Redshift is built for speed, efficiency, and excellence, and so is VFX Legion.
Founded in 2012 by president & CEO James Hattin along with six core partners, VFX Legion breaks from the traditional post-production studio mold and embraces a new kind of future.
Rather than have the entire team based in the same building – or even the same city – the majority of VFX Legion’s artists are based all around the world, and can be quickly tapped to support the work that Hattin and crew oversee from Los Angeles.
The advantages are numerous and significant. The remote setup keeps costs down for Legion, allowing them to run a leaner ship, while also allowing artists to remain in their preferred locales and work flexible hours.
It also means that VFX Legion can have people working around the clock, tackling projects in their varying time zones. And because Legion has so many talented artists in their network, they can ramp up quickly to deal with tight turnarounds, accommodating any last-minute client requests.
That sort of efficient and flexible structure has thus far worked out wonderfully for Legion. The team has been the vendor of choice for ABC and ShondaLand on shows like Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Catch, and has completed significant work for films like Hardcore Henry and Insidious 3 – with plenty more ahead.
Legion was turned on to Redshift at the start of 2016, testing it as an alternative to their existing rendering solution. The team quickly found it to be a perfect match, the speedy render times and GPU-based rendering proving an ideal complement to the studio’s distributed approach.
A smart shift
Rommel Calderon, VFX Legion’s in-house lead 3D artist, says the team fell in love with Redshift upon seeing a dramatic increase in rendering speeds.
“We were ending up with renders that were ready in a matter of seconds, rather than minutes,” he asserts. Calderon recalls doing a stress test on a render with all bells and whistles enabled, and it took hours to render each frame using the previous rendering solution. Swap to Redshift with the settings set as similarly as possible, and the same test took minutes by comparison. “It was a pretty drastic difference,” he adds.
Given that VFX Legion’s artists are scattered across the globe, they’re often working on projects independently at home. That means they often need to tap into a render farm or cloud-based solution in order to complete a job.
With Redshift’s GPU-based approach, however, they can do the rendering at home. With a capable PC and an NVIDIA-based card, they can rely on Redshift to speed up the process, instead of waiting for a day or two to complete rendering.
“It’s rapid, efficient and very advantageous for our artists,” explains Calderon. “Rather than waiting a day for a 24-frame shot, they’ll be done in an hour.”
The benefits are significant in the day-to-day workflow, but as president & CEO, Hattin also sees the longer-term value of Redshift to the company’s unique structure.
“We have a very small footprint as a company, and the tech expense of having a CPU render farm, or going online to try and use cloud rendering, can be significant,” says Hattin. “So, the ability to throw a $700-800 card into a machine and turn it into part of a render farm is hands-down the best thing to do for a small company.”
Redshift’s a Catch
With Redshift in its arsenal, Legion feels confident in its ability to turn around tight work for weekly television shows. Not only that, but the studio is better able to handle late client requests that might not have been feasible using previous software.
This is important, given that Legion is ABC’s trusted vendor on popular series Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Catch.
The Catch was the ShondaLand series most recently added to Legion’s repertoire: a fast-paced thriller about a private detective trying to track down a former lover. Legion was tasked with some significant work right from the early episodes.
In one such episode, the team was tasked with the creation of two Los Angeles skyscrapers. During production, however, the shot changed: the production wanted them closer to camera and, on the day of delivery, the show’s editorial team asked for a moving crane in the shot. A challenge to say the least.
Knowing that Redshift could handle the speedy renders, Legion’s artists were able to do a patch render overnight for an 8am delivery, in time for color correction. The team even had time to add animation on the crane, rendering the results in time for the final cut.
“That’s something you wouldn’t be able to do for multiple shots using conventional render without a farm,” asserts Hattin. “The ability for our remote artists to take these shots and do last minute changes, which under any other circumstance we couldn’t do – now we can actually deliver it.”
Another challenging sequence saw Legion add in CG airbags during a crash sequence, deploying as a truck slams into the side of a car. Legion needed to ensure that they felt fully photoreal as they inflated and then deflated at the end of the scene.
VFX Legion relied on Redshift to get the rendering done quickly and efficiently, enabling the studio to deliver high-quality work on a tight turnaround. “It’s truly an ‘invisible’ effect,” says Calderon. “When you ‘see’ it, you’re not really seeing it, as it just looks real. Our compositors did a fantastic job, and that’s partly thanks to Redshift.”
And the success stories don’t stop there. On Scandal, another of ShondaLand’s successful ABC thrillers, Calderon and CG Generalist Chris Strauss were able to design, surface, texture, light and render 22 shots of a CG Air Force One and a CG campaign plane waiting on the tarmac – all within the tight turnaround one just one week.
Again it’s Redshift that has enabled the flexibility in Legion’s schedule for such tight turnaround – not to mention creative iteration. More time on each shot means more back and forth with clients to nail the look, ensuring that the work consistently surpasses expectations. That’s a tough ask amidst the weekly grind of TV work, but Redshift makes it feasible.
“We can quickly turn around a shot, we can make an adjustment or fix in CG, and get it back out in a matter of hours rather than days,” affirms Calderon. “It’s a huge advantage.”
On the big screen
While television work occupies a great deal of Legion’s workload, the studio also supplies work for major motion pictures, including the action-packed Hardcore Henry.
The intense action film, shot entirely with GoPro cameras and portrayed in first-person view, required some work following its initial festival showing. One sequence that director Ilya Naishuller specifically wanted to focus on was that involving a CG blimp.
In the sequence, cyborg protagonist Henry runs out a door, suddenly realizing that he’s on an airship floating far above the ground. It’s all witnessed in quick glances, but due to the work-heavy process of flattening out the distorted GoPro footage for VFX work, the renders were huge – nearly 4K resolution.
VFX Legion had to turn the work around rapidly to help the film make its theatrical debut in time, yet still bounce iterations back and forth with the director to nail the look while overcoming the hurdles that the first-person GoPro footage presented.
“We went through so many iterations just to get the resolution right,” explains Calderon. “We had to keep going until we found what worked. I was turning over renders almost daily, and we’re talking 300-400 frames for the side of this blimp that’s in the movie. Redshift was absolutely invaluable in making that kind of work a reality.”
Since then, VFX Legion has turned its attention onto other projects, including the upcoming horror sequel The Purge: Election Year. “We were so ready to use Redshift on some big CG shots on The Purge,” admits Calderon. “It’s really, really handy.”
Love at first render
VFX Legion’s artists have only been using Redshift for a few months now, but the impact has been significant – and they’re not looking back.
Hattin praises Redshift for allowing artists to nail the lighting earlier, as they can make changes at a useable resolution right at their own box, and fixes can be made incredibly quickly. And given VFX Legion’s focus on television with its tight turnarounds, not to mention the fact that most of their artists are working independently around the world, that makes Redshift one of Legion’s most valuable tools.
“It’s the turnaround, really: the fact that we can turn around 10 shots of hero CG in less than a week with no render farm, with literally one guy doing all the lighting,” says Calderon. “The fact that we can get that all done on one box is kind of phenomenal.
“I’m in love,” beams Calderon. “I haven’t been this giddy for software in a while.”