Burbank — FuseFX is busy 24/7 these days, providing visual effects for television, film, and commercials. Their credit list is impressive — they are the primary effects house for Disney/Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D; they worked on all three seasons of American Horror Story; and provided effects for Hell on Wheels (for which they are nominated in this year’s VES awards for Outstanding Created Environment), Criminal Minds, and Glee, to name a few.
Their services span the range of creative design of visual effects, including 3D animated effects, supervision from pre-production through production and post, and compositing.
As part of an expansion into a broader range of services in the future, including dailies, mastering, and full DI, FuseFX (www.fusefx.com) added Gary Jackemuk, colorist and editorial supervisor, to its staff in October 2013.
Jason Fotter, co-founder, CTO, and VFX supervisor at FuseFX, took some time out recently to talk about the studio’s ever-evolving workflow and how they created an accurate and efficient digital pipeline for their VFX work, centered around digital hub Scratch Lab from Assimilate.
What problem/issue were you facing when you decided to create a digital pipeline?
Over the past several years our VFX work has been rapidly expanding and we needed to become more efficient by creating a standardized methodology to manage the high-volume of VFX projects and all related processes. With the digital revolution going strong, the solution was clearly a digital pipeline that could manage all our VFX shots in a structured, well-organized manner, as well as set the stage for the addition of color correction capabilities.
At the same time, the vision for our company has expanded as well. We realized that with the right digital tools and talent, we would be able to broaden our services to offer dailies, color grading, full DI, and mastering.
Part of your pipeline is Scratch Lab, how did you decide on that solution?
There really were no other viable options for what we wanted to achieve. We needed a software tool that offered automated processes, features, and functionality, as well as customized flexibility to build an end-to-end pipeline – from dailies to color grading, VFX, finishing and mastering. We worked closely with Gary Jackemuk, a digital pipeline specialist, who was at Assimilate at the time, and collaborated on defining the requirements and options for a Scratch Lab implementation.
With our current focus being VFX, we currently have numerous projects and hundreds of shots going through our facility every week, and the only way we can stay productive is by rigorously managing all that data.
For example, we’ll develop anywhere from 60 to 120 shots for American Horror Story per episode. Add in the other TV episodics or film projects and we can have up to 800 shots going through the facility at the same time. With the Lab pipeline and its unique ConStruct interface, we track each shot within its timeline, as well as an unlimited number of revisions.
What other functions are you finding worthwhile in your pipeline?
Before Scratch we couldn’t look at raw DPX files or the raw color in a corrected space. But now, even though we don’t do the final color correction, by applying basic color correction, we are able to view our VFX work in context with the color grade being used by editorial. The pipeline we have developed around Scratch Lab allows each artist to view his work in context with the entire scene as well as in the correct visual color context.
This internal color management system is connected directly with our compositing system so that VFX artists can see and review their work on the fly at their workstations in context of the scene and the color management – that way there are no suprises in the review sessions. This is very helpful to the VFX artist since it also allows the artist to work visually within the proposed color “look” well before the final color grading session.
Scratch can handle virtually any resolution and file format — 2K, 4K, ProRes and more — which enables us to put a lot of shots through our pipeline. For example, we’ll get the beauty shots from the post house in any number of formats and conform them on the ConStruct timeline. This puts us in a position to handle any dailies format, including 4K, which is starting to be a regular request.
What software tools do you use in your visual effects work?
The Foundry’s Nuke for compositing, Autodesk 3ds Max, Vray for rendering and Side Effects Houdini for CG effects and simulations.
How quick is your turnaround?
The nature of TV work is always immediacy, and we’ve been able to efficiently handle all the work that comes our way. We regularly turn around shots the same day or the following day. We couldn’t do this efficiently without the four Scratch Lab systems we have running on Mac OS X. We are able to load material and prep it for the artists within hours, and are able to deliver back to the clients just as quickly.
Here is a good example of our ability to quickly turnaround shots. On a Saturday morning, 80 last-minute shots showed up and needed to be delivered no later than end of day Tuesday. All 80 shots were conformed, prepped and ready for the VFX artists by the end of day Saturday, ready for the artists Sunday morning. We began delivering shots as early as Sunday afternoon. By Tuesday afternoon we had delivered all 80 shots, which included several revisions based on the creative feedback.
Are you satisfied with how your VFX operation is running today?
Absolutely. Technical accuracy is vital to what we do. In October 2013, Gary Jackemuk joined the company — initially as our editorial I/O supervisor, but he is also an accomplished colorist and finishing editor. We’ve grown so much during the past two years, and having Gary join our team with his background in software development, VFX and finishing, we’ve been able to take our processes to a new level of organization for effective and efficient performance.
He’s been able to expand the pipeline in the right direction to handle our large quantity of shots as they go back and forth between artists. Artists have a means to tracking versions at any point and the supervisors can look at several versions and see the changes made from plates to final delivery. Along with the other artists he is also able to fine tune each episode’s unique color pipeline and ensure all the artists are working from the same vantage point. All of this enables a smooth process with the artists focused on creativity, the best deliverables, and ultimately very satisfied clients.
What other digital cinema work are you considering?
While we initially wanted Scratch Lab in order to build a structured VFX pipeline, it has become the hub of all the work we do. We have quickly realized we now have the infrastructure and talent that is ideal for not only the dailies process, but also digital intermediates, DCP generation and full mastering. Since Scratch is not just a color grading system but a complete end-to-end solution, it allows us to be in full control of every aspect of the image pipeline — be it dailies, VFX, color grading in the DI suite, or mastering. We consider everyone who works at FuseFX to be our biggest asset, with Scratch being next in line as the foundation for achieving our larger business strategy.