Real by Fake’s modus operandi is clear-cut: the studio upgrades reality.

“We don’t create monsters, aliens, or other crazy things like that,” says the studio CG Supervisor Robert Rioux. “We create the kind of effects that no one even notices are there.”

Whether working on HBO’s Watchmen or films like Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot, Real by Fake’s goal is to make the studio’s work completely invisible. For example, on Apple TV+’s Morning Show, Real by Fake replaced entire New York backdrops for Los Angeles cityscapes and created expansive CG views for a high-rise Manhattan apartment, all without breaking the audience’s dramatic immersion.

Such work certainly keeps the Real by Fake team busy. Alongside television and feature film projects, the studio also works on commercials and music videos. “I usually work on up to six projects at the same time,” says Rioux. “There’s a lot of work to focus on, as well as preparing for and carrying out R&D for the next projects coming in. As such, we need to be thoroughly organized as a studio; ftrack Studio is pivotal in achieving this.”

Real by Fake transitioned to project management and production tracking in ftrack Studio when the assortment of tools it previously used to track projects met their limits. The change to ftrack Studio, according to Nathalie Lanthier, Project Manager, was transformational. “Moving to ftrack Studio was such a gamechanger for Real by Fake. Once we made the change, we could take on bigger shows and process more projects at the same time, all while saving the team a huge amount of work.”

Robert Rioux
CG Supervisor

Nathalie Lanthier
Project Manager

Company Real by Fake
Website realbyfake.com
Location Los Angeles, Montreal

Usability and interactive client review

ftrack Studio was not the first project management solution Real by Fake ever adopted. The team explored several solutions over the years but found none that addressed the studio’s need for simplicity, flexibility, and depth in equal measure. “Past solutions proved very limited; we were unable to see projects from start to end, with the whole workflow, pipeline, and journal of activity present,” says Lanthier. “However, with ftrack Studio, we got all of that and more. We can see every moving piece, asset, and task, whatever the size of the projects we take on.

“Furthermore, the manual input and admin side were so much more reduced with ftrack Studio compared to other solutions,” she continues. “For example, when choosing between ftrack Studio and ShotGrid, there was no comparison; ftrack Studio is so much more responsive and easier to work with, and the user interface is much more self-explanatory.”

Another big selling point for Real by Fake’s adoption of ftrack Studio was the ability to review shots with clients via interactive, synchronized review sessions. “Real-time media review made the client experience so much more fun and efficient,” says Lanthier. “Our most recent clients said that the synchronized review sessions in ftrack Studio made them feel much more a part of the team. Inviting them into a review session was so easy; everyone could jump into a session, watch shot progress in real-time, and then feed comments back into the ftrack Studio production plan. As a result, everyone on the creative team knew what the clients wanted from their next shot iteration, even if they weren’t on a call.”

The benefits of interactive media review were made all the more apparent when the Coronavirus pandemic hit. “We were right in the middle of finishing a big show for the Disney Channel when everything changed in the world,” says Lanthier. “Thankfully, we were able to make the switch to working from home within three days, which would not have been possible without media review and production tracking on the cloud with ftrack Studio— it was a life-saver.”

Letting artists be artists

Although ftrack Studio proved an easy-to-use platform out of the box, Real by Fake’s Senior Pipeline Technical Director, Daniel Di Donato, wanted to take things a step further. Di Donato dived into ftrack’s Python API to enhance ftrack Studio’s usability and remove all guesswork for artists when they fire up their Real by Fake project task list.

“Real by Fake artists have one button to press, and they’re ready to work,” explains Di Donato. “For example, let’s say a comp artist shows up in ftrack Studio and selects a shot they want to work on. ftrack Studio automatically bootstraps our Nuke plugin, brings in the frame ranges and looks for the plates that have been published, and brings them in in order. It puts the offsets, the time remaps, and initializes all of our output settings. All output codecs, color spaces, and image resolutions are decided based on the custom attributes that we select per project; however, they’re flexible enough to override on specific shots if need be. All of this information gets transmitted automatically to the artist without them having to think about it; they just press render when they’re done.”

And it’s not just Nuke: Real by Fake has also created an ftrack Studio integration with Blender, one of the studio’s core production tools. “It’s a regular ftrack Connect integration,” explains Rioux. “Artists pick the shots they want to work on in ftrack, which starts Blender. Next, they choose which version they want to work on—either an older version or a new one. ftrack Studio will create a version in Blender if necessary, along with the correct color space, camera image planes, and everything published from the initial shot creation.

