Flight Crew

Russian studio CGF saves the day with cineSync

The Moscow-based CGF has an impressive history, growing from a small studio nestled in the Russian capital to one of the country’s largest post-production facilities.

Throughout this journey the studio has developed a reputation for high-energy action blockbusters, delivering complex VFX for such projects as Ben-Hur, Chronicle and Sherlock Holmes. The studio has also worked closely with Russian director Ilya Naishuller on high velocity projects like Hardcore Henry and The Weeknd’s False Alarm music video.

So, when the 2016 Russian disaster film Flight Crew needed a studio to send a plane into volcanic eruptions – not least while performing complex midair maneuvers – CGF was the outfit of choice…

Taking flight

Founded in 2004, CGF was originally a “2D boutique studio”, according to VFX supervisor Sergei Nevshupov. However, a series of big wins prompted a huge expansion in its capabilities and resources, from Day Watch to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Apollo 18.

In fact, the studio is now one of the largest in the Russian Federation: CGF has worked on 42 motion pictures and nearly 20 commercials for clients as far afield as Renault, Panasonic and Samsung. It’s grown physically too, with four offices across the Russian Federation, the United States and Ukraine.


“CGF grew and transformed very quickly,” says Nevshupov. “We expanded from a small 2D specialist to a company capable of delivering complex character and full-CG environment effects.

“We work with our clients across the full production cycle ­–­ from developing art solutions at the pre-production stage, creating premises and conducting on-set supervision for VFX shots, right through to post-production and color grading. Collaboration plays an important part in all of that, which is why we use cineSync.”

Flying solo

Flight Crew posed a particular challenge to the team at CGF. Filmed on a $10 million budget with governmental grants from the Cinema Foundation of Russia, Flight Crew is loosely based on 1979’s Air Crew, the first catastrophe movie to be shot in the then-USSR.

The film follows talented but troubled pilot Alexey Guchshin (Danila Kozlovsky) who is taken under the wing of experienced crew commander Leonid Zinchenko (Vladimir Mashkov). However, when a volcanic disaster strikes a small island in Southeast Asia, the men have to decide whether or not to risk their careers – and their lives – to save its population.

Flight Crew is a VFX heavy film, which can be a challenge in and of itself. In this case, however, CGF was the sole post-production house working across the entire project. The company was responsible for all VFX shots, some stereo shots, and the stereo grading across the entire runtime.

“There were about 1,500 shots in the movie, crossing the full spectrum of VFX from simple wire or marker removal shots to some 150 very complex, full CG environments,” says Nevshupov. “There was also lots of fire, explosions, lava effects and debris simulations.”

The lava itself posed the most complexity to the crew. In one scene, two minivans are caught in a lava flow from the erupting volcano, the deadly fluid slowly forming around the vehicles.

“We had to control and choreograph the lava motion shot by shot,” recalls Nevshupov. “It had to be visually similar to real lava, but carry more fire on the surface. Also we had very wide shots and very close-up shots, which required completely different simulations but also had to match visually – cineSync sessions played a big part in ensuring we were getting the details just right.”

In fact, as the CGF crew was coordinating work between Moscow, Europe and the farthest reaches of the Russian Federation, a seamless real-time communication solution was absolutely vital…

East-West communication

CGF has used cineSync since 2013, when it opened an office in LA to relay its work between its primary production hubs and Hollywood clients. The software proved so successful that CGF expanded it to stand as the core solution in its collaborative workflows: “We now use cineSync constantly as the go-to tool for working with clients, freelancers, and even to watch dailies,” says Nevshupov.
For Flight Crew, the distance between key players in the production would have posed a significant problem: while most of the artists were in CGF’s Moscow headquarters, one of the VFX supervisors responsible for the lava sequence was based in Vladivostok.

To put the gulf between the two cities in context, that’s around 6,500 kilometres, or roughly the distance from London to New York. Furthermore, the film’s director, Nikolai Lebedev, was in Spain at the time.

For many productions, overcoming these obstacles would have been problematic to say the least, not to mention expensive. But it wasn’t a problem with cineSync. Citing its “comfort and ease of use”, Nevshupov says the team was able to navigate the geographical differences without any issues.

“Thanks to cineSync we were able to connect to the artists in the Moscow office, discuss the results, and direct the next steps of the work,” he says. “We’re consistently impressed with the set of features within cineSync and use it exclusively to meet our communication challenges.

CGF also uses production tracking and asset management system Shotgun, which integrates deeply with the cineSync toolset. “With Shotgun we can break large tasks into smaller ones and delegate the various artists involved in each sequence,” says Nevshupov. “With cineSync, we can take that process one step further: we can assemble different versions of a shot and easily compare them, rate and comment.

“We can do this when the director is on one side of the world and the visual effects artists on the other,” he continues. “It’s complete remote management of a sequence, which is invaluable in the increasingly global production landscape.”

With these solutions available, CGF is positioned for further growth beyond its home headquarters of Moscow, contributing to visual effects projects wherever they may be taking place across the globe.

“We couldn’t have done the work we’ve been able to over the past years without cineSync,” concludes Nevshupov. “Flight Crew has reinforced how important it is to our business; it’s not just a powerful tool – it’s one of the key cogs in our machine.”