Tag Archives: Alkemy X

Alkemy X: VFX supervisors share work from home process

By Bilali Mack and Erin Nash

On the heels of joining Alkemy X’s VFX team, what we expected of our first few weeks was quickly interrupted by a global crisis. After getting to know the company and settling in, we were tasked with responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and transitioning the staff to remote work as quickly and efficiently as possible. As a headcount, that would be 42 artists, three supervisors, three pipeline engineers, three in editorial and the I/O department, and eight production management personnel.

Erin Nash’s WFH setup

We were fortunate that Alkemy X already had systems and processes in place and ready for these virtual workflows. It was just a matter of making the decision to get ahead of state mandates and make the shift early to set ourselves up for success. Our pivot to a remote workflow was structured and executed the week prior to March 16. We began to build our plan starting Tuesday, March 10, and by that Friday, the engineering and pipeline team had built on its pre-existing security-compliant processes to roll out to the entire staff of artists and production.

The company uses RGS to connect artists to a low-latency screen-sharing session on their work computers. Since the remote artists are working off the computer they normally use at work, they still have access to all of the software, licenses and tools they have when at the office. Agile and innovative responses have made our jobs easier, despite these circumstances.

Alkemy X built an openVPN server to allow secure, encrypted, multi-factor authentication and remote access to our internal network. By working remotely, we are able to maintain security and keep assets contained within our secure network. Artists have access to their files via high-speed file servers, with no need for time-consuming file transfers.

Bilali Mack working from home

Alkemy X uses Shotgun to manage our shows and workflow, but we are leaning on it more heavily now as a first-line review tool before heading to high-resolution reviews through HP RGS. Our traditional dailies have been replaced by rolling spot checks in Shotgun followed by more exhaustive reviews of full-resolution media.

We use Google Meet for meetings, screen sharing, video chat and telephone calls. We use Slack extensively on non-networked computers for team communication, keeping everyone connected and up to date and to quickly get assistance with any technical problems.

Priority is still placed on building and maintaining the company’s culture in addition to the quality of creative work, but we’re doing so behind the top of a dining room table or bedroom-stationed desk and within steps from our kitchens.

Erin Nash

As we move from our former posts, here’s how we are individually navigating working from home:

Erin Nash: Although managing a team remotely is a new experience for me, I can’t say I have found it very difficult to transition. While the team as a whole is new to me, I have known many of the artists for years. Being able to guide their creative process and help them solve difficult technical problems from afar isn’t as different as I would have expected. Now instead of saying “Can I drive your box?” it has become “Let’s do a screen share.”

People by and large do all the same things from home that they would do in the office, with the main difference being that now nobody can tell if I’ve gone for a workout over lunch.

Bilali Mack: Starting out at any company takes time to get up to speed. Add something like a global pandemic, and you would think it would be nearly impossible not only to get up to speed, but also to manage teams, collaborate on creative and retain our company’s culture. We adapted by preparing artist and production remote on-boarding documents and deploying necessary hardware and software to any and all artists on our team.

On a cultural note, we’re still holding company happy hours and open Google Meet “office” hours, just because it’s nice to be able to jump on and chat with each other about how things are different now.

Bilali Mack

Alkemy X built an openVPN server to allow secure, encrypted, multi-factor authentication, remote access to our internal network. Alkemy X uses RGS to connect artists to a low-latency screen sharing session on their work computers. Since the artists working remotely are working off of the computer that they normally use at work, they still have access to all of the software, licenses, tools that they have when at the office. By working remotely, we are able to maintain security and keep assets contained within our secure network. Artists have access to their files via high-speed file servers and with no need to do time consuming file transfers.

Alkemy X uses Shotgun as usual to manage our shows and workflow but are leaning on it heavier now as a first line review tool before heading to high resolution reviews through HP RGS. Our traditional dailies have been replaced by rolling spot checks in Shotgun followed by more exhaustive reviews of full resolution media.

We use Google Meet for meetings, screen sharing, video chat, and telephone calls. We use Slack extensively on non-networked computers for team communication, keeping everyone connected and up to date, and to quickly get assistance with any technical problems. All regular company meetings, and Friday night happy hours are done with Google Meet.

Main Image: Bilali Mack WFH.


VFX supervisor Bilali Mack comes to Alkemy X from MPC, where he supervised and executed VFX for brands including Adidas, Google and BMW. Erin Nash joined the team from FuseFX was head of 2D/VFX supervisor, leveraging his experience across television, film and commercial work.

