Chuck Parker, CEO, Sohonet, on Storytellers gaining confidence in remote workflows — and how the technology will ultimately get better and cheaper over time, resulting in a “new normal” – just as effective but with better work-life balance
The collective scramble that our industry colleagues from Avid editors to VFX artists were forced to undertake in the early stages of the pandemic has given way to a universal acceptance and relatively standardized mode of remote working. With health and safety protocols likely to remain in effect for many months to come (.and warnings that we’ll be social distancing and wearing masks well into 2022), it’s clear that we’ll be in a hybrid work scenario for some extended period of time. The practice of putting the customer into the darkened room while the artist drives the session remotely to preserve pandemic protocols is likely to work into our industry’s “muscle memory” in 2021.
By the end of 2021, the industry will have experienced 21 months of remote collaboration. What began as a necessity will most likely remain in place even as teams are allowed to travel or return to the office. We are forecasting the bulk of 2021 to be remote, with artists and creative execs traveling to special darkened rooms sporadically and often alone except for those joining remotely.
Far from diminishing, this trend will continue as people realize that such tools solve practical problems for the content creation process and improve everyone’s quality of life. Remote collaboration is beneficial to artists. Talented creatives no longer have to live in expensive cities like New York, LA or London to access work. Any location which meets your family’s needs and work-life balance is on the table. Remote collaboration enables the work to move to you, and, while we yearn for togetherness, begs the question of whether we will ever return to a single creative suite with the number of physical participants and frequency we once did.
Post production moves to the cloud
The VFX end of our industry began the move to cloud at scale in 2015, driving improved rendering costs and time efficiencies and introducing new workflows. In 2020, the pandemic kicked remote use cases for creative tools into overdrive, resulting in more post production processes moving to the cloud, boosting remote distributed collaboration (i.e. lots of team members in lots of different places).
However, while there are many, many more artists using remote tools hosted with public cloud providers, there are still at least two major hurdles for our industry to solve before the physical trappings of our existence ebb away. First, the simple economic hurdle has to be solved. Thousands of industry participants have already invested in creative workstations and other tech gear which are already deployed in machine rooms and data centers all over the world. That “sunk capital” problem will likely take 18-30 months to work itself out, arriving at a future where the majority of new purchases are in a SaaS model vs. the currently most common capital expenditure model (capex).
Second, we need to solve the technical challenges of “critical review output”. Meaning, we need to provide the same video and audio fidelity and “over the shoulder” responsiveness that our industry demands of our in-suite experiences from the cloud delivered equivalent solutions. This is not a simple problem because video and audio fidelity requirements demand large streaming payloads which in turn create more challenges for latency and contention on the network — after all, there is a public internet in between the artist and their cloud-hosted tool set, duplicated to every viewer of their live stream. Pushing the output of those tools to dispersed artists and creative execs around the world scale so that it works right every time won’t be easy.
So while the timing may be harder to predict, our industry’s direction of travel is certainly accelerating towards a future where Storytellers will continue to gain confidence in the remote workflows they are forced to utilize today, which will get better and cheaper over time, resulting in our “new normal” which is likely to be every bit as effective as the old way of physically being together, but with the work-life balance benefits of being where life needs you to be at that point in time.