Case study

Working in Zero-G with Zero Stress

Studio: Felix & Paul Studios
The Project: The ISS Experience (in collaboration with TIME)
Locations: Montreal, Los Angeles, outer space
Artists: 60 
Notable Work: MIYUBI, Jurassic World, Isle of Dogs, The People’s House, Traveling While Black, Gymnasia, Space Explorers
EMMY® Award Wins: 3

Time frame
Hours of in-space crew time
Miles of ISS
to Earth
Duration in minutes of one ISS orbit

Hans Payer, Lead Pipeline Developer; and Sebastian Sylwan, CTO and Creative Partner)

Award-winning immersive entertainment company Felix & Paul Studios combines end-to-end creative capabilities, technological know-how, and proprietary tools to create cutting-edge virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality experiences. From spherical 3D camera systems and spatial audio capture to custom and off-the-shelf solutions, the company works with leading tools to deliver the best quality storytelling. The studio is currently working on a groundbreaking episodic series in immersive VR, ISS Experience, in partnership with TIME magazine.

The challenge

Felix & Paul Studios Lead Pipeline Developer Hans Payer and CTO and Creative Partner Sebastian Sylwan are no strangers to designing and implementing advanced workflows in the name of creativity. However, bringing the ISS Experience to audiences has been an international undertaking with out-of-this-world requirements. Using VR cameras built to operate in zero-gravity, astronauts from several countries are spending a year filming their missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to provide an unprecedented firsthand look inside and outside the ISS, including the first spacewalk captured in cinematic VR. Along with navigating the inherent challenges of filming in space, Felix & Paul had to ensure the large amounts of high-res footage could be effectively and efficiently shared with the team on the ground. 

“I believe this project brings the most complex logistics and technical challenges so far for Felix & Paul Studios,” noted Sylwan. “We designed a workflow centered on ShotGrid for this project, a choice that has streamlined the tracking, selection, and downlink of footage from the ISS. ShotGrid enables the entire approval chain to easily review specific sections and only downlink relevant footage, which saves us time on the ground while allowing the astronauts to continue their mission with minimal disruption.”

The solution

Like with most of Felix & Paul Studios projects, the “ISS Experience” workflow begins in Adobe Premiere, with a selection of key shots. This content is then integrated into ShotGrid for the other members of the team to use. Throughout the production, timing or content may change.

“Felix & Paul Studios is unique in that we are a home for all types of creators; directors, editors, compositors, interactive designers, technologists, and more,” Payer described. “We create our experiences from end to end, and this presents interesting pipeline challenges. We think of our edits as different types of stories—teasers, trailers, special featurettes—which can constantly change, have many people involved, and have multiple contexts associated with them too. ShotGrid helps us streamline projects for all the different players who use it.”

“ShotGrid is essential for every project. Our directors, whether in-house or external, can change the edit at any time all the way to the last minute. Tracking editorial changes and having the ability to update information for other processes is essential. Organizing our versioning conventions and having everyone on the same page is also important. We also have many uses of ShotGrid to centralize configurations for several processes and applications. Having this information in the application allows anyone to modify or query it easily.

While Felix & Paul Studios is still working on the “ISS Experience,” the studio is prepared to deliver it to multiple platforms when it wraps, using a proprietary Story Encoder tool that links to ShotGrid. 

Sylwan explained, “The Story Encoder tool allows us to produce encodes of our content with our versioned elements and dynamically link timing based on a chosen story version. Compositors don’t need to be concerned about specific editorial changes, they simply deliver their content. Prior to final encoding, we segment the experience per shots; when changes happen in editorial, we can easily identify which shots have changed and avoid reencoding those that didn’t. Story Encoder and ShotGrid help us organize the information and achieve our workflow goals while minimizing errors and time.”

The features

ShotGrid has been a mainstay at Felix & Paul Studios since before Payer joined the company in 2015. Initially used for task management in the compositing department and to track editorial changes, its use has expanded to other departments including I/O, Integration, Audio, and CG. The studio has also leveraged and customized functionalities from the ShotGrid Toolkit and widened the amount of tracking workflows. 

ShotGrid Toolkit’s Standalone Publisher is among Payer’s go-to tools he explained, “The Standalone Publisher saved us a lot of development time when it released, opening the door to other departments that were not using traditional digital content creation applications. We also use it extensively to validate and secure our data. In doing so, we minimize human and technical errors and avoid losing time with back and forth communications between departments.”

Enjoying immersive media is wholly unlike going to the movies or watching content on a flat display. These experiences provide an opportunity to forge deeper emotional connections through storytelling and to successfully create content for this medium requires a specialized approach. 

Though there are similarities between VR and VFX pipelines, a big difference in the case of Felix & Paul Studios is that the shop provides a complete service, not solely post production. In all facets of production – shooting, data transfer, post, integration, player application – pipeline plays a major role in helping to resolve problems and design workflows. 

The strength of your pipeline translates to studio-wide performance. The better the workflow design, the more it will minimize errors, avoid unnecessary communication and improve productivity.