2020 has brought a lot of changes for a lot of industries, and visual effects companies (VFX) are no exception. Working from home for VFX companies wasn’t an option in 2019 – it was believed the sophisticated technology that is the backbone of the industry couldn’t be accessed remotely in an effective way – but a few months into 2020, the industry was forced into making it the norm.
The new remote working requirements for post-production and visual effects work, along with the other impacts of the pandemic, mean VFX companies need to be building workloads and computer systems that can support this new way of operating - both now and into the future.
How Covid-19 changed VFX
As well as the general impact of the pandemic and lockdown, Covid-19 has hit the VFX industry in quite specific ways due to the way the industry works.
VFX - The visual effects industry do post-production on films, TV and other recorded media to add visual effects from touching up the brightness to creating spaceships in the sky.
1. Working from home became the new normal
Modern VFX work requires advanced computer systems capable of rendering the artists’ work, and this sophisticated IT is the backbone of the industry. Due to the intense technical requirements of VFX work, it was believed it couldn’t be done from home, since remotely accessing the computer system would be too disruptive to artists. However, when the situation was forced, working from home proved to be possible, and was universally used when offices were closed during lockdown, ushering in a new era for the industry.
2. All international travel was halted
A lot of industries have international clients, but the UK VFX industry has a particularly close relationship with Hollywood studios, and clients visiting from LA has been an important part of winning contracts for a long time, particularly visiting places like Soho.
No one was able to travel internationally during the peak of the pandemic, and people will be hesitant about it for a long time, so to survive VFX houses are going to need to be able to pitch for contracts remotely. Connected to this: VFX houses are also going to have to work with directors and other members of the production team without ever meeting them face to face; they'll have to figure out new ways of communicating and building relationships without being able to meet around a table.
3. Filming was put on hold
Anything that required in-person contact was halted during the pandemic, and this included filming, auditions, and production meetings. The disruption this caused the film industry is going to be felt for a long time, especially if insurance companies are unwilling to provide protection against pandemic related losses in the future.
From now on production companies will be prioritising both the safety of production and post-production facilities, as well as their ability to keep working through a pandemic related lockdown. Without insurance companies providing protection, studios will only work with VFX companies that can guarantee deadlines will be met no matter what.
4. Synchronous reviews in-person are no longer possible
The director reviewing and requesting amends on a piece of work is essential to delivering a final product they are happy with. Usually this would require a sit down session in-person for the director to review and provide real-time feedback. These in-person meetups aren't possible any more, especially with international clients, so alternate solutions need to be found.
Asynchronous feedback can be delivered through tools like frame.io, allowing VFX companies to get feedback without having to review the work alongside the director. Or remote synchronous reviews can be achieved, but they require sophisticated hardware and a decent internet connection.
The existing tech that supports the VFX industry
It's fortunate that the two parts of VFX tech – their strong connectivity and powerful hardware – could be used for working from home, but this is a very different scenario from having all of your employees in an office, and VFX tech needs to be optimised for the future.
Strong connectivity has always been important to the VFX industry since they’ve needed to send huge files back and forth between their clients. Post-production work on films results in a huge amount of data having to be transferred back and forth between the film studio and the VFX house, and without good connection these files would take days to transfer.
These strong networks meant that when VFX offices were forced to close and send their staff home due to lockdown, they could continue at least some work from home, since the connection to the office was so reliable and had high enough speeds.
Now that team members are all working from home and will need to be sending files back and forth to each others homes, this strong connectivity has never been more important as it will all take place through the office's infrastructure. Additionally, remote synchronous review sessions with directors and team members are going to be heavily reliant on good connectivity.
Network connections will have been configured pre-lockdown, and VFX companies did not anticipate their staff working from home when they decided on what level of connectivity they needed. As a result, all of the remote workers might be taking up network capacity, and significantly slowing down these large files transfers, meaning it’s time to upgrade connectivity.
The hardware that processes and renders the final VFX product is the workhorse of every VFX company and is essential to producing high quality content. Since VFX artists didn’t have a rendering farm sitting under each of their desks, these were already configured to be accessed remotely – even if the distance was only different rooms in an office.
Ensuring artists still have access to these computer systems and server rooms is essential for business continuity, even if they've been able to take some of their hardware home to work with.
If computer systems are now being remotely accessed while sitting in an empty office, no one is there to fix anything if something goes wrong. Deploying someone to the office is going to increase downtime, but to solve that a VFX company could move their computer system to a data centre with 24/7/365 support.
How new tech is going to continue to change VFX in the UK
VFX companies that have managed to change to a remote working system will need to monitor their connectivity and ensure their computer system is properly attended to. Additionally, VFX companies especially cannot afford downtime right now when the film production industry are doing everything they can to avoid further disruptions.
One way to boost connectivity and reliability is to move existing computer systems out of the office and into a data centre to take advantage of their sophisticated infrastructure.
Data centres are specially built facilities, designed to be the ideal environment for computer systems.
It’s possible to move an existing IT system into a data centre, which is particularly valuable if you're currently struggling with any of the sudden changes you had to make due to Covid-19 and need a quick solution.
Data centres have sophisticated infrastructure for their power, cooling, and network connections with redundancies and 24/7/365 on-site support to maintain everything, minimising downtime. If you want to learn more about colocation – moving your IT to a colocation data centre – check out our complete guide to colocation.