Company The Fridge
In many ways, this is still the case. Yet the VFX industry is today also populated by an assortment of smaller, boutique agencies, each with their own unique pipelines, with some departments scattered all over the globe. Visual effects remain big and beautiful, but many of the teams that create them have become small and specialist.
This is partly because new tools like ftrack have enabled blockbuster workflows with a much smaller headcount; meaning studios like The Fridge can thrive.
The Fridge, based in Brussels, is a leading post-production company specializing in highly polished visual effects, motion graphics, and 2D/3D animation across commercials, film and TV. Although the studio isn’t quite a boutique, neither is it a huge studio: the team is just the right size to comfortably deliver large-scale projects in feature film, yet small and flexible enough to maintain a lively environment capable of generating fresh, exciting ideas.
Thanks to this, The Fridge has attracted an assortment of renowned brands including Mercedes, Orange, and Gucci as clients, to name but a few.
Online Editor and Technical Supervisor, The Fridge
“ftrack gives us the efficiency to maximize our output and meet the demands of large projects.”
Online Editor and Technical Supervisor Niels Christensen has been at The Fridge for eight years, just shy of the company’s conception. In that time, he has seen how the company and the team has grown.
“Nine years ago, our studio was our managing director Jan’s first floor apartment. Literally. It started out with a couple of rooms which we used for editing, but with more and more projects coming in we had to buy extra computers and hire freelance artists. It became a little too cramped for us in those two rooms. So, with all the space being taken up by our work, Jan had to find somewhere else to live…”
But soon Jan’s former apartment, even functioning now as a dedicated studio, seemed to be shrinking. The Fridge’s reputation drew in more clients, more projects and an ever-increasing workload that expanded into other fields of post-production, beyond just editing. To cope with the influx, more real estate was required.
“We started getting a lot of color grading jobs. So, we thought ‘why not set up a space dedicated to color grading?’” explains Christensen. “We bought the Ground Floor of the building, where we set up a color grading theatre and an online presentation room for our clients. It was a huge change from how we started out…”
Navigating the labyrinth with ftrack
As The Fridge’s clientele and workforce grew, the studio took on larger and more complicated jobs. Eager to meet this challenge, but aware of the overwhelming nature of large-scale projects, the team sought out a means by which they could increase their productivity and efficiency. ftrack was their production tracking tool of choice – and it arrived just in the nick of time.
ftrack was incorporated into the studio’s workflow around the time The Fridge started work on VFX-heavy children’s film Labyrinthus. Comprising some 500 VFX shots, it was to be The Fridge’s biggest VFX challenge to date.
“We had worked on short films and documentaries in the past, but nothing as big as this,” says Christensen. “We knew that it was not going to be a simple transition.” To pull off a project of this scale, it was vital that The Fridge team ran as efficiently as possible.
“ftrack was first spotted by our senior compositor Herman at IBC in Amsterdam, where we saw this great demo at The Foundry’s booth showcasing the integration of HIERO with ftrack. With Labyrinthus in mind, the demo got us pumped! Suddenly, we were contemplating all these possibilities that could open to us if we were to implement ftrack into our workflow.
“After IBC, we started talking with The Foundry and ftrack. We got some demos and set up our workflows in ftrack to see how it might be able to help us with a project like Labyrinthus.”
Christensen points out that ftrack’s support throughout the setup phase was helpful and fast: “The chat tool on the ftrack website is really efficient if you have a small problem or quick question. It wasn’t long before we were up and running and ready to take on Labyrinthus!”
The Fridge delivered on all fronts with Labyrinthus, the project proving to be a huge success. “When we were finished we knew that ftrack, and its integration with HIERO, was fundamental to our success,” Christensen enthuses.
Labyrinthus marked the beginning of a new stage for The Fridge, with ftrack now playing a key role in the studio’s success…
Where are they now?
Following Labyrinthus, The Fridge further expanded its work into feature films and entered into a structural collaboration with ACE image factory, combining forces in the Belgian post-production landscape. It wasn’t long before the studio was rendering VFX on its next feature; CUB, by Belgian director Jonas Govaerts and A Quiet Passion by British director Terence Davies.
More recently, The Fridge and ACE have finished work on the film adaptation of Robbi, Tobbi und das Fliewatüüt, a popular German children’s story. This project saw the team collaborate with three other studios.
“Thanks to ftrack keeping an overview on what all the studios were doing, it was a painless experience,” says Christensen. “Furthermore, for the post-production supervisor to have a real-time update of the operator hours, to know what stage each shot was in, and to be able to easily relay that information back to the producer was vital. When it comes to that functionality, ftrack is indispensable.”
Although the other studios involved in the project were not familiar with ftrack, this caused no issues: “The feedback that we received regarding ftrack was that it was easy to pick up,” says Christensen.
“People would comment on UI and the intuitive nature of the tools. This goes for our operators in-house and the freelancers that we work with, too; they all enjoy working with the software.
“Its integration capabilities are also fantastic,” he concludes. “Compared to other production tracking tools we’ve tried; nothing looks or feels as good as ftrack! The functionality does exactly what we need it to, but it also looks clear with great design, which makes a busy production that much simpler.”
Setting the scene
The Fridge is currently a year deep into work on an animation series for Belgian broadcaster Ketnet. The project, titled ZOOks, is a four-part miniseries that stands out due to its unique rotoscoping techniques.
The Fridge was tasked with creating 3D environments over which the rotoscoped animation sits. Due to the nature of rotoscopy, actors are filmed on a green screen and then a more suitable background can be edited in post-production. This presents a dilemma for the director: where to place each camera to best showcase the eventual, but currently invisible, environment.
In production for ZOOks, the creative team at SANCTA were able to block the scenes using SketchUp. “After the shoot, we analyzed the cameras and their positions, and integrated all that camera data into ftrack,” explains Christensen. “We then imported the SketchUp scenes and made some scripts to link real live camera data from ftrack with the cameras in the 3D environment.
“The big advantage in doing so is that now our 3D artists can work on the rotoscoped images, but also can use the SketchUp imports and create the scenes while knowing the exact position of the camera in a specific shot, which saves a lot of time!” he continues.
“In the past, we would have to judge the camera position in the scene by eye. Now we can just import the data from ftrack and the camera is right there. With some additional scripting, we convert it into a final layout camera and render out the scene.”
To the future
The Fridge continues to grow and hone its skills, taking on new challenges and finding innovative ways to tackle them. ftrack plays a big part in that: with it, the team can adapt to new sectors and work at optimum efficiency. Plus, custom development ensures that the software is constantly being adjusted, bring ftrack more line with the company’s needs.
“Because we’re a relatively small team it is imperative that we invest in tools which can bring us efficiency,” concludes Christensen. “ftrack was one of the main and most important tools that we have adopted as it gives us this efficiency, allowing us to maximize our output to meet the demands of large projects.”