Stitch Editing and Bacon VFX on their hunt for high-quality remote review tool that didn’t compromise the clients viewing experience - and how they landed on ClearView Flex
- Above: Mitch Gardiner, VFX supervisor and senior flame artist at Bacon Visual Effects
Boutique post-production shops pride themselves on offering a unique creative environment in which clients can engage with craft artists. That is at risk if social distancing forces a halt to normal service and places a potentially damaging strain on relationships.
Stitch Editing faced such a dilemma last March and it took a little while to overcome. The Santa Monica-based boutique, which shares a sister facility in Soho, London, works on a range of projects from commercials, music videos, online content to full length features often in concert with in-house finishing arm Bacon Visual Effects.
“When Covid-19 hit town and we told everyone to work remotely, our initial feeling was that we could power through this since it would only be a few weeks or a couple months,” said Mila Davis, executive producer, Stitch Editing. “After about three weeks, it became clear we needed a longer-term solution.”
Stitch had started out by using video conference apps to communicate and then streaming platforms to view materials as well as experimenting with dedicated remote video systems.
- ‘No Strings Attached’ – Moschino’s spring/summer 2021 collection produced by Alex Winter, ft. puppets from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Worked on by Stitch Editing and Bacon VFX (utilising ClearView Flex)
“None of them were sufficient even in a best-case scenario to meet our needs,” commented Mila. “Some clients and projects require that we work with outside vendors, like MPC, The Mill or Company 3, and when we began interacting with them using their remote video solutions. We were able to experience from the client’s perspective what worked best.”
Mitch Gardiner, VFX supervisor and senior flame artist at Bacon Visual Effects admits to being highly sceptical of finding a solution that would provide the same collaborative experience his clients were accustomed to.
“When lockdown happened, I was genuinely concerned about not having face-to-face interaction with clients." said Mitch. "The only thing worse than not having that would be attempting to provide supervised sessions in an incomplete or compromised way that could result in frustration for our clients. By offering a finishing division within an editorial boutique we’ve always insisted that the client’s experience be the kind of dedicated personal and creative process they expect from a boutique while providing the same efficiency and technical capacity as the largest facilities. If we were going to be supervised remotely, we had to find a solution that would be as seamless and professional as what the largest studios were using. The experience had to be no different from the client’s perspective. Therefore, the idea of any sort of ‘consumer grade’ solution where content was potentially visible by other people or had quality or latency issues was not acceptable."
“I wanted something designed for broadcast-quality review with a guaranteed security infrastructure." he continued. "Even then, one of the professional solutions we tried dropped the connection in the middle of the session when one of their servers went down. That was also a non-starter.”
So concerned was Gardiner to insulate clients from a compromised experience that he was at first resistant to live-streaming sessions: “I really wanted to protect the client’s experience when I was at the wheel. I didn’t want any latency or quality issues or connectivity frustrations to reflect poorly on their experience in the session.
“At the beginning of the lockdown, I’d work unsupervised and post for the client, they would then review and send to their client." Mitch explained. "I’d get feedback and make any changes and we’d repeat the process again and again. It got to the point where one of my clients, who I’ve worked with in a normal supervised workflow for 10 years said they needed a more efficient system, and they didn’t have time for a lengthy posting review process. That’s when our search for a better way forward really began in earnest.”
Mitch was looking for two principal things in a remote review service: high picture quality and ultra-low latency: “We’re frequently getting down to the level of individual pixels in the review process,” he explained. “The client needs to know if what they are evaluating is in the footage or is a result of compression on their end. To have a system where you can guarantee a certain level of quality and increase that for a more granular level of review is very important.
- LG 'Got your Laundry', worked on by Stitch Editing and Bacon VFX (utilising ClearView Flex)
“The second requirement is low latency. Other systems we tried had anywhere from a two-eight second delay in picture between the Flame and the client’s monitor. We are constantly moving between frames and the client is giving feedback about what they see on their end - for there to be a delay quickly becomes maddening. It’s like trying to play soccer with key players reacting several seconds behind the ball. It’s just not workable. ClearView Flex was the only service able to achieve the same result with our supervised remote sessions as we had in our studio. The fact that there is no delay in the signal is critical to me. It’s been working fantastically well.”
Since introducing Sohonet’s solution, Stitch and Bacon have worked on projects for Honda, Wells Fargo, Electronic Arts, LG and others. They have also produced the seven-minute film ‘No Strings Attached’ for Moschino’s spring/summer 2021 collection produced by Alex Winter and featuring puppets from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
ClearView Flex will remain a permanent fixture not just to work around Covid-19 health protocols but for simple convenience and efficiency.
“There are certainly times where there is no substitute for the one-on-one client relationship with an artist in the room, but there will always be some sessions that can’t be or don’t need to be supervised in person,” Mitch reflected. “I think our clients have found remote workflows and supervision to be surprisingly sustainable. Going forward, I would expect a permanent split between the traditional in-person sessions and a supervised remote workflow for most projects.”
It has also been beneficial for the flame artist, not least in terms of giving him back hours in the day to be more productive.
“After spending 18-years more or less daily in our suites, I haven’t set foot in Santa Monica in the last 10 months and it’s been eye-opening to me. After collaborating with the creative teams in this new workflow, while they take time to present to their client, the break can allow me to regroup on another project or even spend a few minutes with my family. For a job that can mean 16- or 18-hour days, that has been incredibly transformative for the way it feels to be busy." said Mitch. “Prior to this I’d have two to three hours a day commuting to the office. When there, if you had downtime with clients in the room you couldn’t easily switch gears to another project. Even on a busy day there could be downtime that I couldn’t make use of as much as I’d like – perhaps to work on a passion project or take care of facility matters. ClearView has taken that downtime out of the equation.”
Like many flame artists, Mitch has worked hard his entire career to build a reputation and a trust with clients that risked being undermined by sessions frustrated by inadequate technology.
“Supervised finishing has always been very integral to what I do and how I do it. A good flame artist develops a strong relationship with clients so producers, creatives and directors choose to work with you based on earned trust and respect. You are not a commodity that can be simply be replaced by another individual. So, for me, to embrace any sort of modification to how that relationship develops is significant." concluded Mitch. “It took finding ClearView Flex for me to be comfortable that we had a broadcast level solution for supervised effects, finishing and colour that we could present to clients as a bullet proof way of working.”