VFX from a Tropical Paradise
September 7, 2015

VFX from a Tropical Paradise

Technology has changed the world of post-production, not just in terms of the work produced, but in the way that work is approached.

The proliferation of high-speed internet; the continuous move towards a cloud-based workflow; and new tools like Skype and cineSync have allowed post-production teams to spread out, often working countries and even continents apart on the very same projects. Technology has seen the post-production world expand and yet grow tighter and more interconnected all at once.

It’s also allowed very unique vendors like capital T to set up shop – vendors that simply couldn’t exist in years gone by. 

capital T is a new kind of studio, and one we’re seeing proliferate in the early part of the new millennium. It’s comprised not of whole departments, supervisors and runners, but of just two employees – the husband and wife team of Lindsay and Jamie Hallett. And they’re not based in any of the VFX capitals of the world – their outpost lies nearly 4,000 miles west of California, resting on the idyllic shores of Maui, the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands.

capital T is living proof that successful VFX doesn’t have to come from darkened rooms, but can also be made in the fresh, tropical climes of an island paradise. This small studio in such a remote Pacific location is still equipped to deliver work on Hollywood’s most prominent shows, from Ant-Man and Captain America: The Winter Soldier to Insurgent and American Sniper .

The Aloha State

Between them, Lindsay and Jamie Hallett have built up a considerably impressive CV spanning two decades. As VFX producer and supervisor respectively, the pair have worked at such prestigious studios as Sony Pictures Imageworks, Scanline FX and Luma Pictures, and on projects ranging from Prometheus to X-Men: First Class. It was in the spring of 2012 that the pair realized their dream of starting a new company in tropical surroundings – capital T was born on the island of Maui.

“Why Maui? We could sum that up by sending you a photograph,” laughs Lindsay, known to friends and clients alike as Linzo. “Jamie was originally from Canada and I was born and raised in LA. We both loved those places and had a lot of amazing professional and personal experiences there, but when we started traveling to Maui together, we determined that if it was possible to do what we love from here, why wouldn’t we? We talked to the clients we had had for many years, and they said they’d still give us the work if we went. We rolled the dice and headed off into the Mauian sunset!”

capital T has made 2D workflows its specialization, offering compositing, extensions and more, on some of the world’s biggest and most venerable movie franchises. “We’re set up like a miniature large facility,” says Jamie of the studio. “I mean that in the sense that we have a server room with a render farm, a screening room and tools that were written for a pipeline, so all of our delivery specs are automated. We really spend a lot of time and effort making sure the studio runs like a large company, despite being micro in relative terms.”

Communication is also key to maintaining this large studio business model, and that’s where cineSync comes into play – a vital addition to the workflow of a studio that lies so far from the VFX hotbed of North America.

“capital T was made possible by cineSync, for sure,” says Linzo of the software. “If we didn’t have the ability to present the shots we have in this fashion, I’m certain that we wouldn’t have the opportunities that we currently have out here. cineSync is a big part of that. People today tend to be working at different times and at different places – that’s they way of the world these days. But cineSync makes everybody seem like everyone’s collaborating together, at the same time and in the same place.”

Before cineSync, the only options for video review came in the form of conference calls or annotated PDFs - or failing that, face-to-face meetings. But of course, considering their geographical location, that simply isn’t an option for capital T. “Even if we stayed in the US, we’d still be working with clients in London, Vancouver and even Singapore,” says Linzo. “That’s why we adopted cineSync in 2012 for our work on Iron Man 3. We’d both used it at other companies previously for many years on many different films, so we knew it was a tool we’d want in place right away. 

