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Quick Chat: Stargate Studios president Darren Frankel

Stargate Studios, a visual effects and high-end production company, has 10 offices in seven countries where they work on television, features, commercials and special venue projects. Their credits are impressive and include work on GracepointThe Walking Dead, Grey’s Anatomy, Ray Donovan, House of Lies and 12 Monkeys.

Stargate has been around for 25 years, which in this business is a rarity. We checked in with president Darren Frankel to find out how they have survived, thrived and more.

You’ve hit the quarter of a century mark, which is impressive. How have you not only survived in a very difficult market but also thrived and expanded around the world? Any wisdom to share?
You have to constantly reinvent yourself and your process. The industry is constantly changing and producers, directors, studio executives, etc. are looking for partners to help them stay ahead of the curve. We are always looking at new ways of doing things and which tools exist to allow us to do the things that we couldn’t achieve before. To stay current, you always have to be ready to break the model and improve it. You also need to look at your client’s problems as your own so that you are thinking along with them rather than just being reactive.

Can you talk about your different locations and is different work done at each or does the work at all locations mirror the others?
We have 10 offices — Los Angeles, Atlanta, Vancouver, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Berlin, Cologne, Malta and Dubai. At the crux of each facility is local work. All the facilities are interconnected using a proprietary system known as VOS (Visual Operating System). This inter-connectivity allows artists to share work and for VFX supervisors, producers and coordinators to communicate with greater ease. The business has grown internationally, so Stargate’s network of facilities also allows us to put talent in place regardless of location and bring that talent to the projects that need it.


Before and After: An example of work Stargate did for the show Gracepoint.

Can you talk about some of the work you have done and are working on currently?
Currently we’re working approximately 25 different projects around the world, a sampling of which includes The Walking Dead, Dig, Grey’s Anatomy, Ray Donovan, Damien, El Principe and a host of other projects that I wish I was at liberty to talk about!

Any one that you are particularly proud of. Can you describe?
Every project brings its own set of challenges and some of the work that I’m most proud of is work that nobody would ever know we even did because it’s invisible. At the end of the day, a company is really about its people, and I’m extremely proud of all of them.

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Before and After: More work for Gracepoint.

What are your main tools?
Our main software tools, in addition to the aforementioned VOS, are After Effects, Maya, LightWave, Premiere, Mocha Pro, RealFlow, Photoshop, Golaem and a host of other plugins and tools. In addition we use all kinds of cameras and production tools because real is always best when feasible, so we often shoot our own elements as well.

You are also using Signiant’s Media Shuttle to work with all your locations seamlessly. Can you walk us through that workflow and describe how you were doing this before Media Shuttle?
The business has become global. Shows often shoot in one city, do editorial in another city, and desire to gain tax incentives from yet another city. The ability to move and share data across Stargate’s network has become of paramount importance. Using our internal VOS system, data can be moved through the network automatically using preference settings rather than manual human interaction. It will even place files in the same directory on the network in a different city, without relying on moving files to a shared folder, and then having to manually disperse those files to their proper locations once the transfer is complete. We have moved from using FTP along our private VPN network and externally to clients, to Signiant’s Media Shuttle.

The two major reasons we did this are:
1. File Transfer Speed: Media Shuttle optimizes the bandwidth of users on upload and download to make files move faster between locations, and helps to mitigate the need for shuttling drives from client editorial and post facilities.

2. Security: Password-protected FTP sites are only so secure, and the way Signiant packages files makes them less susceptible to being compromised in any way.

Internally it didn’t create more work on our end but provided a significant net gain.

Check out the Stargate website for reels and more credits.


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