Alkemy X adds all-female design collective Mighty Oak

Alkemy X has added animation and design collective Mighty Oak to its roster for US commercial representation. Mighty Oak has used its expertise in handmade animation techniques and design combined with live action for brands and networks, including General Electric, Netflix, Luna Bar, HBO, Samsung NBC, Airbnb, Conde Nast, Adult Swim and The New York Times.

Led by CEO/EP Jess Peterson, head of creative talent Emily Collins and CD Michaela Olsen, the collective has garnered over 3 billion online views. Mighty Oak’s first original short film, Under Covers, premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Helmed by Olsen, the quirky stop-motion short features handmade puppets and forced-perspective sets to glimpse into the unsuspecting lives and secrets that rest below the surface of a small town.

“I was immediately struck by the extreme care that Mighty Oak takes on each and every frame of their work,” notes Alkemy X EP Eve Ehrich. “Their handmade style and fresh approach really make for dynamic, memorable animation, regardless of the concept.”

Mighty Oak’s Peterson adds, “We are passionate about collaborating with our clients from the earliest stages, working together to craft original character designs and creating work that is memorable and fun.”

Alkemy X adds Albert Mason as head of production

Albert Mason has joined VFX house Alkemy X as head of production. He comes to Alkemy X with over two decades of experience in visual effects and post production. He has worked on projects directed by such industry icons as Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tim Burton on Alice in Wonderland and Robert Zemeckis on The Polar Express. In his new role at Alkemy X, he will use his experience in feature films to target the growing episodic space.

A large part of Alkemy X’s work has been for episodic visual effects, with credits that include Amazon Prime’s Emmy-winning original series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, USA’s Mr. Robot, AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, Netflix’s Maniac, NBC’s Blindspot and Starz’s Power.

Mason began his career at MTV’s on-air promos department, sharpening his production skills on top series promo campaigns and as a part of its newly launched MTV Animation Department. He took an opportunity to transition into VFX, stepping into a production role for Weta Digital and spending three years working globally on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He then joined Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he contributed to features including Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider. He has also produced work for such top industry shops as Logan, Rising Sun Pictures and Greymatter VFX.

“[Albert’s] expertise in constructing advanced pipelines that embrace emerging technologies will be invaluable to our team as we continue to bolster our slate of VFX work,” says Alkemy X president/CEO Justin Wineburgh.

Alkemy X: A VFX guide to pilot season

Pilot season is an important time for visual effects companies that work in television. Pilots offer an opportunity to establish the look of key aspects of a show and, if the show gets picked up, present the potential of a long-term gig. But pilots also offer unique challenges.

Time is always short and budgetary resources are often in even shorter supply, yet expectations may be sky high. Alkemy X, which operates visual effects studios in New York and Los Angeles, has experienced the trials as well as enjoyed the fruits of pilot season, delivering effects for shows that have gone onto successful runs, including Frequency, Time After Time, Do No Harm, The Leftovers, Flesh and Bone, Outcast, Mr. Robot, Deception and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Mark Miller

We recently reached out to Mark Miller, executive producer/business development, at Alkemy X to find out how his company overcomes the obstacles of time and budget to produce great effects for hopeful, new shows.

How does visual effects production for pilots differ from a regular series?
The biggest difference between a series and a pilot is that with a pilot you are establishing the look of the show. You work in concert with the director to implement his or her vision and offer ideas on how to get there.

Typically, we work on pilots with serious needs for VFX to drive the stories. We are not often told how to get there but simply listen to the producters, interpret their vision and do our best to give it to them on screen. The quality of the visuals we create is often the difference between a pick-up and a pass.

In the case of one show I was involved with, the time and budget available made it impossible to complete all the required visual effects. As a result, the VFX supervisor decided to put the time and money they had into the most important plot points in the script and use simple tests as placeholders for less important VFX. That sold the studio and the show went to series.

Had we attempted to complete the show in its entirety, it may not have seemed as viable by the studio. Again, that was a collaborative decision made by the director, studio, VFX supervisor and VFX company.

Mr. Robot

What should studios consider in selecting a visual effects provider for a pilot?
Often the deciding factors in choosing a VFX vendor are its cost and location within an incentivized region. Usually the final arbitrator is the VFX supervisor, occasionally with restrictions as to which company he or she may use. I find that good-quality VFX companies, shops with strong creative vision and the ability to deliver the shots with little pain, are unable to meet a production’s budgets, even if they are in a favorable region. That drives productions to smaller shops and results in less-polished shows.

