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The Future of VFX Work: Managing Remote Artists

Several of the large VFX and animation houses have developed online work environments that allow artists and supervisors to communicate in words and pictures. Some are cloud-based and some are simply Internet-linked real-time systems. And several work with Shotgun. They all work similarly, where sequence clips are uploaded to the cloud (or shared in real time over the net) and scheduled sessions allow all concerned to tune in to the clip discussion. Most allow the supervisor to make notes right on the clip, in note files, or even on stills from the clip that are stored online or downloaded. All concerned individuals with a digital key can access the notes and clips and even add to the discussion. Each system is unique, with unique features.

Major studios generally use proprietary software that cost hundreds of thousands to develop. These are proprietary systems, not available to smaller houses or artists. Here, I'm quickly exploring a few systems you can subscribe to with zero or a relatively small hit on your overhead. This is not a total analysis— I don't have the space. The deal here is: If it looks interesting, follow the link and learn more. It's best if you download the demos, where available, and give them a try.

cineSync
With the advent of cineSyc and now cineSync Pro + Shotgun, distance management, tracking assets, and supervision have become far more convenient and affordable. CineSync Pro was used on all of the movies nominated for the VFX Oscar this year, including The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Gravity. Indeed, cineSync won a Sci-Tech Oscar in 2011, and I would call it the industry standard.

Several asset management and review applications link directly with cineSync, including the comprehensive Joust production management system designed by Creative-Cartel. (I'm writing about Joust for a later blog entry. It's more for studios and production companies.)

CineSync features include synchronized review, color grading, drawing and annotation tools, as well as support for all the formats you're likely to be using. With the rise of 3D projects, cineSync has added a 3D review pipeline that could prove invaluable in using remote artists to create 3D VFX.

CineSync Pro has more than a dozen additional major features. If you really want to go pro, check out the CineSync Pro + Shotgun integration for some really nice advanced management and review features. Check out their website at www.cinesync.com.

BTW, Shotgun is linking with several other apps to form cloud pipelines for production management. I decided to post a separate blog entry about Shotgun next week, so tune in and don't miss it if you're interested.

CineSync now has some competition. They range in price from free and inexpensive to fairly reasonable. I don't feel any are outrageous in cost.

Free
In the free category we have SyncSketch.

This one is brand new, first released in late February. It is in beta, but do not think this is shoddy stuff. No, it's damn effective and quite polished. It is particularly excellent for animation but can also be used to review and discuss VFX and edit suggestions. Co-developer Bernhard Haux tells me there will eventually be a SyncSketch pro, with many useful bells and whistles, for a modest fee, but they intend to keep the free version going for people just getting started or students collaborating on a film project. He also indicated that several schools have been using SyncSketch successfully with students.

Syncsketch is web-based, works in any modern browser, and allows multiple artists to collaboratively review any video, lag-free and in full sync. They can add written frame annotations and draw on the frames in real time. SyncSketch also provides frame accuracy, a color-picker and ghosting.

I suggest you try it with Skype Video on the side so you can video-chat while working together. It is super-simple by design. Upload a video, get an email, share the link and start reviewing your work! Anybody can join in the session. Just go to the website and upload your video and start working. It's that simple – syncsketch.com

Fee
Aside from cineSync, there are several fee-based systems becoming available.

Frankie is a browser-based video review and approval system. It allows interactive, collaborative video review from any location via the net, providing there is adequate bandwidth. The artist or supervisor uploads clips to the cloud, where they are stored. You don't actually install any software. Once the video footage is uploaded, you generate a private URL that is sent to all persons collaborating on this shot. Virtually anyone can join if invited. Each person can then log in by browser and play or pause content, make notes and sketch their ideas directly on the video image. In addition, each collaborator is able to zoom in for detail or pan across an image to isolate critical components for review.

Authorized team members with log-ins can initiate reviews, but I have one minor criticism — at the moment, they can’t locally save their marked-up video. They can, however save all their notes, markups and individual frames to locally available PDFs.

Frankie works like a browser-based version of cineSync. It's easy to set up, and very useful for short-form content such as sequence clips, commercials, short films, animations and/or web video. It runs inside standard browsers and on is cross-platform, supporting Mac, Windows and even iOS mobile devices. I don't know if I'd want to use it on my iPhone 5, but who knows? It costs $249/month for unlimited seats but is limited to five  projects and a max of 20 GB storage. This seems very reasonable considering the time savings and convenience. (Wait, I just got a note from Bob George of Drivethrough TV — he says he uses it on his his iPhone and likes it!)

“Frankie solves the same problems cineSync does, but is much easier to set up,” Frankie Product Manager Jeremy Pollard told me. Find out more and give Frankie a try here: www.cospective.com/frankie/ Watch a short video to get a better Idea how it works and then, if you're interested, sign up for a free trial.

Frankie is releasing a new update as I type. It allows full-screen viewing and downloading of the original video file (without annotations) which simplifies the work-flow overall.

RV is a product of Tweak Software, a San Francisco outfit made up of former ILM techies who know their stuff. RV 4.0 uses GPU acceleration for very fast, color-accurate review of image sequences and movie files. RV is not a cloud app, but it can do remote synchronized reviews over the internet, so you can draw, pan, zoom, and color-correct on either end while your remote collaborator’s view is updated live.

The Tweak team has now collaborated with Shotgun to bring you Screening Room, an RV plug-in that combines the cloud review power of Shotgun with the high performance of a native desktop application. The resulting hybrid lets you browse, filter, playback, compare and submit your work from a single seamless interface.

I have it on reasonably good authority that RV is used by ILM, a strong indicator of how solid it is.

Check it out at www.tweaksoftware.com/products/screening-room

Wrap
Getting people back to work is my mission of late. In that spirit, I am currently researching related subjects, like how can you distribute your own crowd- or fan-funded film? Are there new and better ways to position yourself in the workplace? There are, and I'll be sharing them shortly.

In the meantime, Creative-Cartel is just about to release Joust, the cloud-based system that runs on your own servers. They have been using to coordinate their many film projects with remote vfx houses and artists. I've been briefed and next month I'll share what I have learned.

It turns out there are a number of places and systems for film distribution outside the studio system. With the rapid rise of cheap equipment and software, more and more people want to make their own movies. This produces a great smelly heap of garbage that can bury the gems. If your stuff is really good, there are a slew of new ways to get it vetted and sell it.

Come back next month and I'll cover some of them.

2 Comments

Categories: Blog, VFX
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  • Peter Plantec

    No comments? Have you used these tools? Let us know what you think. A lot of folks will read your thoughts…get your opions out there people.

  • Baron Thomas Von Buettner

    As far as i know , The company’s who purchase a license for RV and Shotgun, will send the remote artist a free version to connect,

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