Tag Archives: Working From Home

How VFX house Phosphene has been working remotely

By Randi Altman

In our ongoing coverage of how studios are working remotely, we reached out to New York City-based visual effects house Phosphene. Founded in 2010 by Vivian Connolly and John Bair, Phosphene specializes in photorealistic VFX for film and television, and is particularly known for their detailed CG environments and set extensions.

This four-time Emmy-nominated (Mildred Pierce and Boardwalk Empire Season 3, Season 5, Escape at Dannemora) studio’s more recent work includes The Plot Against America, The Hunters, A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood and Motherless Brooklyn.

The Plot Against America

Like many others, Phosphene tasked with developing secure remote workflows, so we reached out to director of IT Jimmy Marrero and head of operations and strategy Beck Dunn to find out more.

How is Phosphene weathering this storm? Do you have most of your folks working remotely?
Beck Dunn: We were fortunate to be able to switch to remote work very quickly and are extremely grateful for our team who had been preparing for this major change. We are grateful we are in a position to support staff and productions who are able to continue working remotely.

Can you talk about what it took to get artists setup from their homes and walk us through that workflow?
Jimmy Marrero: Luckily, we’ve had experience with using PCOIP technology in the past and were in a good place to transition smoothly to remote work. We had a good number of workstations already set up with PCOIP remote workstation cards. We also leveraged AWS to create cloud workstations that are connected to our office via a VPC (virtual private cloud). This gives us the capability to securely increase our capacity for work way beyond any physical hardware limitations.

What tools are you using to make sure these folks stay connected?
Marrero: We all communicate with each other via chat using an open-source tool called Rocket.Chat. Producers connect via BlueJeans video conference.

For anyone setting up a remote pipeline, I would also recommend taking advantage of cloud-based software like Slack for communication, Trello for organization, and AnyDesk to allow IT to help troubleshoot any issues that might occur during the setup process.

What about security and working remotely?
Marrero: Security was the driving force for us to investigate the advantages of PCOIP technology. Having remote workstation cards installed at the office allows us to stream encrypted screen information directly to the artists monitors and eliminates the need for any data to be hosted outside of Phosphene’s internal network.

Using PCOIP combined with only being able to access our network via VPN with two-factor authentication, we were able to address many security concerns from our clients, which was a key factor in our being able to work remotely.

PCOIP technology also allows us to easily use all the tools on our internal network, with no change in set up, or compromise to security. Once logged in, artists are able to access Nuke, Hiero, 3dsMax, Houdini and Deadline as though they are in the office.

What types of work are you guys doing at the moment?
Dunn: We can’t talk about any of our current work, but one project we recently finished is HBO’s The Plot Against America, created by Ed Burns and David Simon. The show is based on Philip Roth’s 2004 novel depicting the lives of US citizens in an alternate history where Franklin D.Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to Charles Lindbergh.

Phosphene worked with show-side VFX supervisor Jim Rider on a wide range of visual effects for the show, including creating period-accurate aerial views of 1940’s Manhattan, exteriors of Newark Airport and a British Navy base, and extensive crowd duplication shots inside Madison Square Garden. In total, Phosphene delivered 274 shots for the limited series.

The Plot Against America

Any tips for those companies who are just starting to get set up remotely or even those who are currently working remotely?
Marrero: Be nice to your IT department. (Smiles) Working remotely has many moving parts that need to all work perfectly for things to go smoothly. Expect delays in the beginning as all the kinks are worked out.

What has helped staffers get settled into working from home?
Dunn: I’ll let them speak for themselves.

VFX producer Matthew Griffin: I found it really helpful to set up a dedicated mini-office rather than just working on a laptop from the couch. When I sit down at my workspace, I feel like I am still “going into” the office. Holding team meetings via video chat and maintaining rituals like having my morning coffee at the same time also helps me to stay in a familiar rhythm. We also have a dog, so walking him at the end of the day makes the workday feel complete. I close the laptop, walk the dog, and once I’m home, it’s like my commute is over and it’s time to relax.

VFX producer Steven Weigle: Producers are used to working remotely for short stints, so this hasn’t been an entirely foreign experience. I did recently add a KVM switch to my home setup, to use my full-sized keyboard, mouse and monitor to control my work laptop but be able to switch back to my personal machine with the click of a button. It’s a small, basic upgrade but it helps me maximize my desk space while still separating my “work brain” from my “home brain.”


