Monday, 30 April 2018

Freefolk on creating VFX from commercials to film

Freefolk on creating VFX from commercials to film

Since 2003 Freefolk has been creating high-end post production for commercials, TV and film. Working on projects including the BAFTA nominated Emerald City, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and more recently Paramount’s The Alienists, Freefolk are at the top of their game. 

We caught up with Paul Wright, CTO at Freefolk, to discuss the studio’s history, what goes into creating great visuals, and what’s next for the team.

Escape Technology: How did Freefolk start?

Paul Wright: As most brilliant lightning bolt moments do: in the pub! Friends and founders Jason Watts and Justine White started [what was then] Finish from a single-room office on Poland Street with a Flame. 15 years later it’s grown into Freefolk - a multi-award winning, highly respected VFX studio. 

How did Finish evolve into Freefolk?

The rebrand came about with our opening of the New York studio in the autumn of 2016. The opportunity to establish a reimagining of our company arose as we both moved into the US market and expanded our London studio into longform VFX.

The Alienist is your latest major VFX project, what was it like doing post production for the show?

Being involved on the Alienist was a real honour. Many of the people working on this show from production down were big fans of the book and have put their heart and soul into the project. This did, of course, mean that there was lots of pressure to make the VFX look as good as it could possibly be and sometimes with less time that we’d have liked. But our team really rose to the challenge and we got some great feedback from the studio. So we’re very happy with the results. 

We’ve worked on just over 90 shots ranging from multi-layered, CGI heavy hero scenes to sitting an eyelash barely a pixel in width on a finger. Much of the work has been recreating the New York of 1896. We've built Washington Square, Stuyvesant Square, Greenpoint docks, and extended many of the impressive practical sets constructed out in Budapest. By far the largest build for the 3D team was The Bowery, a full environment with an overhead railtrack and down at heel establishments. 

the alienist freefolk harbour cgplate 01 copy

Do you find that post production for TV and advertising are similar or completely different?

They’re similar in that we need to bring the same level of craft and artistry to both. With TV you can find yourself with more time, which allows you to try out different approaches. On the Smythson’s special commercial project we created a CG tiger, elephant, and giraffe in a crazy amount of time. It just means the team needs to lock things down a little faster.

What’s your typical project lifecycle? 

For commercials it can range from anything to a couple of days for a grade to a few months with extensive VFX. Long-form work has a completely different workflow where specific shots or sequences are assigned per episode, again varying from job to job, but typically lasting six to eight months or longer still. 

What are the benefits of using Arnold for your rendering?

We’ve been using Arnold for over six years. It’s a physically-based renderer, which is perfect for the type of photoreal work we create. It’s intuitive, simple to understand, and does a great job of hiding the complexity under the hood, which makes it easy for our artists to create breathtaking CG. Because of the physically accurate nature of the renders, it allows some less technical artists to have a creative freedom while knowing they aren’t breaking the rules.

Why do you use a solutions integrator like Escape Technology?

We've worked with Escape for over 10 years now. They really understand the VFX sector, which has requirements unlike most other sectors. They've been able to make key suggestions and offer great advice from workstations and monitors to high-performance real-time storage and cloud rendering. A genuine one-stop shop.

the alienist freefolk harbourfinal 01 copy

Could you tell us more about your new internship scheme?

Futurefolk is our initiative to encourage and nurture the next generation of VFX talent, starting with a competition open to VFX students at all levels to win two paid month-long internships at Freefolk this summer. 

By way of responding to the gender imbalance in VFX creative roles we’re looking to encourage greater uptake of VFX by women. So we’llbe awarding one of the two places to a female entrant. Our mission for the inaugural internship competition, launched on International Women’s Day, aims to encourage gender equality in VFX so, one of the two places will be awarded to a female intern. 

What’s next for Freefolk?

Our focus now is building up our Film & TV VFX department and strengthening our established foothold in the US with Freefolk New York. We’re also increasing our involvement in partizan projects for the future of our industry, starting with our own initiative Futurefolk, we hope to pave the way for equality in VFX.

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Freefolk continue to work on some of the most demanding visual effects, and we can’t wait to see their future projects. To learn more about how Escape Technology can help your studio, contact us below.