you plan to leverage remotely, you likely have at least two challenges to solve: “Drive control” for the remote or cloud-based resource. Typically this is solved with KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) technology like Teradici. This allows you to “drive the desktop” as if it was in your home/remote office. There are technical nuances here that are critical to understanding early in the design phase (i.e. Avid on Windows is an easy to solve Teradici problem for KVM, Avid on Mac is much harder). Output from your remote creative tool. Similar to your creative environment at work, the desktop allows you to drive the tool, but frame-and colour-accurate output is often managed separately (through a separate output, to a separate and potentially calibrated monitor or projection screen, etc). The important thing here to understand is that “critical review” quality output is not yet possible from any cloud tools (though many industry players are working hard to solve this). 4) Sharing. Most creative workers in our industry do not work in a vacuum. They might work their bit of the magic alone, but ultimately they need to deliver the result into some other workflow (i.e. send it somewhere) or share it with colleagues for review & approve discussions (i.e. ‘make the sky angry’, ‘smooth the scene transition’, ‘give me more realistic hair movement’). When thinking through this problem, you need to think about the video problem (frame rate, color fidelity) and the people problem (how many remote viewers, what devices, is the sharing synchronous in real-time or can every comment on their own timeline asynchronously). You also need to think through the concept of how to share the ‘deliverable’. ‘Synchronising’ your tools works great in the office when you have tons of bandwidth for send and receive, but most home office solutions are going to have an asymmetrical speed where the upload is significantly smaller than the download speed. In this scenario, sending the deliverable is a better approach than synchronizing everything, supplemented perhaps with a “sync” at the end of the workday, which can work through the night if needed. Regardless of your creative tool set and remote workflow decisions, make sure you deploy a strong video conferencing tool (BlueJeans, Zoom, GotoMeeting) and “modern” desktop collaboration tools (GoogleDocs, Slack, etc).
To help our customers and industry colleagues think through their options, we have shared some best practices for common workflows.
- Cloud. Avid and Adobe offer cloud-based access to their tools. Licensing can be a challenge — very likely, you will need an existing license. Both offer direct services to consumers and firms like StratusCore and BeBop are trying to solve the cloud orchestration layer on behalf of creative teams. However, while the cloud-based approach makes steps 1-3 above straight forward, sharing is a real-challenge (both notifying colleagues and the absence of frame/colour accurate output).
- Remote. Setting up remote access for Avid or Adobe is harder (move the machine to a machine room, create access policies in the firewall and network devices, etc). Teradici solves your KVM problem easily on Windows, but the solution for Mac often requires hardware. However, sharing can now be simplified by connecting ClearView Flex to the workstation, allowing for air-gapped and encrypted sharing to remote viewers anywhere at “team scale” (5-20 users) in real-time (i.e. latency of <100 ms). ClearView Flex has the added feature of allowing the artist to share their “desktop view” with remote reviewers (i.e. the Avid timeline) and then switch to “output view” to share the content with frame and colour fidelity.
Remote VFX artistry.
- Cloud. The cloud-based access capabilities of tools like Maya and Nuke are not as well developed as the editing world. Again, “virtual workstation” providers like Stratuscore and BeBop can be helpful here (check the licensing requirements), but “critical review output” is still a challenge.
- Remote. Similar to editing, connecting Teradici to these tools can be managed easily if on Windows, which then provides other output options (ClearView Flex, CineSync/FTrack).
Remote Colour Grading.
- Cloud. The ability to colour-grade in the cloud is extremely limited since “critical review” output is a requirement for the artist.
- Remote. Most likely, the colourist is going to have to go to the color grading suite. However, sharing output can be established from the grading suite to other grading suites or screening rooms either with the native tool itself (Baselight, Resolve) at both ends, or by integrating a remote streaming solution like ClearView Pivot, Nevion T-VIPs/Virtuoso, or Streambox. The upside of Pivot is its simple UI/UX on connecting to other locations and the built-in, industry-grade end to end security. There is a lot of equipment in the market already deployed with Nevion and Streambox which needs to be configured for the specific workflow (point-to-point) and then supported by the local IT team (network path and firewall rules often change and require a re-installation of the gear and solution).
Remote Sound Mixing.
- Cloud. The options here are very limited if any.
- Remote. Similar to colour grading, the artists likely need to be in the mixing room. SourceConnect from ProTools (Avid) is one option that is often deployed. Commonly the remote streaming tools (ClearView, Nevion, Streambox) will carry up to 16-channels of audio. The installation/setup is still a point-to-point challenge but can be established in a straightforward manner. Remote Dolby ATMOS mixing is still a difficult task, often requiring the sending of the content ahead of time and managing a video and remote site sync.
Off-line Remote Review & Approve.
- Cloud. There are plenty of asynchronous “off-line review and approve” tools in the industry. Moxion, Pix, Dax, 5th Kind, CineSync/Ftrack, Frame.io, Shift.io. These tools allow you to upload content for others to review on their personal devices and annotate and comment on the content.
- Remote. Most likely, the only remote workstations in this workflow are the creative artists listed (VFX, editing, colour grading).
Real-time Remote Review & Approve.
- Cloud. Many of the creative tools offer some sort of output approach, but none offer the quality required for “critical review” (not frame- or colour-accurate), These can be ‘clunky’ for viewers, requiring them to log into an account with the creative tool which is not always straightforward for execs.
- Remote. Again, pairing ClearView Flex or Pivot with the artist tools above, is a quick and easy way to share frame- and colour-accurate output with team members who are disbursed whereas the equipment vendors require a point-to-point solution or introduce a 2-5 second delay in their software viewing solutions.
Remote Finishing Review & Approve.
- Cloud. Not available.
- Remote. The assumed requirement here is that a small number of creatives and execs need to get into a creative suite or a screening room to see the content in its full glory (color, sound, etc). ClearView Pivot is again a good tool here to facilitate the workflow at a “user-level”, enabling most users to click and open a call. The equipment only solutions are also a viable option, again with the caveat that the solution needs to be re-checked daily for changes introduced to the network/firewalls and there may be a multi-second delay in the process. ClearView Pivot can be integrated with ClearView Flex, solving that use case of a remote editor/artist is sharing their work in real-time with a distant screening room, but some of the important viewers cannot get to a screening room — in this example, they can at least see the output via an AppleTV.