Friday, 19 April 2013

VFX Cloud Studio 2.0 - What it means for Producers and Artists

Hello everyone, buoyed on from the success of VFX and CG Survival Guide for Filmmakers and Producers (Kindle - http://amzn.to/WTZByQ) I've been approached by independent film producers to provide VFX for their projects.  The requests have come from far and wide, some asking for quotes others asking me to carry out the work.

This post is about what is in it for an independent film producer to come directly to the artist and what can the artist do to make sure the work is delivered to schedule and budget?

What does it mean for Filmmakers and Producers?


Firstly the producer is going to get his/her VFX done for a fraction of the cost that it would take to do if he/she went to a facility.  Some producers are more realistic than others, some will expect the effects to be on par with that of a facility, others realise what a good deal they are getting but still expect a level of quality that would be at least half the quality they would get from a facility.

To contrast the deal a producer would get from a studio to going directly to a VFX artist here are the rate cards of a highly respected VFX company

Mill Rate Card in £ Source: http://www.themill.com/media/214554/london_rate_card_lndscpe.jpg

Mill rate card in US $, source: http://www.themill.com/media/214560/usa_rate_card_lndscpe.jpg

Edit19 Rate Card, source: http://www.edit19.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/E19_Rate_Card_2012_v01.pdf



Jump Willy rate card, source: http://www.jumpwilly.com/rate-card/

Smoke and Mirrors rate card, source: http://www.smoke-mirrors.com/smweb/s&m_data/Smoke&Mirrors_ratecard.pdf

What you'll notice is that in the UK version CGI is by quote but in the US version you can see it comes in at $3000 a day (i.e. ~£2000 or 2200 Euros a day).

Typical day rates for VFX artists are between £250 to £300, (i.e. $380 to $460, 290 to 350 Euros), so where does this extra £1500/$2580 (average) price come in?

Basically the producer is being charged for the various other fixed and running costs like

  • R&D, proprietary technology and specialist knowledge
  • computers
  • software licences
  • render farms
  • office rent
  • office costs (desk, chairs, heating, lighting, water, electricity)
  • admin staff (receptionists, accountants etc.)
  • marketing
The most significant costs here is the first entry R&D, proprietary technology and specialist knowledge, this is what is going to make the project look great.  The interesting thing is that the knowledge actually resides with the artists and technical directors who work there.  Of course it's documented in the company WIKI but if all the artists and technical directors left they would be able to recreate the proprietary technology elsewhere.

So how does going directly to the artists stack up against going to the VFX facilities?  

Well for one pretty much the cost from office rent downwards (office costs, admin staff, marketing) could be eliminated from the budget.  Most VFX artists have their own computers that they can work on from home and the cost of software licences and render farms is now based on subscription/pay-as-you-go models (see below) which can be factored into the budget.  

What does it mean for VFX artists?


From your side, what can you do to deliver on this, after all you are a single artist and don't have the huge infrastructure that facility has, not to mention all the R&D they have done to develop a pipeline, right?

Well actually, wrong!  Things are changing and now you are able to harness the power of the cloud to

- software licences are changing

You can now buy monthly subscriptions to virtually any software that you would need without the needing a huge cash outlay to purchase

For example, renting the whole of the Adobe Creative Suite now costs £46 per month, purchasing it outright would cost £1810

Source: http://www.adobe.com/uk/products/creativesuite/production.html
Renting NukeX would be £1600  ($2900, 1925 Euros) for a quarter
Source: http://www.thefoundry.co.uk
The Foundry even lets you rent plugins like Furnace on a per day basis (subject to a minimal amount in this case 3 days would get you above the threshold)
source: http://www.thefoundry.co.uk/cart/item.php?product_id=920&buy_or_rent=rent


At Side Effects Software you can rent Houdini on a monthly basis too ($995 for Houdini and $2195 for Houdini FX per month)
source: http://www.sidefx.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=385&Itemid=190
There is even an option for renting Houdini batch
source: http://www.sidefx.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=385&Itemid=190


Autodesk take the whole concept of using the cloud one step further with their Autodesk 360 packages which is a fully cloud based solution allowing you to even use maya on your Android/iPad/Surface.  Essentially your tablet or phone becomes a monitor and the memory hungry software is run on the autodesk servers.

using the cloud to run your software means you don't even need a powerful machine anymore, source: https://360.autodesk.com/landing

Autodesk 360 also allows you to cloud render.  Cloud rendering has been offered as a service for a couple of years now, there are several dozen cloud rendering services that operate various pay-as-you-go or fixed block subscription models.  Obviously this enables you to render the whole job so much quicker without making a huge investment in your own render farm, but also you and your client will now know exactly how much it will cost per extra revision, you can have the cost signed off in advanced of any changes being done.


