Mr X

cineSync marks the spot


Connecting this standout VFX studio to clients far and near

Mr. X is not a man, but rather a team—a force in the world of visual effects, really. Founded in 2001 and acquired by Technicolor in 2014, this in-demand VFX studio now spans locations in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, and Bangalore.

The team boasts an enviable and ever-growing list of credits to its name, including acclaimed features such as Oscar-winners The Shape of Water and Roma, as well as action blockbusters like Shazam! and Creed II. With hundreds of employees and numerous projects on the go at any given time, it’s no surprise that Mr. X relies on Cospective’s cineSync for remote video review sessions, all the way from handoff to final delivery.

The X factor

The Toronto studio serves as Mr. X’s global headquarters, with more than 250 employees including about a dozen VFX supervisors working on an array of prominent film and TV projects.

According to one of those VFX supervisors, Eric Robinson—a 10-year veteran of the team—what helps set Mr. X apart from the competition is its collaborative nature and ongoing relationships with noted directors and studios. For example, Mr. X has worked with Guillermo del Toro on several projects, from The Shape of Water to The Strain and Crimson Peak, and has collaborated with Paul W. S. Anderson on multiple Resident Evil films, along with his next video game adaptation, Monster Hunter.

“We really try to personalize the experience for a director so they feel like they’re talking to somebody,” says Robinson. “They feel like they’re partnering with us to develop this story and not just put splashy effects on-screen. We’re trying to really propel the script, and it’s really important for us to be involved in early discussions about the script, so that we can either coach or advise on execution so that the director gets what they want and the DP is able to work freely.”

That’s part of what makes cineSync such an appealing tool for Mr. X. The industry-standard software allows collaborators the world over to connect in a single online session, with the ability to sync up to view video footage in real time and draw on and annotate footage for unambiguous feedback. According to Robinson, Mr. X had cineSync in place when he joined the studio in 2009, and it’s a tool that they turn to early on in the collaborative process.

“Getting the initial brief from the director, sometimes we’ll put together previs or even cut together storyboard pages into an animatic, which we can use to talk about the pacing. Having audio in there is helpful so that you can use those cues as well,” says Robinson. “Whether it’s work-in-progress or final, cineSync is always a tool that we need.”

“Clear and concise”

Robinson jokes that an average cineSync session for Mr. X involves “a lot of sweating” as they await the reactions of clients and collect the necessary feedback. A little bit of sweat then is preferable to getting unclear or incorrect written notes, and wasting time or scrambling to fix something under a tight deadline.

“It’s unambiguous what’s going on. It’s so clear to understand what you’re both talking about,” says Robinson. “We struggle sometimes when somebody gives us written notes, because you don’t understand necessarily what part of screen geography somebody is talking about, or even what frame it is. Whereas with cineSync, you pause and everybody is looking together at the same frame. It’s just so clear and concise.”

With one recent project, the monster film Larry from Amblin Entertainment, Mr. X has been in constant communication with director Jacob Chase as they collaborate to adapt his acclaimed short film into a feature. “Because he’s based in LA and we’re in Toronto, cineSync is the way to go,” Robinson asserts. “We can’t fly back and forth to talk about these things, and not having the images with you is just impossible… or at least frustrating.”

“We’re cineSyncing with the director three times a week to go through all of our deliveries,” he continues. “Everything that we send to the director, we want to cineSync just so that we can hear directly what the notes are rather than waiting for written notes, or rather than risking an editorial assistant transcribing something and us not quite getting the intent. We also find that cineSync is a great tool to use with a Skype call, so that you can be watching the shot together and then at the same time you can watch the director to see how they react. Sometimes they gesticulate in a certain way, and you have to interpret that as a shot note.”

Extensive physical distance certainly isn’t a requirement for cineSync usage, of course. Robinson recalls using it for the Netflix film, How it Ends, with a director who was across town. Still, it was much preferable to just hop into an online session rather than to take time out of the day to meet in person and disrupt the flow of other work.

“There were times where our director was here in Toronto, and it was more convenient to cineSync because nobody had to go back and forth,” says Robinson. “He could still do his sound design and then talk to us quickly, and then go back to an ADR session without interruptions. Sometimes, you could do it on a laptop—you don’t have to be in an editing suite to make it all work. The on-the-go convenience is pretty amazing. Even from my point of view, sometimes I’m on-set and need to talk to the team back in the office.”

Whether it’s across town or across the globe, cineSync helps Mr. X deliver standout VFX work to some of the biggest films and television series on the planet, enabling communication and collaboration no matter where all of the parties are. It’s a critical part of their pipeline.

“Oh, for sure,” says Robinson. “I don’t know how we would do this without cineSync.”