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ClearView Flex for VFX - No Pixels Lost In Translation


Finding the right tools for the job with Sohonet

ClearView Flex for VFX - No Pixels Lost In Translation

In this age of blockbuster movies and TV shows, where the credits seem to include every VFX vendor in the industry, it’s no surprise that collaboration is a key component. Add in the move to remote working facilitated by the pandemic, and there’s clearly a need for workflows that enable artists and supervisors to communicate, liaise and review the progress of work.

There are several barriers such a system needs to overcome: visual effects need to be viewed at the best possible quality and resolution; not everyone has the best possible broadband connection; and often the review process requires multiple collaborators to be involved.

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This is where Sohonet’s family of ClearView products come in. ClearView Flex and ClearView Flex Glow, as well as ClearView Pivot and ClearView Pivot Lite, are remote collaboration tools that are designed to handle high resolution, high bit-depth video over standard broadband connections for real-time reviewing. Streams have ultra-low latency for smooth, lag-free performance, while can still support multiple viewers – with as many as 40.

The right tools for the job

Jon Trussler, the co-founder and technical director at Coffee & TV knows what it was like to try and operate without these bespoke collaborative platforms. He says: “I was finishing a commercial on Flame and I’d move the title a shade to the left and send the client a QuickTime. They’d report back asking for a tweak to the right, which I’d do, and then send another QuickTime. This was like moving through treacle. Telegrams would [have been] quicker.

Trussler also screen-shared using apps like Zoom, but the picture quality was woeful and playback was never consistent. “It’s just not premium,” he adds, “which is what you get with ClearView. Especially if you’re grading. There’s no way you can use Zoom for a director to judge their work. It’s got to be 10-bit true colour, which ClearView is.”

Trussler describes Coffee & TV’s setup, which includes a ClearView Flexbox in the studio into which they can connect any of their machines over SDI or NDI. There are a further three boxes that live with their artists at home, using a mixture of Resolve, Baselight and Flame plus Maya and Houdini amongst other software for CG and motion graphics.

ClearView Flex Explainer Video for VFX Artists

“[ClearView Flex] is the best solution we’ve found in terms of colour depth and fidelity,” Trussler says. “It’s also so easy for the client – that’s a big thing. They don’t have to download anything. We just give them a link and it’s all very secure. Clients love it because they get instant live feedback on all inputs. The main benefit has been in facilitating remote workflows. We’ve got directors who are so busy they can’t get into town, or somebody somewhere has COVID and needs to isolate. So, it’s just been brilliantly helpful for us. We use it all the time on every project.”

Coffee & TV’s latest projects include idents for Sky Sports’ 2022 F1 season, and the 180 VFX shots it delivered for the BBC TV show Peaky Blinders, which included 2D and 3D elements, set extensions and digital matte paintings. Trussler admits the last few years have been a steep learning curve. But ultimately, the enforced changes in workflow will be beneficial for everyone.

“I think the days of clients attending every [review] session are over,” he says. “They’ve learned the same lessons as us. Why struggle against the traffic to look at a screen for 30 minutes when you don’t have to? It makes their day easier. For them, ClearView remote sessions are amazing. Clients have learned that they can run two jobs at once and they can, in effect, be in two places at once remotely.”

Authority at high fidelity

“In VFX you need to work with full quality images at 4K,” asserts Elliot Newman, VFX supervisor at MPC Film & Episodic. “We need to be authoring at the highest fidelity and if you can’t, you’re basically having to guess. If you’re working at 2K in a compressed format then you end up having to zoom into portions of the image and freeze-frame it, which not only slows you down quite a lot, but you potentially miss some detail where you might have made different creative decisions if you’d seen it at full quality.”

Newman explains that MPC’s London office uses Sohonet’s ClearView Pivot to send and receive video. Pivot is capable of streaming colour- and frame-accurate footage to multiple parties in 4K HDR with 12-bit colour depth and 4:4:4 chroma sampling.

In terms of workflow, Newman sends media to a dedicated monitor at home via ClearView Pivot Lite, which has been designed for home workers joining a review session. It benefits from all the same features as standard ClearView Pivot, but operates at a lower bandwidth, requiring as little as 150Mbps for full 4K reviews.

Newman then has a second monitor running a remote desktop system with compressed video to interact with his editing app. He explains that remote desktop systems are fine for GUI-based work, accessing files, folders, apps and so on. “I’m not too concerned about the quality limitations because I’ve also got a full 4K 4:4:4 high-quality stream from Pivot Lite. Graphical interface rendering on those desktop solutions is fine, but it’s not really designed for streaming high-quality video. That’s where ClearView Flex and Pivot come in.”

The teams at MPC mainly use ClearView Flex – Pivot’s less demanding sibling. “When my artists want to see the best experience, they jump onto a Flex session,” says Newman. “Flex is good because you don’t need any special hardware and it works over a standard internet connection at a much lower bandwidth. It’s not as good quality as Pivot Lite but it will give you a much better experience than a PCoIP solution – which is how we run our virtual desktops – so it gives a bump up to our internal crew.”

Newman believes the advent of platforms like ClearView Flex and ClearView Pivot have ushered in a new paradigm for remote collaboration. “The compromises when you used to work remotely don’t really exist anymore,” he suggests. “Technologies like Pivot replicate very closely what you’d experience if you were office-based.”

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Sohonet, Tue, 28 Jun 2022 09:45:55 GMT