Tag Archives: COVID

Estudios GGM to resume production, open new soundstages

Estudios GGM in Mexico is unveiling three new soundstages as it prepares to resume production activity later this month. Ranging from 10,000 to 13,000 square feet, the new stages will be the studio’s largest and give it a total of nine shooting spaces. Construction of one stage is already complete, while work on the other two will be finished by November, when the studio expects to be supporting a full slate of television and feature productions.

Planned before the coronavirus outbreak, the new stages are meant to serve Mexico’s accelerating boom in television and film production. Launched in 2016, Estudios GGM was operating at capacity prior to the lockdown, providing stages, production offices, casting, editing, visual effects and other services to projects from Telemundo, Netflix, Amazon, Viacom, MGM and other producers. Enemigo Intimo, Falsa Identidad, El Club, Luis Miguel: The Series and Ingobernable are among the streaming series recently shot in whole or in part at the studio.

Francisco Bonilla

“We expect production activity to pick up rapidly beginning in June,” says Estudios GGM CTIO Francisco Bonilla. “We built these stages to increase capacity and meet the needs of producers from around the world who are want to shoot in Mexico. They are large shooting spaces, have high ceilings and are supported by many other resources to accommodate a cinematic style of production.”

Adding to the social distancing guidelines mandated by the Mexican government, the studio will apply a variety of health and safety measures to protect cast and crew, including culture changes and hygienic training for work and everyday life; thermal CCTV monitoring; periodic chemical, ozone and UV sanitization; and restricted access to facilities, sets and offices. The new stages are complemented by modular, multi-purpose space that will allow directors, cinematographers, control room crew and other personnel to work in isolation. Other steps will include regular sanitizing of cameras, lighting, wardrobe and props; the use of masks and gloves; and modifications to craft and catering services. All the studio’s stages are equipped with HVAC systems that draw fresh air from outdoors to reduce the risk of spreading infection.

“We are working with local health officials and medical advisors to develop appropriate protocols,” notes Bonilla. “We are also monitoring the situations in Spain, Italy, Germany, Iceland, Australia and other countries where production has resumed. We are gathering as much information as possible to allow production to ramp up quickly but safely.”

While production has been curtailed during the lockdown, other work has continued. The studio has been using Bebop remote collaboration technology and Adobe tools to allow sound and picture editors, visual effects artists and others to carry on their work remotely. It has also been serving as a beta site for Avid On-Demand, a cloud-based editing platform. Similarly, post finishing has continued at Cinematic Media, the post facility located within the studio complex, with most staff working off site.

Estudios GGM is also expanding its visual effects department. It is hiring artists and adding new capabilities, including high-end motion capture and virtual set technology. Demand for visual effects services has risen dramatically along with the broader push to elevate production value. The studio expects the need for sophisticated visual effects to grow as productions look to limit travel and location production.

For producers eager to get back to production, Estudios GGM wants to make the process simple by providing one-stop solutions. “We provide everything necessary to produce premium television and cinema,” Bonilla says. “That includes experienced talent and crew to reduce the need to travel or bring people from outside the country.”

VFX studios Mr. X and Mill Film merge to target post-COVID world

Technicolor visual effects companies Mr. X and Mill Film have merged under the Mr. X name. Mr. X now becomes a VFX studio crossing four time zones, spanning Canada, the United States, Australia and India. This does not impact The Mill which continues to operate as a separate entity.

The newly combined, expanded studio will service clients across both features and episodic. Laura Fitzpatrick, MD of Mill Film, will move into a managing director role at Mr. X, based in Montreal. Dennis Berardi, founder of Mr. X, assumes the role of creative director for the studio.

Technicolor acknowledges that COVID-19 is changing the entertainment industry with the theatrical market being re-imagined and many projects are currently on hold indefinitely. They say this merger is a direct and necessary response to align to the changing needs of the industry and creative partners, as productions begin again, and as the entertainment industry looks to move forward.

The newly combined and expanded studio will service clients across both features and episodic — with the flexibility to serve productions resuming at different times in different parts of the world, and the capacity to handle an anticipated increase in VFX in response to changes required for live action filming.

“As the entertainment landscape has continued to evolve, both studios were naturally overlapping into each other’s spaces,” says Berardi. “Merging both brands allows us to build the perfect team for each and every client.”

With 20 years in the business, Mr. X has built collaborative partnerships with directors such as Guillermo Del Toro and Paul W.S Anderson. The studio has worked on The Shape of Water, Roma and Shazam! to name a few.