Shots may not be delivered on time or may not have the desired creative impact. We are all aware that, even if a pilot you work on goes to series, there is no guarantee you will get the work. These days, many pilots employ feature directors and their crew. So, when one is picked up, it usually has a whole new crew.

The other issue with pilots is time. When the shoot runs longer than anticipated, it delays the director’s cut and VFX work can’t begin until that is done. Even a one-day delay in turnover can impact the quality of the visual effects. And it’s not a matter of throwing more artists at a shot. Many shots are not shareable among multiple artists so adding more artists won’t shorten the time to completion. Visual effects are like fine-art painting; one artist can’t create the sky while another works on the background. Under the best circumstances, it is hard to deliver polished work for pilots and such delays add to the problem. With pilots, our biggest enemy is time.

The Leftovers

How do you handle staffing and workflow issues in managing short-term projects like pilots?
You need to be very smart and nimble. A big issue for New York-based studios is infrastructure. Many buildings lack enough electricity to accommodate high power demands, high-speed connectivity and even the physical space required by visual effects studios.

New York studios therefore have to be as efficient as possible with streamlined pipelines built to push work through. We are addressing this issue by increasingly relying on cloud solutions for software and infrastructure. It helps us maximize flexibility.

Staffing is also an ongoing issue. Qualified artists are in short supply. More and more, we look to schools, designed by VFX supervisors, artists and producers, for junior artists with the skills to hit the ground running.

Alkemy X joins forces with Quietman, adds CD Megan Oepen

Creative content studio Alkemy X has entered into a joint venture with long-time New York City studio Quietman. In addition, Alkemy X has brought on director/creative director Megan Oepen.

The Quietman deal will see founder and creative director Johnnie Semerad moving the operations of his company into Alkemy X, where both parties will share all creative talent, resources and capabilities.

“Quietman’s reputation of high-end, award-winning work is a tribute to Johnnie’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit,” says Justin B. Wineburgh, Alkemy X president/CEO. “Over the course of two decades, he grew and evolved Quietman from a fledgling VFX boutique into one of the most renowned production companies in advertising and branded content. By joining forces with Alkemy X, we’ll no doubt build on each other’s legacies collectively.”

Semerad co-founded Quietman in 1996 as a Flame-based visual effects company. Since then, it has expanded into the full gamut of production and post production services, producing more than 100 Super Bowl spots, and earning a Cannes Grand Prix, two Emmy Awards and other honors along the way.

“What I’ve learned over the years is that you have to constantly reinvest and reinvent, especially as clients increasingly demand start-to-finish projects,” says Semerad. “Our partnership with Alkemy X will elevate how we serve existing and future clients together, while bolstering our creative and technical resources to reach our potential as commercial filmmakers. The best part of this venture? I’ve always been listed with the Qs, but now, I’m with the As!”

Alkemy X is also teaming up with Oepen, an award-winning creative director and live-action director with 20 years of broadcast, sports and consumer brand campaign experience. Notable clients include Google, the NBA, MLB, PGA, NASCAR, Dove Beauty, Gatorade, Sprite, ESPN, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, Regal Cinemas, Chick-Fil-A and Yahoo! Sports. Oepen was formerly the executive producer and director for Red Bull’s Non-Live/Long Format Productions group, and headed Under Armour’s Content House. She was also the creator behind Under Armour Originals.

Eli Rotholz joins Alkemy X as VP of biz dev

Creative content company Alkemy X has added Eli Rotholz as VP of business development,. He will be based in the company’s New York headquarters.

Rotholz brings more than 12 years of sales/business development, strategy and production experience, having begun his career as an independent sales rep for Ziegler/Jakubowicz and Moustache NYC. From there, he worked in his first in-house position at Click3X, where he built and managed a diverse roster of directorial talent, as well as the company’s first integrated production offering focusing on live-action, VFX/design/animation and editorial.

Rotholz then founded Honor Society Films. He later joined Hone Production, a brand-direct-focused production company and consultancy, as director of business development/content EP.

“Very few companies in the industry can boast the strong directorial roster and VFX capabilities as Alkemy X,” says Rotholz. “In addition to the amazing entertainment work that Alkemy does, there’s definitely a trend in high-end ‘package’ productions where one company can do both live-action shoots with their directors, as well as editorial and VFX.”