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Hecho Studios: Mobilizing talent and pipeline to keep working

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.

Ryan Curtis

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.

NFL #stayhomestaystrong

Challenges Solved
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.

Stay INspired

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.

Working From Home: VFX house The Molecule

By Randi Altman

With the COVID-19 crisis affecting all aspects of our industry, we’ve been talking to companies that have set up remote workflows to meet their clients’ needs. One of those studios is The Molecule, which is based in New York and has a location in LA as well. The Molecule has focused on creating visual effects for episodics and films since its inception in 2005.

Blaine Cone 

The Molecule artists are currently working on series such as Dickinson and Little Voice (AppleTV+), Billions (Showtime), Genius: Aretha (NatGeo), Schooled and For Life (ABC) and The Stranger (Quibi). And on the feature side, there is Stillwater (Focus Features) and Bliss (Amazon). Other notable projects include The Plot Against America (HBO), Fosse/Verdon (FX) and The Sinner (USA).

In order to keep these high-profile projects flowing, head of production Blaine Cone and IT manager Kevin Hopper worked together to create the studio’s work-from-home setup.

Let’s find out more…

In the weeks leading up to the shutdown, what were you doing to prepare?
Blaine Cone: We had already been investigating and testing various remote workflows in an attempt to find a secure solution we could extend to artists who weren’t readily available to join us in house. Once we realized this would be a necessity for everyone in the company, we accelerated our plans. In the weeks before the lockdown, we had increasingly larger groups of artists work from home to gradually stress-test the system.

How difficult was it to get that set up?
Cone: We were fortunate to have a head start on our remote secure platform. Because we decided to tie into AWS, as well as into our own servers and farm (custom software running on a custom-built hypervisor server on Dell machines), it took a little while, but once we saw the need to fast-track it we were able to refine our solution pretty quickly. We’re still optimizing and improving behind the scenes, but the artists have been able to work uninterrupted since the beginning.

Kevin Hopper

What was your process in choosing the right tools to make this work?
Kevin Hopper: We have been dedicated to nailing down TPN-compliant remote work practices for the better part of a year now. We knew that there was a larger market of artists available for us to tap into if we could get a remote work solution configured properly from a security standpoint. We looked through a few companies offering full remote working suites via Teradici PCOIP setups and ultimately decided to configure our own images and administer them to our users ourselves. This route gives us the most flexibility and allows us to accurately and effectively mirror our required security standards.

Did employees bring home their workstations/monitors? How is that working?
Cone: In the majority of cases, employees are using their home workstations and monitors to tap into their dedicated AWS instance. In fact, the home setup could be relatively modest because they were tapping into a very strong machine on the cloud. In a few cases, we sent home 4K monitors with individuals so they could better look at their work..

Can you describe your set up and what tools you are using?
Cone: We are using Teradici to give artists access to dedicated, powerful and secure AWS machines to work off of files on our server. This is set up for Nuke, Maya, Houdini, Mocha, Syntheyes, Krita, Resolve, Mari and Substance Painter. We spin up the AWS instances in the morning and then down again after the workday is over. It allows us to scale as necessary, and it limits the amount of technical troubleshooting and support we might have to do otherwise. We have our own internal workflow tools built into the workflow just as we did when artists were at our office. It’s been relatively seamless.

Fosse/Verdon

How are you dealing with the issues of security while artists are working remotely?
Cone: Teradici gives us the security we need to ensure that the data exists only on our servers. It limits the artists from web traffic as well.

How is this allowing you to continue creating visual effects for shows?
Cone: It’s really not dissimilar to how we normally work. The most challenging change has been the lack of in-person interaction. Shotgun, which we use to manage our shots, still serves as our creative hub, but Slack has become an even more integral aspect of our communication workflow as we’ve gone remote. We’ve also set up regular team calls, video chats and more to make up for the lack of interpersonal interaction inherent in a remote scenario.

Can you talk about review and approval on shots?
Cone: Our supervisors are all set up with Teradici to review shots securely. They also have 4K monitors. In some cases, artists are doing Region of Interest to review their work. We’ve continued our regular methods of delivery to our clients so that they can review and approve as necessary.

How many artists do you have working remotely right now?
Cone: Between supervisors, producers, artists and support staff in NY and LA, we have about 50 remote users working on a daily basis. Our Zoom chats are a lot of fun. In a strange way, this has brought us all closer together than ever before.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years.