Chaos Group (the makers of VRay have 20 render farms that they recommend on thier website, source: http://www.chaosgroup.com/en/2/vray_services.html

Renderman on Demand is Pixars own render service, source: http://renderman.pixar.com/products/tools/faq-cloud.html  

I've not used every render service listed below, I put them here to illustrate that you have so many options
http://www.foxrenderfarm.eu/
http://www.revuprender.com/



http://www.renderrocket.com/
http://garagefarm.net/index.php/free-rendering



Pooling in freelancers I know versus using LinkedIn


For the past I've used both freelancers that I have worked with and used LinkedIn to find animators, VFX artists, sound designers etc.  Clearly using people that I have worked with in the past is the preferred solution as they are a known quantity and I would only choose to work with the best in their discipline.  However I do realise that I'm quite fortunate in that regard (having worked at MPC, Double Negative, Aardman, Mokko, Rushes etc.) and that not everyone has a pool of co-workers they could call upon.  So here's a list of recommendations when using LinkedIn to find people.


  • Create a webform for people to fill out and then post that form on the LinkedIn forums


Be very specific in your post and ask people to fill out the online form which should have fields like experience, specialism (e.g. rigging, texturing, effects), showreel, software competency levels, availability, day rate, location.
an example of ascertaing candidate suitability through a web form, source: http://www.primefocusgroup.com/recruitment/uk/ukbvfx001

  • Don't promise anything to anyone on LinkedIn
It's actually impossible to reply to everyone who will post, do your best, even if it's an automated response thanking them.  Try to be explicit that you cannot reply to every single person but do take time to thank them.  



  • Only follow up with the people who fill in the form

Don't follow up with the dozens of people who write 'see my showreel here' in the comment boxes below.  If they can't even follow a simple instruction to fill out a form it's highly unlikely they'll be able to carry out any meaningful work for you.

Where to search for suitable artists on LinkedIn




there are many groups on LinkedIn where you can find specific artists, e.g. riggers, FX, compositors

Store and transfer files

Have big scene files, massive amounts of cache, big render folders that you need to share?  Again there are dozens of solutions depending upon your workflow.
source: https://www.dropbox.com/
What's really great about dropbox is the ability to share whole folders without having to do any manual uploading to sending e-mails to the people you are working with, you just carry on working as you would normally and the whole workspace that you are in will be automatically updated.  You'll need to work in a dropbox folder which they will install on your machine and on everybody's machine you are working with.

create shortcuts in your own folder structure to point to dropbox
Installing and switching to dropbox need not upset your nicely organised folder structure.  Keep you current folder structure as it is and but move only those folders that you want to back up or share to your dropbox hierarchy.  Go back to your original structure and create shortcuts that point to the dropbox folder.

dropbox pricing, source: https://www.dropbox.com/pricing
If you're serious about carrying out VFX work on the web you may need to go for the Pro version to have enough space to carry out your tasks, remember to factor in this cost into your budget.

An alternative to dropbox is the WeTransfer portal.  Essentially you upload a file here, enter the e-mail address of the person, your own (so that you get a confirmation) and a message.  It's done that's it, it's free (bar the huge advertisements they serve while you upload) and easy.  When transferring large files or folders, you will have to zip them before sending,

  •  Right click on the folder (in windows explorer) and choose 
    • Send To 
      • Compressed (zipped) folder


source: https://www.wetransfer.com/

Microsoft also offer their version of cloud storage known as SkyDrive which will essentially keep your machine in sync online.  I'm sure there are so many other storage solutions online, please leave a comment in the box below telling me your preferred choice.

Communicating through the cloud


One of the main advantages of VFX 2.0 is that you don't need to hire any studio space, you will communicate through the cloud across different time zones   Again this is no problem there are a variety of online meeting websites that can facilitate these.  I've personally used the two below, where sharing screens and drawing exactly how/where I want the animation, FX etc. to go was very handy that an e-mail couldn't have achieved.  It was not quite being in the same room as them but if you persist it can be of immense benefit to you.  If you search you will find many more portals, again leave some comments below of which ones you like.


source: http://www.webex.co.uk/

source: http://www.gotomeeting.co.uk/fec/


Conclusion


The VFX model is changing, if you now have enough 3D, VFX, animation skills you can go and pitch for work directly at a much lower rate than any facility can whilst also making double the amount of money you would working at such a facility.  The tools all exist and filmmakers and producers are looking for your skills especially given the current economic climate, if your showreel can show you are able to deliver.  You may need the help of a couple of other people in the CG pipeline but it can be done, I've done it on a few projects now.

Thanks for reading.

Farhan


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