Mill Film has delivered projects such as Gladiator, which won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 2001, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, plus more recent releases Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

“Our aim is to partner with clients to realize their ideas and exceed visual expectations,” says Fitzpatrick. “With our merged brand we can pitch global expertise in all creative areas: original design and art direction, on-set supervision, environment creation, FX simulations, creature and character work.”

All facilities remain open in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Adelaide and Bangalore. The merger will be effectively immediately, with a period of transition for employees.

Main Image: Laura Fitzpatrick and Dennis Berardi.

Jellyfish Pictures uses cloud to grow global talent pool

Animation and VFX studio Jellyfish Pictures has expanded its operating model to access talent across the world. The move is the company’s next stage of development after opening a large virtual studio at the end of last year.

This new way of working allows Jellyfish Pictures to access talent anywhere in the world without having to invest in brick and mortar or on-premises hardware. Artists can work from their own homes and have the same experience as teammates located 6,000 miles away, thanks to Teradici Cloud Access Software and Microsoft Azure. This new model has been implemented with artists joining the company from Israel, India, North America, Finland, Canada, Spain and Réunion.

With Jellyfish Pictures’ IT infrastructure already housed off site and completely virtual, the company uses Azure’s backbone to set up hubs all over the world, which connect back to the Jellyfish Pictures’ tier-one data center in the UK.

Cristina Ortega working from home in the UK.

All content resides on PixStor, Pixit Media’s software-defined storage solution. Using Pixit Media’s dynamic data manager, Ngenea, integrated with pipeline tools and Azure, Jellyfish Pictures distributes files across creative hubs quickly and securely. Artists access their content from PixStor running in the cloud hub, which guarantees their performance requirements are always met. When completed, files automatically move back to the UK data center.

Data never leaves the secure Azure hub, with pixels streamed to artists’ monitors via an encrypted streaming session over Teradici PCoIP technology. Data cannot be downloaded, shared or accessed, remaining fully compliant with TPN protocols and the stringent security measures withheld in the physical studios.

To further strengthen the global operation, Jellyfish Pictures’ review tool, which extends to the public cloud, allows clients to review content seamlessly in 4K. No matter where they are based in the world, both client and artist can share the same screen, updating and annotating in real time.

According to Jellyfish CEO Phil Dobree, “From the very beginning, when I first started looking at cloud and virtual technologies with Jellyfish CTO Jeremy Smith, it was always my vision to be able to go to where the artists are. We introduced cloud rendering and virtual desktops so we could break out of our four walls. Now in 2020, with events no one could have foreseen, we have over 280 artists working from home with no loss in productivity. Moving our staff to this environment was a relatively simple; connecting to the data center from home is the same as if they were connecting from the studio.

“It was always our intention to roll out this way of working on a global scale. We have merely accelerated our plan due to current circumstances.”

Main Image: Art director Katri Valkamo working out of her home in Finland. 

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.

Due to COVID, The Blacklist turns to live-action/animation season finale

By Daniel Restuccio

When the COVID-19 crisis shut down production in New York City, necessity became the mother of invention for The Blacklist showrunners. They took the 21 minutes of live-action footage they had shot for Episode 19, “The Kazanjian Brothers,” and combined it with 21 minutes of graphic-novel-style animation to give viewers the season finale they deserved.

Adam Coglan

Thanks to previs/visual effects company Proof, the producers were able to transition from scenes that were shot traditionally to a world where FBI agent Elizabeth Keane and wanted fugitive Raymond Reddington lived as animated characters.

The Blacklist team reached out to Proof the week everyone at the studio was asked to start working from home. In London, artists were given workstations as needed; in the US, they had all the computers set up in the office while the team remoted into those workstations based on the different proprietary and confidentiality rules, and to keep everything on the same servers.

Over six weeks, 29 people in London, including support staff and asset people, worked on the show. While in the US, the numbers varied between 10 to 15 people. As you can imagine, it’s a big undertaking.

Patrice Avery

We reached out to Adam Coglan and Matt Perrin, Proof animation supervisors based in London, and Patrice Avery global head of production for Proof, about the production and post workflow.

How did you connect with the producers on the show?
Patrice Avery: Producer Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath knew Proof’s owner and president, Ron Frankel. After The Blacklist shut down, they brainstormed ideas, and animation was one they thought might make sense.

