The Project: Emperor
Director: Mark Amin
Producers: Mark Amin, Cami Winikoff, Reginald Hudlin, Sobini Productions
Visual Effects Supervisor: Elad Offer
VFX shots: ~500+
Number of notes given: ~1,200
Timeline: 5 weeks
An artist himself, Elad Offer considers himself “a rather picky VFX supervisor,” which is a nice way to say his artists can expect tons of annotations. While his work usually includes large-scale commercial productions, he was recently asked to supervise visual effects on the indie film Emperor. As a period piece shot on location in the American south, visual effects for the film would include editing more than 500 shots—200 of which were already in play when Offer joined—distributed effectively between 6 vendors in 5 weeks. To make matters worse, Offer would need to reduce the VFX budget of the film by 60%.
Offer knew the effects would be mostly 2D compositing, either editing for the time period or adding in additional soldiers and the like. The team would also be creating a lot of muzzle flashes and explosions and would likely be asked to combine multiple takes into one. The heavier computer graphic work would be done at the studio Spin.
Given the expectations on visual effects, the compressed timeline, and the limited budget, Offer knew Google Sheets just wouldn’t cut it. So found himself convincing the expense-shy producers to invest in a specific tool to help manage the VFX process. Offer had first been introduced to ShotGrid (formerly Shotgun Software) about five years earlier as a freelancer at The Mill and Digital Domain. He’d also been hearing through the industry grapevine that all of the big VFX companies were switching to ShotGrid to customize and operationalize pipelines, integrate tools, and collaborate with teams globally.
“It took a moment to explain to the producers why ShotGrid was necessary—that it’s a much easier way for the artist, supervisor, and producers to communicate quickly and remain totally in sync,” he remembered. “Thankfully, I managed to convince them and it ended up saving us a lot of time and money.”
For Emperor, Offer generated users on ShotGrid for The Artery in NY, Spin in Toronto, Redi Studios and Tempest FX in LA, and for two indie artists, one working in Nuke and one in Flame. “All the initial assignments with notes to each of the vendors were in ShotGrid,” Offer said. “Then we reviewed the work as it came in. ShotGrid was my main tool for initial breakdown and annotating.” In fact, it was really easy to import the data from the Google Sheet into ShotGrid.
Right away, he created unique pipeline that was based on ShotGrid for notes and communication and Flame for creating quick references, looking at plates, and for screening room reviews. Offer remembered: “We were working out of a post facility and every couple of days we would hook up my computer—running Flame—to one of the screening rooms and play shots in hi-res 4K on the DLP projector, pulling from a corresponding playlist in ShotGrid. We would run through the shots and give notes in ShotGrid much more efficiently than if we had to wait for a screening room, get the shots separately, transfer them onto some form of media, and then, most often, not have them align.” In Flame, Offer had shots layered up so if the team had a question about a previous version, he could just click down and see the project history—an impossible task with feed at a regular screening room. “As a one-man-band VFX supervisor with just one assistant,” Offer marveled. “I was able to accomplish in just five weeks what would have taken a team of four at least two months thanks to ShotGrid, Flame, and AWS.”
A veteran Flame user since 1995, Offer believes the software has no competition in terms of speed, flexibility, and its range of tools and abilities: “I can get stuff done on Flame in a fraction of time that it would take in a different piece of software. And I’ve used it over the years as a freelance VFX artist and supervisor for projects at everywhere from The Mill to Digital Domain and Method Studios.”
Pairing Flame with AWS S3 storage and ShotGrid made cloud high-speed storage available to the whole team. While Offer reviewed and made quick markups on Flame, he was available to interface with new shots anywhere, anytime. Offer’s praise of this power-packed combination of tools is high: “On Emperor, once we were ready to see hi-res renders of shots, we had vendors upload both to ShotGrid and AWS as well as all the pull of the original plates —so if I had to move a shot from one vendor to another or had a new shot to be awarded, everything was immediately available at incredibly high speeds of download and upload. So even when I wanted to see the raw plate or a DPX sequence from a vendor while working from my house, I could download it in minutes. Most other online services are not built to move around that volume of data.”
In particular, Offer appreciates that ShotGrid allows him to easily annotate over pictures. As a supervisor, to be able to draw a particular creative vision on pictures was most useful: “You just press a button and it goes.” All in, he gave more than 1,200 notes and there were even more internally from VFX studios Spin and Artery, who also have standardized their pipelines on ShotGrid. “By the time I’d finish giving notes on 20 shots, there would be another 30 uploaded. It would already be 1:00 AM and I would have to choose whether to sleep or make sure we had notes lined up when vendors came back online in the morning.”
Offer also enjoyed ShotGrid’s note-taking app, where he took a whole playlist and wrote down notes during reviews on the big screen: “The producers could talk and I could quickly switch between Flame and ShotGrid to write notes to myself in my own shorthand.”
Offer was also surprised by just how professional and willing to help the ShotGrid team was. He recalled, “Ten days after we started using ShotGrid, I some questions so we booked a half hour Q&A with the team and it was very useful.”
Like most film productions no matter the size, there were not enough hours in the day on Emperor, but Offer credits ShotGrid for making the VFX process possible:
When I was asked to bring down the VFX budget 60% and deliver on a five-week schedule. I knew my ability was basically reliant on ShotGrid.
He’s certain, there was no way they could have completed the job—300 shots with 25-35 artists across six facilities—without it. And for a production management tool that ultimately cost the production of Emperor under $1,000, the value delivered by ShotGrid far outweighs the spend.
"ShotGrid allowed us to get through a producer screening in 1 hour instead of spending 5 hours in a screening room."