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How Hotspring Solved the Problem with Outsourcing VFX Prep

Trends and Insight 55 Add to collection

The team explains how Hotspring allows you to get multiple bids, award work, communicate, manage your projects and receive deliveries all in one place

How Hotspring Solved the Problem with Outsourcing VFX Prep

Hotspring is a platform for managing the outsource of VFX prep (roto, paint, tracking, assets, etc) where you can compare prices quickly, talk to sellers instantly, and deliver significant cost savings while working with the best creative talent around the world.

Hotspring allows you to get multiple bids, award work, communicate, manage your projects and receive deliveries all in one place.  When the pandemic hit, many traditional outsourcing studios shut down, so we pulled together some freelancers from our extensive network, to execute on VFX work. At that moment, Flashteam was born and we now have a large network of handpicked talent under that banner, all managed by our full-time production team and creatives. 

Previously, connecting and communicating with talent was ad hoc and limited to the people you know. Now that process is consolidated into one place, providing tools for artists, producers, operations and management to scale their access to talent on demand. 


THE PROBLEM

Our background is in VFX outsourcing and high-end VFX production. Having worked at both ends of the supply chain, we could see there was a huge void between clients wanting to connect to great talent, and the artists best equipped to execute their work. No one knew how to find each other, and when they did, the process often broke down because of communication issues. But of course communication breaks down on complex projects when the information you need to execute is buried in endless email chains. The tools just didn’t exist to solve this problem. That’s why we built Hotspring, to enable content creators to find, and efficiently collaborate, with the best talent around the world at scale. 


IDEATION

After breaking down the initial problem, what were your first steps? And how did you arrive at what sort of shape the solution would take? What options or ideas did the ideation process throw out?

We started by talking to a lot of people to get their insights on what a good solution should look like. This involved a lot of interpretation, as what people will tell you they want vs what they actually want, are often two entirely different things. From our previous experience we had a pretty good idea of what the end-state of the product should be, but the trick was figuring how to stage out the development. You can’t - and shouldn’t - build everything at once and then launch; it’s really a matter of separating what functionality needs to be there from the start, and what can be built over time. It’s easy to think up cool new features, the hard part is deciding what not to do.


Where did you look for inspiration?

A lot of our inspiration came from products completely outside of the VFX industry. We were always interested in products that were simple yet powerful. Slack is a great example. It takes the user on a natural journey through learning the software. When you first open Slack, you know exactly what to do – just type in the box and hit enter. There are no tutorials, tooltips, or user manuals. But as you use the product additional layers of functionality reveal themselves. Before you know it, you’re leveraging the technology in a whole host of really powerful ways without ever consciously learning anything. That’s inspiring design! 


PROTOTYPE & DESIGN

What were the most interesting conversations or challenges that emerged at this stage?

Hotspring is ultimately an ecosystem of people. The technology is only a tool to enable that ecosystem to flourish. A lot of the most interesting conversations we had were around how to structure the dynamics between different stakeholders within the ecosystem. How do we get everyone aligned, how to structure win-win relationships, how to deliver value in the areas that each user cares most about? Getting this balance right is by far the most interesting, complicated and rewarding bit of the process. It’s part economics, part psychology and part technology.


And what sort of talent/collaborators/specialisms did you have to reach out to and work with at this stage, and what did they bring to the mix? 

A lot of what Hotspring does is enable a more global, flexible and decentralized way of working. We fully believe that this is a better way to make things, so we approached our product development in the same way - engaging with talent all over the world to build Hotspring. Core development was led by two brothers with years of startup experience in Boulder, Colorado, and at various stages we brought on teams in Berlin, New Delhi, Warsaw, North Carolina, Minsk, New York, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. The beauty of the model is that by developing a strong network you can tap the right talent, wherever they live, whenever you need them. So instead of having a full-time developer who is good with algorithms, you can bring in a developer who is amazing with algorithms specifically when you need that skill set. 


Were there any novel technologies or creative risks that you had to play with, design around and if so, how did you navigate that?

The biggest technological challenge in our space is definitely moving massive amounts of data around the world, so leveraging the cloud is a big part of what we do. Hotspring is hosted entirely in AWS, allowing us to tap into a lot of the great tools that they’ve developed to create some novel workflows for removing geography as a constraint for collaboration.


LIVE

How did testing and iteration factor into your approach to this project? 

Good products always require a lot of iterating and Hotspring was no exception. You never really crack the problem you’re trying to solve; you just constantly chip away at it. As we built out Hotspring we were always looking at ways to put the complexity under the hood and present users with an easy to use, intuitive interface.. Making something simple is really hard. And it’s been an ongoing process since we launched the first version – constantly getting feedback from users and finding better ways to solve their problems. A successful product is always evolving - the iterating never stops.


What were some of the spicier issues and tweaks and back-and-forths that emerged from your testing and learning?

Creating an easy way to ingest data on the platform was probably the biggest unforseen challenge. There are now so many ways to transfer media, from Aspera to Media Shuttle, FTP, Wetransfer, MASV, Frame.io, etc, that it’s really tricky to create a seamless ingest process that supports all the different ways that people move files around. On top of that, a lot of the products out there have closed ecosystems, so you can’t interact with them through an open API. We had to solve this one the old-fashioned way, by adding io roles internally to manage some of the data wrangling. The good news is - it worked really well. Turns out you can’t solve every problem with code! 


Now that the project is live, how is data and feedback helping to refine it?

The product has been live for around 12 months so we’ve been able to generate a lot of interesting data. We can see that bids are coming back much faster when compared to the ‘old way’, and clients typically save around 30% by using the platform, all while revision rates are dropping. In terms of UI, the unanimous feedback is that clients love the simplicity and ease of using the app. It’s easy to keep adding in buttons but very quickly the interface becomes bloated beyond repair. The most common feature request we’re getting now - which is already well underway - is to integrate with other production tools, like Shotgun.


Looking back over the whole project, what were the most personally interesting aspects of it for you?

It’s been really exciting to see the positive impact Hotspring has had with artists on the ground, particularly during the pandemic. When lockdowns hit, many of the artists who we had worked with for years lost their jobs. By using the platform to embrace remote working, we were able to get a lot of these artists, not only working again, but earning more than ever before. One of the most interesting things about Hotspring’s technology is that it allows for a more direct relationship between content creators and artists. By eliminating a lot of the traditional overheads and allowing the technology to do the heavy lifting of assembling and coordinating great teams of talent, it means that there’s more budget to go into the artists pocket, all while clients typically pay less for the same services. It’s a model that we’re really excited about moving forward.


And what impact has this project had on your client’s business or the initial problem you set out to solve - either anecdotal or data-based, depending on the nature of the project?

I think the clients who have embraced this model would tell you that it’s had a profound impact on the business. Hotspring certainly optimises the cost, speed, and efficiency of the outsource work that clients already do, but the really exciting part is seeing how it’s changed the way they approach their entire business. We see clients taking on much bigger projects than they ever would have considered before - knowing they can tap a great network on Hotspring to execute. And there’s a big prize to be won. Between the streaming wars and more targeted advertising there’s never been more demand for content. 

We’re thrilled to see clients using Hotspring to build the amazing companies that are taking this opportunity by storm.

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Hotspring, Fri, 11 Jun 2021 16:14:00 GMT