COVID-19 vs VFX industry #1

No, it’s impossible to change anything in this industry!

I don’t know any VFX Artist who wouldn’t have said or heard this sentence in the last 5 years. I can’t count anymore how many senior Artists or Supervisors left their companies, frustrated to not be able to implement any changes, tired of seeing the industry as a giant boat impossible to steer.

And yet, in the last 3 weeks, the whole VFX industry moved into a remote setup.
Every studio around the planet managed to send their artists at home, some have been faster than others, but everyone has been able to transition relatively quickly. The Studios agreed to adapt their practice to an exceptional situation, sometimes by relaxing slightly their boundaries and constraints. Some new ways to work from home on a big scale emerged, big VFX Studios invented and developed a new way to create Visual Effects, and after only a few days, we are now producing images again.

I personally have been involved in the transition for DNEG London, and yes it’s been a big challenge with a very intense week, but I have to say that compared to the Tech Team, my job has been very easy.
All around the planet, the IT and System departments of every company have been amazing. Being able to send up to thousands of people working from their living room and still managing them to connect to their workstations, accessing the database, launching renders on the farm, looking at a good quality 4K playback is purely amazing.
I would like to salute as well all the managers who have been incredibly collaborative, who passed all the communications to their teams, answered their questions, doubts or fear and gathered all the information we all needed very quickly to make such a big move happen.

So after a couple of week, where are we?

First, we have to admit something: working remotely, even in VFX, is not new. 10 years ago, I was already working on major films from my flat in Paris. I have done at least 4 projects like this, as a remote Digital Matte Painter, for different companies. Today, some studios or groups of Freelancers already propose successfully a full remote service.
The difference is the scale. Having 25 Artists working remotely is slightly different than having 4000 people around the globe, sometimes more, and still have them able to work on projects split between Canada, UK, India.

The biggest challenge is probably around the Production and the Supervision.
For a show counting 2000 shots and a couple of hundreds of artists, to be able to work every day really hard across multiple departments and multiple sites, you need to have a very solid Production and Supervision structure.
We suddenly have to invent ways to look at the work being done, via remote dailies sessions, where we need to ensure that all the notes will be reported correctly to the artists, where the Production team will be able to assess if a new target is realistic or not. We need to invent ways for Supervisors to help their Artists to achieve their tasks, to tidy up the schedules, to organize virtual rounds via a series of VideoCall. ATD, PipeTD, and tech still have to be able to support their shows or the artists by making sure nothing will get stuck in the pipeline, even if rebooting physically a computer that has crashed suddenly becomes a real challenge. Department Managers have to drive their team, making sure no one will be left behind, stuck because of a piece of information has been missed.

Technically, we can do all of that, but my strong feeling is that if it’s been relatively successful so far, it’s mostly because people knew each other really well and sometimes have been working together for a long time before this crisis happened.
By being isolated, we lost the notion of “group” and it’s really hard to still have the feeling to be part of a team and feel the energy coming from the others.
There is something really intense which happens in a room full of artists, where people are all working hard towards the same goal, where a group of passionate creatives and technicians are really pushing their limits all together to produce the best possible shots. There is an energy that is hard to describe, but that every artist around the globe knows.

How to make sure we don’t lose it? How to make sure that despite the tragic situation the world is facing today, we will all be able to keep the motivation intact?
How do you recruit someone and bring him into a new team, making him feel welcome and supported, when he can’t be in the same room that any other member of the team? Engagement in a time of self-isolation.

No one knows how long we are going to be stuck in our home or what will happen if the productions don’t start again soon. We need the Studios to shoot films to have work and at the moment everything is on hold.
There is a real danger for all the Film Industry and the danger comes from a virus simply called COVID-19.

This article is the first of a series.
Stay safe, stay home, keep the faith in what we do and wash your hands!

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