“We now use it on pretty much every film we do,” she continues. “It’s most clients’ preferred way of working, and that’s because it’s interactive: you can actually see what they’re talking about instead of doing a phone call, then getting off the phone and taking your very best, hopefully educated guess about what it was they were referring to. It cuts out all of that confusion – you gain a much more clear understanding of shot requirements and notes through visuals. We need that, especially when working with the time differences that are part and parcel with working in such a remote location.”

capital T main office

Diverging from the norm

Linzo and Jamie are no stranger to working on big-name franchises – with Marvel alone they have completed work on Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Last year the team was brought on to complete work on another multi-part franchise – Insurgent from The Divergent Series

The Divergent Series tells the story of Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), the eponymous ‘Divergent’, who uncovers a sinister conspiracy and incites an uprising in a strange alternate future. In the second film both her and Four (Theo James) are on the run from the evil Erudite forces, who will do anything to stop them from discovering the truth. It’s a visual effects extravaganza, featuring panoramic sci-fi environments, crumbling urban cityscapes and action sequences on par with the best Hollywood has to offer. It was up to Capital T to ensure that those ground-shaking set pieces could be sold to the viewers at home with the utmost sense of realism.

“We brought our 2D experience to the fore on a number of different sequences,” says Jamie. “We did around 40-50 shots overall, which included challenging long shots and camera moves. There was a lot of wire removal requires, such as in one sequence where Tris runs up a building, and another where she’s floating in zero-g. We also did a lot of split screens, green screen replacements, clothing fixes and heavy paint and keying work. It had the whole gamut of 2D work, really.

“With so much paint work being involved, it was nice to go into those shots and annotate them with cineSync,” continues Jamie. “If the client wanted to clean up a little wrinkle here or there on the cloth, the visual representation of the feedback and ability to nail the small details with cineSync really helped. 

“If you’re just talking, and the client is describing a certain area that they want to do some work on, depending on the shot, it could be anywhere! For instance, if you’re looking at a forest, how can you know exactly which branch or collection of leaves the client is referring to? It’s nice to have a supervisor go in with the annotated notes and circle an area – it helps narrow down the specifics, even if the image is something complex. If you’re doing a key, for example, and there’s a tiny edge that they want you to fix up but it’s hard to see, they can go right in there, highlight it and say, ‘I think there’s a bit of noise here’ or ‘can you try and get some more detail right there on this leaf.’ It stops you from making mistakes and just wasting time for everyone involved.”

In the case of Insurgent, wardrobe fixes were a big point of focus. “In one sequence where Shailene Woodley was hanging, she had four really big, gnarly wires under her clothes, and you could still see them pulling on the fabric even after the wires had been removed,” says Jamie. “She had four connection points, was wearing black and rotating – we needed to know exactly where they needed us to fix that. So, having them be able to go right in on the exact frame and highlight the exact areas they needed us to fix saved us a lot of time and iterations. It made everything much easier, and we didn’t have to be physically in the same room to do it.”


From Insurgent

Bridging oceans

For any studio, this kind of in-depth, accurate feedback is incredibly helpful, but that goes double in the case of a company like capital T – a studio located on a tiny island far flung from the shorelines of North America. This isn’t an entire team of 40+ artists collaborating across desks – it’s one producer and one supervisor working across expanses of ocean. Tools like cineSync are key to keeping such businesses afloat in a constantly diversifying and expanding market.

“cineSync is just such a useful and intuitive tool: it’s so easy to set up sessions – you just set up and off you go,” says Linzo. “That’s helpful when you need to work across the globe with supervisors, coordinators and producers. Even in a last minute situation, when it’s the 11th hour and something needs to be signed off immediately, we’re able to quickly and easily get the updates we need, even with that vast strip of the Pacific standing in the way. cineSync’s open and collaborative nature is key to the process.”

Whether you’re working on ten shots two blocks apart, or working on a 100 shot project across half the globe, cineSync has the power to keep everyone in complete synchronisation. “cineSync really does make remote production a viable proposition, even when you’re working in a location as remote and unique as Maui,” concludes Jamie. “We wouldn’t be able to do this if we were working in a vacuum. Working collaboratively is key, and we’re lucky cineSync is out there to address our needs and allow us to both live and work the way we choose.”