The Bournemouth-based Outpost VFX reveals why location doesn’t matter – it’s the talent and tools that really make up a studio.
Search for the UK’s leading VFX studios on Google Maps. You’ll likely find your pointer launched into the hustle and bustle of Wardour Street, Great Marlborough Street, and the rabbit warren of alleys and back streets that form the core of London’s Soho VFX hub.
Zoom out, past Old Street’s trendy tech roundabout, past the far-flung outskirts of Zone 6, past Guildford and 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. The Bournemouth-based thalassophiles have credits on major tentpole releases, 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.”
Setups like Outpost are possible today thanks to technology. We’re now 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.
One such tool is Cospective’s cineSync, which Outpost uses in conjunction with Wacom’s pen tablets, to facilitate, augment, and clarify its interactions with creative partners around the world.
We do like to be beside the seaside
Hixson joined Outpost two years after leaving the Soho arm of MPC, where he had grown reliant on cineSync for client review. Taking his experience to the south coast, Hixson was quick to implement the software at Outpost, enabling his team to collaborate across the Atlantic with Jason Bourne VFX supervisor Charlie Noble.
Previously, the team shared iterations on work via a file transfer solution. As fast as it was, there remained a painful disconnect caused by the asynchronous nature of the feedback loop.
“One of the limitations was the delay in receiving feedback, and the potential for notes to be lost in translation,” says Hixson. “It wasn’t a truly collaborative solution.”
Since incorporating cineSync into the Outpost workflow the software has been used on almost every project – and almost every single day. “We find ourselves in cineSync sessions on nearly every job that comes into the studio. cineSync is vital in receiving that real-time feedback from anywhere in the world,” says Hixson.
“Anytime you can speak to someone directly, look at the same picture, and draw or highlight certain areas to improve on, it’s a massive advantage,” he continues. “You can dial into a shot and creatively collaborate even if you’re on the other side of the globe – or just a few short hours outside of London. You simply don’t get that level of creative involvement from an email.”
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, boot up cineSync, and grab a Wacom tablet at any time for fast and clear creative discussion.
The Wacom plays an incredibly important role in this process. Using a pen and tablet, cineSync users 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. It is of course also possible to perform these actions via a mouse or trackpad, but Outpost VFX opts for the flexibility proffered by Wacom. What better way for artists to communicate than with a pen, after all.
“Using a Wacom in our cineSync sessions reinforces the bridge we’re building over the physical gap between ourselves and clients,” says Hixton. “We can actually draw ideas, not attempt to give them form in an email. It’s a far more efficient and articulate way of sharing knowledge.”
Outpost uses Wacom Intuos Pro tablets throughout the studio and across disciplines, while concept artists use the 27″ Cintiq touchscreen tablet for illustrations. Both make for a flexible, intuitive review session, with the ultra-sensitive Wacom tablets providing a tactile texture to feedback. 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.
“I couldn’t imagine a situation where we wouldn’t need Wacom tech in our cineSync calls,” says Hixson. “You’re able to draw your ideas and demonstrate where you’re planning to take a shot. 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.
“Wacom and cineSync together offer a far more haptic experience and more flexibility in note-taking. It’s an advanced creative process.”
Tools and talent
Thanks to the synchronicity of cineSync and Wacom – and the synchronicity this breeds between studio and client – 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.
“cineSync, especially in conjunction with a Wacom tablet, is a vital part of our workflow. I can’t see a world in which we could do what we do without them both,” says Hixson.
“cineSync empowers 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, and cineSync is part and parcel of the process.”
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, and Outpost’s star continues to rise.
“I’m extremely proud of every project we do at Outpost,” concludes Hixson. “Each one is another step up a long ladder to get to where we want to be – which is to be known as one of the best, most creative VFX companies in the world. With tools like cineSync and Wacom on our side, we know we can get there.”