Nice Shoes has been a popular high quality commercial finishing studio since the 1990s and enjoys a reputation for outstanding work and a unique corporate culture. Given its track record in the commercial industry, the studio expanded to film and episodic VFX two years ago with the launch of Break + Enter, which has grown steadily since becoming the exclusive VFX partner for Oscar-nominated director Benh Zeitlin has a Sundance feature, Wendy. Earlier this year, under the direction of executive producer Joyce Boll, Break + Enter strategically began developing a cloud-based pipeline for remote work just before the pandemic broke out. Over the past nine months, the studio has expanded its pipeline development, setting new best practices and standards for remote working. Given the success of the workflow for current film and episode projects, including the upcoming feature The Humans, Break + Enter plans to expand the strategy across the company for future projects.
The cloud advantage
With many studios huddled together at the beginning of the pandemic to ensure financial health in a time of uncertainty, Break + Enter doubled its infrastructure investments. "Our industry is constantly evolving and the management team here is always on the lookout for areas where we can improve," said Break + Enter, director of VFX and creative Dave Zeevalk. "Switching to a remote workflow made sense even before the pandemic, because we can take advantage of the opportunities that arise, serve customers better and become more profitable."
Scalability was a key factor in moving the studio to a remote pipeline, especially given the ebb and flow of production and increasingly tight deadlines. "VFX production is unpredictable and you need to add talent to your team at all times," he continued. "If we're working on a project with a dozen artists using the cloud and need a hundred more, we can do it quickly without buying hardware or renting additional office space."
For a studio like Break + Enter – known for its diverse staff of artists and technologists – this scalability is crucial to attracting talent. It opens up new opportunities for talent who may previously not have been available due to geographic location or working from home. "VFX is a universal language, but each market varies slightly and we can now leverage all of that potential regardless of an artist's proximity to our office," said Zeevalk. "It enables us to attract the best people for the job and open our doors to artists who really want to be part of our team."
Cost was another consideration in the move, but Zeevalk cautioned that taking advantage of the financial benefits of the cloud requires research and technical skill. "The cost savings potential for the cloud is huge compared to on-premise workflows, but most organizations fail to realize that this may not be out of the box," he said. “By investing in proprietary automation in every part of the pipeline, from load balancing to access to virtual workstations, to data management and beyond, we have made savings. These efforts have been instrumental in streamlining customer collaboration and accelerating production. "
Break + Enter's cloud pipeline was examined
Break + Enter combines cloud-based tools with creative ingenuity and is building its pipeline under the hood with Amazon Web Services, Teradici PCoIP, and Aspera. Using virtual workstations, Break + Enter teams can work together seamlessly across projects using tools such as Autodesk Maya and Arnold. "We can now get artists from around the world up and running online in their favorite creative application in no time," said Joyce Boll, Executive Producer of Break + Enter. “Take Maya for example. With our new pipeline and Autodesk licensing, we can easily set up artists in Maya in no time. This is great as Maya is the be-all and end-all of CG production and an industry standard. This flexibility is critical from a financial and operational perspective. "
Adaptation to a new normal
By the time the pandemic broke out, Boll already had ample remote working experience and knew what was possible and what it took to get it working. For others in the studio, transitioning to work from home without face-to-face communication was more of an adjustment. Because of this, when the lockdown began, Boll insisted that everyone turn on their cameras during virtual meetings to create a sense of connection and give her a sense of how everyone is handling it. Using body language and points of view, she was able to measure the temperature of the team and, if necessary, contact the team members.
Boll compares the team's experiences during the pandemic with their personal experiences. "There was so much fear early on, but the realization came that this was going nowhere and we had to settle into our new normal and make adjustments," she said. “We also had to deal with the global production standstill and its significance for the future of the company. Thankfully, Break + Enter and its parent company, Nice Shoes, have gone ahead and made smart infrastructure investments in hopes that the other side can flourish – a bold move in such an uncertain climate. "
Curate a virtual corporate culture
Break + Enter and Nice Shoes have worked hard to build a corporate culture and work environment where employees are encouraged to have a voice, recognized for their talents, and inspired to achieve their goals. However, translating this culture into a virtual environment initially proved challenging. With time and creative thinking, the studio has maintained its culture through virtual check-ins, happy hours, and encouraging team members to share what they learned in weekly tutorials.
“When it comes to our team, we want to make the work fun, encourage the desire for new skills and show full transparency. We want to be the party that artists never want to leave, ”remarked Zeevalk. "There was this initial fear that this culture would be lost at the beginning of the pandemic, but luckily we were wrong. We quickly adjusted to create a collaborative virtual environment where we all support each other personally and professionally . "
Prepare for the future
With the future in focus, Break + Enter plans to continue investing in its remote pipeline and develop a hybrid approach to its work that will allow it to take advantage of remote working while maintaining camaraderie and corporate culture of the team on which it was based built its business. Boll concluded, "From an infrastructure standpoint, the cloud is our way forward. While we will continue to support remote work setups, once that is certain we will find ways to get together in person." It just has something to do with sitting in a room with the people you work with every day and connecting in person, which just can't be virtually restored. "
For more information on Break + Enter's entry into the cloud, see the Autodesk Vision Series presentation on Thursday, September 10th at 1:00 p.m. local time. Register for the free event Here.