“The result is that artists come in, and they’re just that: an artist. There’s no manual drag-drop, no questioning what version they’re working with, no redundancies. Our artists can just focus on making a beautiful shot.”

The benefits of automation

Di Donato and the team have added a wealth of functionality to ftrack Studio beyond the work achieved on integrations. For example, automating specific parts of the pipeline has helped Real by Fake increase project efficiency tenfold.

“There can be so much status flipping in a project, and when you’re relying on someone to manually update Excel documents and FileMaker databases to reflect changes, there will always be mistakes. Furthermore, it can be hard to find people who want to sit and calculate frames that have changed a hundred times on a sequence,” explains Di Donato. “However, with ftrack Studio’s automation, all that monotonous work is done for you; you don’t have to worry so much about human error.

“At Real by Fake, we’ve set ftrack Studio up to be highly event-driven, with automated status triggers,” he continues. “For example, we have the actual status of the shot in terms of bids or client status, but we also have an internal status for things like, ‘Where is the shot?’ ‘What are the bottlenecks preventing it from moving forward?’ ‘Where is the shot at in the production schedule?’ We track all of that, and it’s all updated based on version statuses, like, ‘Has the next version been delivered yet?’ ‘If so, what date was it delivered?’ ‘Did we receive all the plates, or did we receive only proxies and we’re waiting for media?’ All of this information gets automatically recalculated in ftrack Studio: if something is uploaded or updated, the knock-on effect begins, and everything gets triggered and triggered and triggered.

“This setup means we have a continual, totally up-to-date status of exactly where each shot is at in the pipeline: what’s work-in-progress, what needs revisions—everything.”

Moving to ftrack Studio was a gamechanger for Real by Fake. We could take on bigger shows and process more projects, all while saving the team a huge amount of work.

Nathalie LanthierProject Manager

Real by Fake’s usage of ftrack Studio has also made artist onboarding and training a much simpler process. “Before, everybody was saving stuff all over the place, with crazy filenames like version5.final.final.reveal.final,” says Rioux. “Thankfully, ftrack Studio solved that messy problem by doing the file naming for us. You just publish a shot and ftrack Studio saves everything automatically; all the filenames and assets are in the right place and kept up to date.

“Thanks to these updates, we don’t need to spend an entire day of training to get somebody working on a project,” he continues. “Our artists just sit down, look at their task list and get going. When they publish work, ftrack automatically makes the thumbnails for them, creates the right folders, and puts the shots in the right place. That’s a dream for artists who just want to get on with creating great work.”

Di Donato calculates that, since adopting this new ftrack Studio functionality, production efficiency on shots at Real by Fake has increased tenfold: “Since integrating automation through ftrack Studio, we are able to pull hundreds of shots per day and get to work immediately.”

Managing artist time

And the customization doesn’t stop there. Di Donato and team have also created a custom ftrack Studio timeline that uses React-based plugins and widgets to add functionality to the calendar.

“We’ve created a mix of the horizontal calendar, plus ftrack Studio’s forecast tools, all in one view,” says Di Donato. “The forecast summary sits on the top and you can see all of your events at the bottom and plan your projects that way. If you create an event, a dialogue pops up asking when you want to book that activity and highlighting whether or not you have the time to fit it in. For example, you might know a task will take 60 days. The calendar will automatically calculate how long it will take once any vacations or any kind of leave have been factored, and then distribute the work over a certain period. It’s awesome!”

Real by Fake has also built an automatic time logger to keep track of artists’ hours, which starts logging time as soon as an artist opens their shot. “Using that tool, we know which shots are taking longer than others; we can see the bid hours versus the work hours and see which ones are in the red,” says Lanthier. “As a point of management, ftrack Studio makes things so much easier. I can track everything that’s going on in-house within minutes.”

Working together

Out of the box, ftrack Studio presented just the platform Real by Fake needed to elevate its production efficiency to the next level. However, the customization added on top served to take things through the roof.

“The ftrack team has been so supportive throughout the whole process,” says Marc Côté, owner of Real by Fake. “We’ve worked alongside ftrack as we implemented the software at Real by Fake, and it’s been such an amazing experience. We can’t speak highly enough of the team. The difference between pre-ftrack and post-ftrack at Real by Fake has been night and day.”

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