Adam Coglan: The Proof US offices tend to work using toon shaders on models, and the producers had seen our previs work on the Hunger Games, Guardians of the Galaxy and Wrinkle in Time.

Can you walk us through the workflow?
Coglan: Everybody was working in parallel. There was no time to wait for the models to get built, then start texturing, then start rigging, then start animating. Animation had to start from the beginning, so we started out using proxy geometry for the characters.

Matt Perrin

Character build and animation was going on at the same time. We were building the sequences, blocking them out, staging them. We had a client call every day, so we’d be getting notes every day. The clients wouldn’t be looking at anything that resembled their main actors until a good three or four weeks into the actual project.

Avery: It meant they had to run blind a bit with their animation. They got scratch dialog, and then they got final. They didn’t get the real dialogue until almost the end because they still were trying to figure out how to get the best quality dialogue recorded from their actors.

Obviously, the script had been written, so you essentially animated the existing script?
Coglan: Yes. We were given the script early on and it did evolve a little bit, but not wildly. We managed to stick to the sequences that we’d actually blocked out from the start. There were no storyboards; we basically just interpreted what their script gave us.

Can you talk a bit about some of the scenes you enhanced?
Coglan: There’s a helicopter sequence at the end of the show that they hadn’t planned to shoot with live action, because of safety issues with the helicopter. They brought it back when they realized they could do all of those shots in animation. So there are big aerials over the helicopter landing pad. The helicopter is going while the main villain approaches the helicopter.

Matt Perrin: There are shots peppered throughout the whole thing that would have been tricky to fit into the timescales that they normally shoot the show in. Throughout the show, there are angles and camera work that were easier in animation. In the pilot episode, they visited Washington Mall and the Capitol building, so we got to return to that.

You used Autodesk Maya as your main tool? What else was used?
Coglan: Yes, predominantly Maya. Character heads were built in Z-Brush and then brought into Maya and textured using Substance and Photoshop. The toon shader is a set of proprietary shaders that Proof developed in Maya with filters on the textures to give them the toon shaded look.

Your networks are obviously connected?
Coglan: Absolutely. We’ve been using Teradici, which has really saved our skin on this show. It’s been a godsend and offers really good remote access.

Aside from the truncated production schedule, what were some of the other challenges that you had?
Coglan: Working completely remotely with a team of over 20 odd people was a big challenge.

Perrin: Yes. Everything slows down. Coordinating the work from home with all the artists, the communication that you have face-to-face with the team being in the same room as you is, obviously, stretched. We would communicate over Zoom chats daily, multiple times a day with them, and with the producers.

On the flip side, it felt like we had more access to the producers of the show than we might under normal circumstances, because we had a scheduled meeting with them every day as well. It was great to tap directly into their taste and get their feedback so immediately.

Can you describe how the animation was done? Keyframe, rotoscoping, motion capture, or some combination of those?
Perrin: We started with very simple blockouts of action and cameras for each scene. This allowed us to get the layout and timing approved fast, saving as much time as possible for the keyframe animation stage. There are a couple of transitions between live action and animation that required some rotoanimation. We also did a little mocap (mostly for background character motions.) On the whole though, it was a lot of keyframe animation.

How were the editors involved?
Perrin: Chris Brookshire and Elyse Holloway “got it” from the beginning. They gave us the cut of the live-action show with placeholders slugged in for the scenes we would be animating. Between watching that and the script, which was already pretty tight, it gave us an idea of what the scope of our role was going to be.

We decided to go straight into a very basic blocking pass rendered in gray scale 3D so they could see the space and start testing angles with faster iterations. It allowed them to start cutting earlier and give us those edits back. They never got an excess of footage from us.

When they shoot the show, they’ve got reels of footage to go through, whereas with us they get the shots we created and not many spare. But the editors and showrunners got the idea that they could actually start calling out for shots too. They’d ask us to change the layout in some instances because they want to shuffle the shots around from what we’d initially intended.

From that point it allowed our asset makers and R&D teams to be looking into what the character should look like in the environments and building that parallel with us. Then we were ready to go into animation.

How did you set the style for the final look of the piece?
Perrin: The client had a strong idea. They already had done a spinoff comic book series. We’d seen what they’ve done with that, and they talked about the kind of styling of The Blacklist being quite noir.

