Search for the UK’s leading VFX studios on Google Maps. You’ll likely find your pointer launched into the hustle and bustle of London’s Soho hub.
Zoom out, past Old Street’s trendy tech roundabout, past Winchester and Southampton. Follow the map to the south-west and you’ll find the coastal town of Bournemouth, cosily snuggled against the English Channel and humbly removed from the clamor of London’s creative core.
Here lies the aptly named Outpost VFX – a studio that’s chosen to extricate itself from the tangled web of London life and set up shop less than a kilometre from sweeping sea views.
Yet the distance from London (around two hours by train) hasn’t prevented Outpost from contributing to the world’s most prominent Hollywood franchises, stretching from Paul Greengrass’s Jason Bourne to CG dinosaur extravaganza Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
“We feel Outpost is a unique shop in today’s day and age,” says Gez Hixson, the studio’s head of production. “Although location isn’t everything, being on the south coast gives our team a relaxed and inspiring environment in which to live and work. A focus on work/life balance is at the centre of what we do. We’re hugely ambitious, and love to work with the most creative supervisors and production teams worldwide, but that shouldn’t mean people can’t also enjoy beach life.”
Outpost is just one example of the snowballing global production model, which revolves around remote collaboration. Nowadays, every major VFX-heavy production will source support from at least five external vendors. As many as 30 creative studios might be called in to help on a feature film.
Setups like Outpost are possible thanks to today’s technology. Remote review, production tracking software and conference calls are vital to the modern VFX artist. One such tool is Cospective’s cineSync, which Outpost uses in conjunction with Wacom’s pen tablets, to facilitate its interactions with creative partners around the world.
We’re working and creating in an era in which physical distance poses no barrier to producing quality work. Incredibly fast broadband and remote production tools enable teams like Outpost to work side-by-side with LA, all without ever having to share the same physical space.
We do like to be beside the seaside
Outpost performs review sessions from its bespoke theatre – a cinema in miniature located alongside the production team. It’s ready for them to drop in at any time; boot up cineSync, grab a tablet and start drawing for fast and clear creative discussion.
Artists can comment, highlight, circle, draw, sketch, delineate, trace – and more besides – on a frame, making their intentions felt not in words but via pixels on a screen. What better way for artists to communicate than with a pen, after all.
“We can actually draw ideas now, not attempt to give them form in an email. It’s a far more efficient and articulate way of sharing knowledge,” says Hixson.
Outpost uses Wacom Intuos Pro tablets throughout the studio and across disciplines, while concept artists use the 27″ Cintiq touchscreen tablet for illustrations. The hardware allows for much more precision as artists quickly point out specific detail in frames or quickly sketch out concepts, giving physicality to what previously existed in imagination only.
“You’re able to draw your ideas and demonstrate where you’re planning to take a shot,” says Hixson. “It gives real shape to your concepts, and the client can immediately grasp them, or vice versa. That means the next iteration a client sees is much closer to what they envisage, which in turn means we can push the look and feel of a shot so much further in the same space of time.”
Tools and talent
Outpost do not feel like outsiders despite their coastal location. The team remains as fully engaged with their creative collaborators as they would be in London or LA. Where they are doesn’t matter. It just means they get to pop to the beach in-between reviews.
“Video review tools empower us to work with people all over the world in real time. Without that ability we’d absolutely be doing our clients a disservice. A big part of what we do at Outpost is to give clients the world over a truly personal level of service. Reviews in a real-time environment are crucial in engendering that approach. cineSync is part and parcel of the process for us.”
With work now finishing up on the summer’s hotly anticipated Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Outpost has more than proven that there’s no such thing as “far flung VFX”. Studios can operate and deliver triple-A work from wherever they are in the world. It’s the talent and the tools that enable stellar work, not the location.