James Hat­tin: EFI CIENT GLOBAL CRE­ATIV­ITY

Founder of VFX Le­gion James Hat­tin on ef­fi­ciency when work­ing with re­mote artists across the globe

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The founder of VFX Le­gion on work­ing with re­mote artists across the globe

The jobs are mov­ing. The peo­ple aren’t. As mi­gra­tion re­stric­tions hit more so­cially po­larised na­tions, it’s get­ting harder for ta­lented artists to chase the work around the world. Fur­ther­more, they want to work from where they live – not up­root families and nav­i­gate chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances to live in the most ex­pen­sive cities of the world, where you’ll of­ten find a con­cen­tra­tion of the most de­sir­able jobs.

This is­sue isn’t spe­cific to the post­pro­duc­tion in­dus­try, of course, but it’s where I have the most first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing gained it from found­ing VFX Le­gion and turn­ing it into a global in­sti­tu­tion with a re­mote work­force lo­cated from one end of the globe to the other.

Hav­ing a global work­force has en­abled us to give artists the work/ life bal­ance they de­sire, but it has also pin­pointed chal­lenges around ef­fi­cient global cre­ativ­ity. Here’s how we’ve solved them.

1. Lis­ten One of the big­gest chal­lenges in­her­ent in global cre­ativ­ity is the need to drive a business and op­er­ate un­der sin­gu­lar goals from a cen­tral lo­ca­tion, all while work­ing with artists spread far and wide. If you do not take into con­sid­er­a­tion the needs of the artist or work­force, you will in­evitably ex­pe­ri­ence prob­lems at some point down the line and things will quickly fall apart. Give your artists a voice and lis­ten to con­struc­tive feed­back about what could make things smoother. At VFX Le­gion we had a global work­force right out of the gate – right from Year Zero. When we re­ceived feed­back about how we could com­mu­ni­cate more ef­fec­tively and launch work­flows more smoothly, we adapted, and it made the whole process so much more ef­fi­cient.

2. See A re­mote work­force is by def­i­ni­tion re­mote, but it still re­lies on a face-to-face con­nec­tion. We want to see peo­ple and have those hu­man in­ter­ac­tions. Tech­nol­ogy is now at a point where this is pos­si­ble on a daily ba­sis. We use Zoom Con­fer­ence tools for video, screen shar­ing and screen con­trol to com­mu­ni­cate daily with our artists. A phone call is all well and good, but com­mu­ni­ca­tion is al­ways clearer when you fully un­der­stand the emo­tions of the per­son you’re speak­ing with – and for that you need to see who you’re talk­ing to.

3. Speak Be­ing a good man­ager and leader is about com­mu­ni­cat­ing and let­ting your team know you ex­ist and that you’re part of the team. Ef­fi­ciency is based on be­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive, and that doesn’t mean stay­ing mute in the back­ground. We have a Dis­cord server at Le­gion with chat rooms for each project we’re work­ing on, as well as a gen­eral chat room. We can send im­ages, links, hu­mour or cre­ative ideas around very quickly. I make sure I’m al­ways in there talk­ing with the team and both giv­ing and re­ceiv­ing up­dates – along with send­ing the oc­ca­sional funny GIF. It makes ev­ery­one feel so much more a part of the team.

4. Ease Com­mu­ni­cat­ing the con­stant in­for­ma­tion up­dates around a show or a project can be relentless. Hav­ing a cen­tral repos­i­tory of in­for­ma­tion like a wiki – or in our case a ‘por­tal’ – can solve this. It gives ev­ery­one on the team a cen­tral in­for­ma­tion repos­i­tory, that they can eas­ily go to and re­ceive up-tothe-minute in­for­ma­tion about tools be­ing used or specifics on a show. There should never be a mo­ment where a team mem­ber is sit­ting at their desk, not know­ing what they’re do­ing. We launched VFX Le­gion think­ing about this from day one, and we’ve be­come so smooth in our op­er­a­tions that, by the time an artist has the pa­per­work done and has come onto a project, they have enough in­for­ma­tion to start work­ing. At this point, we’ve cut down our start time by nearly a day from when the com­pany started. This is a huge sav­ing – both in time and money.

5. Pay Artists may be re­mote, but they still ex­pect to be paid fairly for their ser­vices. We’ve made it easy for artists to get paid for the work they do for VFX Le­gion. As part of our web plat­form, we use a ‘por­tal’ that gives artists vis­i­bil­ity over their work – they can check out their ap­proved shots and

au­to­mat­i­cally cre­ate in­voices. The whole process shocks a lot of artists that have worked for other re­mote-style com­pa­nies – they usu­ally don’t get that level of over­sight. But it’s im­por­tant. At the end of the day, peo­ple do this for pas­sion, but they also need their pay­check. We want our artists all over the world to con­cen­trate on cre­ativ­ity, not bookkeeping, so it’s up to us to en­sure they don’t need to ques­tion or worry about where the next bank bal­ance up­date is com­ing.

6. Feed­back Keep­ing an artist in the loop and pro­vid­ing qual­ity feed­back is a chal­lenge we face ev­ery day. Vis­ual con­tent is an ab­stract thing, and notes can be com­plex and chal­leng­ing to trans­late. That’s why we use tools like cinesync to keep things col­lab­o­ra­tive and op­ti­cal. Our su­per­vi­sors will also of­ten write up ex­tremely de­tailed notes and strategies for achiev­ing a look or a qual­ity that is needed in any par­tic­u­lar ef­fect. This keeps the process mov­ing and pro­vides the artist with the in­sight into the sum to­tal of what they are work­ing on. Just make sure that you’re do­ing this ev­ery day, all the time. Keep talk­ing. Keep up­dat­ing. Keep ev­ery­one on the same page.

7. Be happy One of the big­gest chal­lenges of vis­ual ef­fects is that it can have long hours, many notes, and re­quests from peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand what they’re ask­ing for. De­spite that, a ‘can-do’ at­ti­tude will take you a long way. This is a client ser­vice in­dus­try and we’re here to ser­vice clients, first and fore­most. This comes in the form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion around projects, and that com­mu­ni­ca­tion must al­ways be pos­i­tive and aimed at com­plet­ing some­thing great. Vis­ual ef­fects can some­times be a ‘grum­bling’ in­dus­try. We’ve all been in that sit­u­a­tion where dead­lines are close and fi­nal ver­sions are not. At the end of the day, though, how we com­mu­ni­cate and how we han­dle that stress is a key to our suc­cess. I try to live this ev­ery day and run my com­pany with hon­esty, in­tegrity and hu­mour – be­cause that is who I am, and that is what VFX Le­gion is about.

Five years on, we’re still learn­ing and grow­ing at Le­gion. We’re cre­at­ing both lo­cal and re­mote teams to tackle all kinds of VFX work. By fol­low­ing the prin­ci­ples above, I truly be­lieve that Le­gion has be­come some­thing of a gold stan­dard for our work­force. Other in­dus­tries would do well to grow like this, and to find good peo­ple, wher­ever they may be around the globe.

Find out more about VFX Le­gion at www.vfxle­gion.com

“When dead­lines are close and fi­nal ver­sions are not… how we com­mu­ni­cate and how we han­dle that stress is a key to our suc­cess”

As Hat­tin states, ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion, com­bined with a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, is cen­tral to Le­gion’s on­go­ing suc­cess

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