Some of the most efficient tools being used by pros today were created by their peers, those working in real-world post environments who develop workflows in-house. Many are robust enough to share with the world. One such tool is NIM, a browser-based studio management app for post houses that tracks a production pipeline from start to finish.
Andrew Sinagra, co-founder of NIM Labs and creative director of Ntropic, a creative studio that provides VFX, design, color and live action, was kind enough to answer some trends questions relating to tight turnarounds in post and visual effects.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing post and VFX studios in the coming year?
It’s an interesting time for VFX, in general. The post-Netflix era has ushered in a whole new range of opportunities, but the demands have shifted. We’re seeing quality expectations for television soar, but schedules and budgets have remained the same — or have tightened.
The challenges that will face post production studios will be to continue to create quality and competitive work while also working with faster turnarounds and ever-fluctuating budgets. It seems like an impossible problem, but thankfully tools, technology and talent continue to improve and deliver better results at a fraction of the time. By investing in those three Ts, the forward-thinking studios can balance expectation with necessary cost.
What have you found to be the typical pain points for studios with regards to project management in the past? What are the main complaints you hear time and time again?
Throughout my career I have met with many industry pros, from on-the-box artists and creative directors through to heads of production and studio owners. They have all shared their trials and tribulations – as well as their methods for staying ahead of the curve. The common pain point question is always the same: “How can I get a clearer view of my studio operations on a daily basis from resource utilization through running actuals?” It’s a growing concern. Managing budgets has been a major pain point for studios. Most just want a better way to visualize and gain back some control over what’s being spent and where. It’s all about the need for efficiency and clarity of vision on a project.
Is business intelligence very important to post studios at this point? Do you see it as an emerging trend over 2018?
Yes, absolutely. Studios need to know what’s going on, on any project, at a moment’s notice. They need to know if it will be affected by endless change orders, or if they’re consistently underbidding on a specific discipline, or if they’re marking something up that is actually affecting their overall margins. These can be the kind of statistics and influences that can impact the bottom line, but the problem is they are incredibly difficult to pull out from an ocean of numbers on a spreadsheet.
Studios that invest in business intelligence, and can see such issues immediately quantified, will be capable of performing at a much higher efficiency level than those that do not. The status quo of comparing spreadsheets and juggling emails works to an extent, but it’s very difficult to pull analysis out of that. Studios instead need solutions that can help them to better visualize their approach from the inside out. It enables stakeholders to make decisions going by their brain, rather than their gut. I can’t imagine any studio heading into 2018 will want to brave the turbulent seas without having that kind of business intelligence on their side.
What are the limitations with today’s approaches to bidding and the time and materials model? What changes do you see around financial modeling in VFX in the coming years?
The time and materials model seems largely dead, and has been for quite some time. I have seen a few studios still working with the time and materials model in regards to specific clients, but as a whole I find studios working to flat bids with explicitly clear statements of work. The burden is then on the studio to stay within their limits and find creative solutions to the project challenges. This puts extra stress on producers to fully understand the financial ramifications of decisions made on a day-to-day basis. Will slipping in a client request push the budget when we don’t have the margin to spare? How can I reallocate my crew to be more efficient? Can we reorganize the project so that waiting for client feedback doesn’t stop us dead in the water. These are just a few of the questions that, when answered, can squeeze out that extra 10% to get the job done.
Additionally, having the right information arms the studio with the right ammunition to approach the client for overages when the time comes. Having all the information at your fingertips to the extent of time that has been spent on a project and what any requested changes would require allows studios the opportunity to educate their clients. And educating clients is a big part of being profitable.
What will studios need to do in 2018 to ensure continued success? What advice would you give them at this stage?
Other than business intelligence, staying ahead of the curve in today’s environment will also mean staying flexible, scalable and nimble. Nimbleness is perhaps the most important of the three — studios need to have this attribute to work in the ever-changing world of post production. It is rare that projects reach the finish line with the deliveries matching exactly what was outlined in the initial bid. Studios must be able to respond to the inevitable requested changes even in the middle of production. That means being able to make informed decisions that meet the client’s expectations, while also remaining within the scope of the budget. That can mean the difference between a failed project and a triumphant delivery.
Basically, my advice is this: Going into 2018, ask yourself, “Are you using your resources to your maximum potential, or are you leaving man hours on the table?” Take a close look at everything your doing and ensure you’re not pouring budget into areas it’s simply not needed. With so many moving pieces in production it’s imperative to understand at a glance where your efforts are being placed and how you can better use your artists.