How Redshift streamlines VFX Legion’s remote workflow

We’re thrilled to be featured on Redshift‘s blog!

We’ve been absolutely loving Redshift’s ludicrously fast GPU-based renderer (and it is ludicrously fast). We recently met with the team to discuss how their tools help us tackle the fast-paced turnarounds of television VFX and take on challenging feature projects like Hardcore Henry.

Read an excerpt below, followed by a link to the full post!

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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.”


fxguide: How Hardcore Henry’s POV shots were made

fxguide recently took an in-depth look at the visual effects of first-person action extravaganza Hardcore Henry. The team sat down with Legion co-founder James Hattin to learn how we approached a wide variety of shots, including bullets, blood and…blimps?

Read an excerpt below, followed by a link to the full post!


VFX Legion, a unique player in the effects industry via its structure of remotely connected artists, also tackled a wealth of Hardcore Henry shots. These included several with extra gore and violence, the creation of a CG blimp and some seamless stitching of their own.

Like Zero and Mammal, VFX Legion firstly established a workflow for triaging the GoPro footage. “GoPro is a mess for visual effects,” the studio’s co-founder and creative director James Hattin admits frankly. “Between the lens, the compression, and the limited dynamic range we become very limited in what we can do with the plates. Tracking was probably the hardest piece of the puzzle. Our artists Albrecht Steinmetz and Mark Evans used 3D Equalizer to track as best they could and would send dewarp nodes to be used in NUKE.”

hrd100_006_010Hattin notes that this approach tended to work best for only the center of the image. “This show was captured at 4k and 48FPS, by the time we made the plates to work on the show, we were down to 2k at 24FPS. There wasn’t a lot of latitude to punch in and use just the least distorted part of the image. It was up to the 3D artist to try to match some of the fish eye (not ideal) or the comp artist to fudge the pieces together with spline warps and grid warps. It was probably the most gruelling project, simply because of the footage.”

VFX Legion’s CG blimp, seen in the film’s opening escape sequence, was modeled in Maya and textured in Substance Painter by 3D lead Rommel Calderon. “It was rendered in RedShift,” says Hattin, “which allowed us to iterate renders very quickly. There was a lot of back and forth with the renders, distortion, and tracking. We purposely removed some of the detail around points that weren’t as likely to hold up in the track, but the first note we got back from Ilya was that it needed more detail. So we roughed it up and made Kyle Spiker, one of our 2D leads, work an extra day or two to manually tighten up the movement and make sure it sticks to the practical set.”


Daily Dead on Hardcore Henry, horror and the human touch

Our co-founder James Hattin recently met with the awesome guys at Daily Dead to discuss the work Legion does on shows like Hardcore Henry, Insidious 3 and beyond.

Read an excerpt and follow the link to the full interview below!

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Can you give our readers an idea of what the VFX Legion team does to improve the look of a film and enhance the cinematic experience for viewers?

James: There are a lot of things that make up a movie. There’s sound, acting, locations, lighting, editing, and often times, visual effects. There are a ton of aspects to visual effects. Sometimes we do something as simple as removing a palm tree from an LA skyline because the show was supposed to take place in Vermont; sometimes we stitch multiple plates together to seamlessly transition from one take to another; sometimes we create CG characters that feel real within the surrounding environments. Really it all comes down to enhancing the sense of immersion, and supporting the narrative of the film.

VFX Legion recently worked on the innovative action thriller, Hardcore Henry. Did the film’s first-person POV provide any new challenges or experiences for the team?

James: Yes! This was one of the most challenging and demanding projects that we have worked on to date. We’ve done a lot of gore and muzzle flashes over the years, but it was never on GoPro footage. The super wide-angle lenses that the GoPro uses are virtually impossible to track and solve quickly. This is how Hardcore Henry rapidly became a passion project of epic proportions for us.

What has been the most exciting part of the entire process of working on a revolutionary film like Hardcore Henry?

James: Watching early cuts of this movie almost two years ago, we were blown away by Hardcore Henry and knew that we had to be a part of the journey. Scenes like the shootout in the brothel are just unbridled carnage. It’s so much fun to hand a sequence like that to a very senior artist and tell them to have fun with it. At the end of the scene, there’s blood on every wall, every bad guy is dead or dying, and people are getting limbs cut off. It’s just fun, blood-spattered goodness – you can’t deny that there’s an element of fun to just going wild with the effects on a scene like that.