Case Study: UNHINGED

Solstice Studios saved 2/3rds on their VFX budget for UNHINGED (starring Russell Crowe) by moving VFX into the cloud

FASTER, BETTER AND 65% LESS: WHY THE PRODUCERS OF “UNHINGED,” STARRING RUSSELL CROWE, MADE THE JUMP TO VFX IN THE CLOUD

There Has to Be a Better Way

The founders of Solstice Studios have a $5 billion production track record and a combined 80 years of experience, so they’ve seen just about everything that can go wrong on a movie. Often, the worst offender is the visual effects area: a disjointed, inefficient process based on legacy hardware that starts with overpriced estimates and predictably, the actual costs spiral after the movie is shot.

Arch’s proprietary cloud-based platform promised solutions to these problems while cutting the film’s VFX budget by 65%. It almost seemed too good to be true.

Then Arch and Solstice went to work on “Unhinged,” starring Russell Crowe. Everything Arch promised came to pass: the 65% cost savings happened, there were no crazy overages, the pipeline was much smoother and the work was completed faster, the quality of the work was high, and (thanks to the cloud-based platform) they were able to hire top artists in a remote location (Vancouver) to take advantage of government incentives.

Bottom line: just because the movie was called “Unhinged” doesn’t mean the VFX process has to be unhinged. Thanks to Arch, Solstice found that there is indeed a better way--and now plans to use the Arch platform on all of its future movies.

Why it Pays to Put VFX in the Cloud

Moving the VFX infrastructure to the cloud offers benefits across the board. While the financial savings on the VFX budget are easy to quantify, the increased flexibility and efficiencies that the Arch Platform brought to the table also stood out for Solstice.

  • Not only can VFX be completed with a 65% savings but also the cost to start a cloud-based system is minimal. There are no capital expenditures for costly computer hardware and no depreciating assets to sell at the end of a production. Set up is fast, easy and the Arch platform allows for instant scalability as the movie’s needs change.
  •  The team can easily be set up in a jurisdiction where tax credits are advantageous, or move locations as needed.
  •  When the VFX team has rapid access to other production departments and controls the technological infrastructure, things become easier and faster. The middle man between artist and production is removed, improving and speeding up communication around creative decisions and data flow.

How Arch Paid Off for Unhinged

In the best of times, finishing VFX for any movie is a challenge. Covid-19 upped the challenge. When COVID-19 became the headline in early March 2020 the VFX team had just started work on Solstice’s first feature for theaters, starring Academy Award winner Russell Crowe, slated for an August 2020 release.

Suddenly the entire team working in an office together in Vancouver, were forced to move all work and operations to their own homes, fast. But since they had been working on the Arch cloud based VFX platform, the Unhinged VFX team made the pivot without missing a beat. In fact, the artists and supervisors were set up remotely and ready to work in just a few hours. No film assets had to be transported to their houses and the team could pick up where they left off earlier in the day.

A Laborious Process Streamlined

The Arch Platform offers an end-to-end solution from ingest and project management to review and delivery, so there is no need to shuttle around data or drives for review and approval. Security is maintained at all times while maintaining ease-of-use.

This workflow is made simpler by the multiple integrations that allow simultaneous VFX review by studio creatives while creating proxy versions for editorial to cut into the film.

Collaboration with creative stakeholders is key to movie making. This step can’t be compromised and Arch makes it much more efficient: better work can be done in a shorter period. On the Arch Platform, the Solstice shot tracking system (Shotgun) was set up to work with third-party software Moxion for VFX shot review. Review clips could be sent to the director, producer, and other stakeholders and their notes were sent back to the artists automatically with minimal manual entry needed.

Visual artists saw creative notes in Shotgun, fixed the shots, then added their own notes in Shotgun, which were visible to reviewers in Moxion. All with one simple, clean round trip of information. All trackable and fast. All in the world’s most secure global infrastructure on AWS.

Changing Scope, Adding Work

As with most films, creative feedback changed the scope of VFX work on “Unhinged.” The scope of work on many VFX shots was expanded and many new VFX shots were added. Thanks to the Arch platform, the Unhinged VFX team completed the extra work on the original tight schedule, with minimal financial impact to production.

Typically, a VFX company bids on a proposed scope of work - normally a best-guess estimate based on the script and a conversation with the director. This leads to bid changes, overages, and overtime costs. By having the artists work as crew members of the movie, as part of the team, the usual iterative process is made simple. The Arch costs, and the artist costs are fixed, so the project stays on budget.

On Unhinged, just days before delivery, the Solstice legal team called out more than 250 shots that required car brand logo and text removals. On the Arch Platform, the VFX team was able to accommodate the requests and hit the deadline, again, at no additional cost.

The movie delivery date just moved up 10 weeks. Now what?

In May 2019, with an eye to the enormous marketing advantages of being the first film back into US theaters in the Covid pandemic, Solstice moved up the delivery date for “Unhinged” by nine weeks. To accommodate the new release date and several new shots, artists were added, doubling the team size. The teams worked in two eight-hour shifts, all working remotely from home, using the same number of workstations--and got the job done on time with no overages, no rush fees, no extra license charges for their VFX shots.

Finishing Ahead In All Ways

Using the Arch Platform, with the artists spread across Vancouver, the director in Virginia and the editing room in Los Angeles, Solstice was able to save 65% on their VFX budget compared to the street bid price of going to an outside VFX company.

The film not only finished on budget, but two months ahead of its original schedule. And it was easy.

The Resolution

The updated timeline enabled “Unhinged” to reap the benefits of being the first movie back in the theaters post-Covid. In the process, Solstice helped theaters reopen, kept artists working, and will make a significant profit on the movie in the midst of a pandemic--one of the only films to do so. None of this would have been possible without Arch Platform Technologies.

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