Coglan: They gave the current episode and past episodes. So they could always reference scenes that were similar to other episodes. As soon as one of the show runners started talking about leaning into the graphic novel styling of things a little light went off and we thought, okay, we know exactly what they’re after for this now. It gave us a really good creative direction.

That was the biggest development on the project — to get the fidelity of the toon shaders to stand up to broadcast quality, better than we’ve been used to in the past. Because normally these don’t go past producers and directors when we work in previs.

When you say better quality what is that actually?
Coglan: There are some extreme close-ups in this where we were right on the main characters’ faces. They had detail actually hand-painted in Photoshop and then Substance. A lot of the lines to define features were actually painted by hand.

Avery: When using the toon shading in previs, we didn’t really do much to the backgrounds, it was all character line toon shaded, and in this one we created a process for the background sets to also make them look toon shaded.

Did you recreate any of the existing sets?
Coglan: They gave us blueprints for a lot of their set builds, so, yes, some of the sets were straight from the show.

Perrin: One set, a medical facility, we’d built already from their blueprints, so that when we transition out of the live-action into the animation it’s kind of seamless.

What other things did you accomplish that you’re proud of that you haven’t mentioned yet?
Coglan: I think for me really, the amount of work that we did in the compressed amount of time really was the big takeaway for me. Dealing with people totally remotely I just didn’t know whether that could work and we made it work.

Perrin: The whole way through was very exciting, because of the current situation everybody’s in, and the time constraints. It was very liberating for us. We didn’t have the multi-tiered approval stages or the normal infrastructure. It was immediate feedback and fast results.

Avery: What was cool for me was watching the creative discussions. There was a point a few weeks in when the client was giving more notes about the comic book-style and leaning into that. Our teams are so used to the constraints of live-action and the rules that they need to follow. There was this switch when they finally were like, “Oh, we can do really cool comic book angles. Oh, we could do this and that.” To just see the team really embracing, untethered a bit, to just go for it. It was really cool to see.

What would you do if you got a call, “Hey, we’ve got an entire series that wants to go this route?”
Perrin: I think I’d jump at it really. Although I don’t think I could do it in the same timescale for everything. I think there needs to be slightly more planning involved, but it’s been pretty enjoyable.


Dan Restuccio is a writer/director with Realwork Entertainment and part of the Visual Arts faculty at California Lutheran University. He is a former Disney Imagineer. You can reach him at dansweb451@gmail.com.

Cloud workflow vets launch M&E cloud migration company

A team of cloud workflow experts have launched Fusion Workflows, a new media-workflow design company designed to help M&E companies migrate their infrastructures to scalable cloud platforms.

The company says that moving to cloud-based workflows represents an opportunity to improve the inefficiencies in current systems. However, many companies struggle to understand what is involved in cloud migrations, the costs entailed and how it will affect the demands of their workforce, processes and tools. Fusion Workflows aims to remedy these issues by providing clients a customized “Workflow Migration Guide,” which acts as their design blueprint to rebuild their operations on scalable cloud infrastructure and software-defined processes.

Mark Turner

Fusion provides a holistic approach — working with their clients from inception through to deployment. Fusion provides a comprehensive initial analysis of workflow process and customizes business operations during the migration. The work continues post-migration to include training and onboarding, new software, security and documentation. This one-stop-shop approach is designed so internal teams and systems are working in sync and without interruption.

“The COVID crisis has forced media companies to create temporary hacks and interim cloud workflows but also exposed the need for them to develop a long-term cloud migration vision,” says Mark Turner, Fusion Workflows’ managing partner. “Every company now needs a plan to effectively operate their business without ties to physical locations, on-premises storage or hardware processing. At Fusion we look forward to helping companies design their own cloud migrations.”

Fusion’s team comprises domain experts from the US and Europe, who have designed and implemented cloud-based workflows and created first-in-market re-engineering standards. Fusion’s team has worked across all media industries including major movie and TV production, visual FX, animation, sports, live broadcast, digital cinema, music and OTT streaming.

In addition to Turner, who co-authored the 2020 MovieLabs paper “The Evolution of Media Creation: a 10 year vision for the future of Media Production, Post and Creative Technologies, the team includes ITV vet Emma Clifford, OTT engineer Andrew Ioannou, Lionsgate vet Thomas Hughes, former chief digital strategy officer at Sony Pictures Mitch Singer, recent Techicolor data systems engineer Daryll Strauss, former Sony Pictures CTO Spencer Stephens, Autodesk vet Chris Vienneau and ETC’s Erik Weaver.