By Ryan Curtis
When Hecho first learned of the possibility of a shutdown due to COVID-19, we started putting together a game plan to maintain the level of production quality and collaboration that we are all used to, but this time remotely. Working closely with our chief content officer Tom Dunlap, our post production workflow manager Nathan Fleming and senior editor Stevo Chang, we first identified the editors, animators, colorists, Flame artists, footage researchers and other post-related talent who work with us regularly. We then built a standing army of remote talent who were ready to embrace the new normal and get to work.
It was a formidable challenge to get the remote editorial stations up and running. We had a relatively short notice that we were going to have to finalize and enact a WFH game plan in LA. In order to keep productions running smoothly, we teamed with our equipment vendor, VFX Technologies, to give our IT team the ability to remote in and fully outfit each work station with software. They also scheduled a driver to make contact-free drop offs at the homes of our artists. We’ve deployed over 15 iMacs for editorial, animation and finishing needs. We can scale as needed, and only need two to three days’ notice to get a new artist fully set up at home with the appropriate tools. Our remote edit bay workstations are mainly iMac Pros, running the Adobe suite of tools, Maxon Cinema 4D, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve and Autodesk Flame.
We have outfitted each member of our team with Signiant, which allows for rapid speed file transfers for larger files. If an artist’s home internet is not up to snuff for their project, we have been boosting their internet speeds. To maintain file integrity, we are rolling out the same file structure as you would find on our server, allowing us to archive projects back to the server remotely once delivered. We’ve also designated key people who can access the in-office stations and server virtually, retrieve assets and migrate them to remote teams to refresh existing campaigns.
The need to review during each phase of production has never been stronger. We tested a wide variety of review solutions, and have currently settled on the following:
• For Animation/Design-Based Projects:
Frankie – Export-based interactive reviews
• For Editorial Projects:
Evercast – Live plug and play sessions
Wiredrive (often times paired with Google Hangouts or Zoom)
• For Finishing:
Vimeo Review – Export-based color reviews
Streambox – Live color collaboration (paired with Google Hangouts or Zoom)
Frankie – Export-based interactive reviews
Wiredrive for deliverables (often times paired with Google Hangouts or Zoom)
Our collective of talent remains our contracted veteran Hecho crew, well over 50 people who know our shorthand and in-office workflows and can easily be onboarded to our new remote workflow. If needed to satisfy a specific creative challenge, we bring in new talent and quickly onboard them into the Hecho family.
In terms of how we deal with approvals, it depends on the team and the project. If you have a dedicated team to a project it can be even more efficient than working in the office. Overcommunication is key, and transparency with feedback and workflows is paramount to a successful project. However, in many cases, efficiencies can be lost and projects currently move about 20 percent slower than if we were in the office. To combat this, some teams have structured a little differently as it can be hard to wrangle busy individuals with fast deadlines remotely. So having approved backup approvers on board has been immensely helpful to keep projects moving along on time. And without clients in the bay, we lean even more on our post producers to funnel all questions and feedback from clients, ensuring clear back and forth with artists.
Aside from the lack of in-person interaction and the efficiencies of quick catch ups in the hall or in the bay, the biggest challenge has been home internet speeds. This affects everything else that’s involved with a WFH set up. In some cases we had to actually upgrade current ISP contracts in order to reach an acceptable baseline for getting work done: streaming reviews, file sharing, etc.
The other challenge was quickly testing/evaluating new tools and then getting everybody up to speed on how to use them. Evercast was probably the trickiest new product because it involves live streaming from an editor’s machine (using Adobe Premiere) while multiple “reviewers” watch them work in real time. As you can imagine, there are many factors that can affect live streaming: CPU of the streaming computer, bitrate you’re streaming, etc. Luckily, once we had gone through a couple setups and reviews (trial and error) things got much easier. Also the team at Evercast (thanks Brad, Tyrel, and Robert!) were great in helping us figure out some of the issues we ran into early on.
Our First WFH Projects
For our first COVID-19 response project, we worked with agency 72andSunny and the NFL to share the uplifting message #Stayhomestaystrong. Behind the scenes, our post team produced a complete offline to online workflow in record time and went from brief to live in six days while everyone transitioned to working entirely remotely. #Stayhomestaystrong also helped bring in $35 million in donations toward COVID relief groups. Credits include editors Amanda Tuttle, Andrew Leggett, assistant editors: Max Pankow, Stephen Shirk, animator Lawrence Wyatt, Flame artists Rachel Moorer, Gurvand Tanneau and Paul Song and post producer Song Cho.
Another project we worked with 72andSunny on was COVID-19 response ad, Pinterest Stay INspired, involving heavy motion graphics and a large number of assets, which ranged from stock photos, raw video files from remote shoots and licensed UGC assets. The designers, motion graphics artists, writers and clients used a Google Slides deck to link thumbnail images directly to the stock photo or UGC asset. Notes were sent directly to their emails via tags in the comments section of the slides.
Our team shared storyboards, frequently jumped on video conference calls and even sent recorded hand gestures to indicate the kind of motion graphic movement they were looking for. Credits for this one include editor/motion designer: Stevo Chang, motion designer Sierra Hunkins, associate editor Josh Copeland and post producer Cho, once again.
What We Learned
WFH reinforced the need for the utmost transparency in team structures and the need for super-clear communication. Each and every member of our team has needed to embrace the change and take on new challenges and responsibilities. What worked before in office, doesn’t necessarily work in a remote situation.
The shutdown also forced us to discover new technologies, like Evercast, and we likely wouldn’t have signed up for Signiant for a while. Moving forward, these tools have both been great additions to what we can offer our clients. These new technologies also open up future opportunities for us to work with clients we didn’t have access to before (out of state and overseas). We can do live remote sessions without the client having to physically be in a bay which is a game changer.
Ryan Curtis is head of post production at two-time Emmy-nominated Hecho Studios, part of MDC’s Constellation collective of companies.