Protecting THE ASSETS OF LEGENDARY PRACTICAL FX HOUSE - LEGACY EFFECTS
-You'll find a text transcript of this podcast at the end of the blog post -
Oscar nominated, Emmy winning FX studio, Legacy Effects is one of the largest practical visual effects houses in North America specializing in practical makeups, animatronics, specialty suits, conceptual design, 3d printing, and rapid prototyping for films and television shows. Legacy Effects has brought to the screen the most iconic characters in history from E.T to “baby Yoda” from Mandalorian and many others.
On this episode IT Manager David Castinez and Studio Manager Damon Weathers discuss Legacy Effects iconic history and projects and how Atempo Tina has been a critical part of their infrastructure and data management.
David Castinez on Atempo Tina's critical role at Legacy Effects
“We engaged with Atempo around the time of our founding in 2008 because we had the need for a solution that would address a variety of different scenarios like disaster recovery and ransomware. Thanks to Atempo’s Time Navigator, Tina product we have a robust backup infrastructure to ensure that if we have an incident, we can recover from it. The software has been in place and our backup routines have been relatively straightforward. We have a focus on-prem backups, we back up to a tape library. So we're able to maintain an air gap between our datasets and that's something that Time Navigator has been utilized for a longtime. For us, it’s been a very stable and very, very much concrete part of our infrastructure. "
Damon Weathers on a Day-in-the-life of Legacy Effects
"We had built a rapport with Guillermo Del Toro when we worked with him on PACIFIC RIM. He came to us to discuss a different project, SHAPE OF WATER. And I happened to be in the room, which was kind of cool. The way he pitches the project is, 'I've got this small black and white indie film. Think of it as a student film.' If anyone would have told us that film would the most consequential film of his career, we would have said you were crazy. But that's just another typical day here at Legacy Effects."
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- Data Tsunami Ep 2 - Podcast text transcript -
Legacy Effects, Customer Testimonial Interview
Oscar nominated, Emmy winning FX studio, Legacy Effects is one of the largest practical visual effects houses in North America specializing in practical makeups, animatronics, specialty suits, conceptual design, 3d printing, and rapid prototyping for films and television shows. Legacy Effects has brought to the screen the most iconic characters in history from E.T to “baby Yoda” from Mandalorian and many others in between.
David Castinez, IT Manager>
I'm the IT Administrator for Legacy Effects. I like to think of myself as a man who wears many hats. I am the sole IT professional on the team so as such a lot of the technology challenges and infrastructure maintenance falls on me. My responsibilities run the gamut from managing our email systems to our network systems and cloud-based services. Some days can be quite challenging when you're the only help desk person, but you’re also knee deep in trying to make some changes to your backup scheduling or balancing some additional projects. My role here is to make it all run smoothly without anyone being disrupted or knowing it’s a challenge. And I’m happy to do it.
Damon Weathers, Studio Manager>
As Studio Coordinator and Studio Manager I deal with the day to day on all the projects. I'm sort of the glue between all the departments. I deal with the client, whether it's a producer, it's an actor to director, to creative and executives as first point of contact on the Legacy Effects side. And I funnel everything down to the rest of the departments, the art leads, department heads, as well as the owners of the company--I work in lockstep with the owners and in conjunction with them, without the decision-making responsibilities, which is kind of cool.
Legacy Effects History
We're one of the largest practical visual effects houses in North America. We specialize in specialty percentage, (practical) makeups, animatronic, specialty suits, conceptual design, 3d printing, and rapid prototyping, amongst several other facets of what we provide for specific projects and, films and television shows, everything from, you know, the guardians of the galaxy and shape of water to the Mandalorian, baby Yoda and real steel and several other things in between.
The history with the studio, we have four owners, John Rosen Grant, Alan Scott, Lindsay McGall, and Shane Mehan. I got to give them a shout out. They were supervisors for Stan Winston at Stan Winston studios. John and Shane having been with him since THE TERMINATOR ( John a Little bit earlier), coming on during ALIENS, Alan coming on during TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, so they were with Stan you for 25+ years. Unfortunately due to his untimely passing, the studio had to close down and you've got 150 artists and three large features at the time that weren't completed. They were working on TERMINATOR: SALVATION, AVATAR and a couple other small things.
So, they opened up Legacy and everything continued here. A lot of that artistic integrity that we like to keep, no matter what the project is, is the same methodology and the same kind of secret sauce that we use here. A lot of that DNA from that studio is here—just a little bit more on the forefront of technology. We try to stay ahead of the game. We were utilizing 3d printing 10 years before anybody else in the city was, taking it from aerospace, dentistry and other industries.
A Day in the Life of Legacy Effects
It could be something as simple as a studio head reaching out as far as what a day-to-day would be. They may want guidance on something or how to achieve something within their script and their film or their television show or their commercial. In other instances, SHAPE OF WATER is probably a good example, we had built a rapport with Guillermo Del Toro when we worked with him on PACIFIC RIM. So naturally he was here speaking about a different project, and he brings up SHAPE OF WATER to Shane and Lindsay. And I happened to be in the room, which was kind of cool. It was really just a fly on the wall. And the way he pitches the project is, “I've got this small black and white indie film. Think of it as a student film.” If anyone would have told us that film would the most consequential film of his career, we would have said you were crazy. But that’s just another typical day in the life at Legacy Effects.
There are so many relationships we have had since Stan Winton Studio within the different production teams which makes it seamless in many cases to take on a project. For example, with The Mandalorian, we already had relationships with a lot of the producers, a lot of the production designers, a lot of the VFX people at ILM, and John Favreau of course. So, when they came to us and said they want to do something and ask if they can pull it off, we were able to be completely honest with them. We sat down and went over everything beat by beat. We don’t tell anyone we can deliver everything 100% practical, if that’s what they’re asking for. We understand that that's not entirely possible. So, we tell them where they are going to have a CG double or if they are going to have heavy augmentation in there. And because we are completely transparent in the beginning, they save a lot of money on the back end. And, that’s something that we're proud of. We don't over promise. We will try to, of course, innovating every time we can. And I feel like we have been doing that the last decade.
The Solution: Atempo Tina
We engaged with Atempo around the time of our founding in 2008 because we had the need for a solution that would address a variety of different scenarios like disaster recovery and ransomware. Thanks to Atempo’s Time Navigator, Tina product we have a robust backup infrastructure to ensure that if we have an incident, we can recover from it. The software has been in place and our backup routines have been relatively straightforward. We have a focus on-prem backups, we back up to a tape library. So we're able to maintain an air gap between our datasets and that's something that Time Navigator has been utilized for a longtime. For us, it’s been a very stable and very, very much concrete part of our infrastructure. When I stepped in, as many IT administrators will do, I reviewed where things we're at infrastructure-wise and so I could get everything up to speed. We have been in lock step with Atempo support to make sure that as we move forward with system upgrades, Tina gets carried along just as it always has.
Atempo’s Top-Notch Support
Regarding getting our infrastructure up to speed; some of the challenges that a lot of IT administrators can face in any organization is lack of documentation from the prior IT Administrator. So, while we've had some great systems deployed, how we implement them is not necessarily straightforward. And this is where I feel that Atempo support has gone above and beyond. Anytime I've interacted with support they've had an answer even if they needed a little bit of time to review our particular environment and to get us to where we needed to be, to make sure that our backups were consistent. We were able to make adjustments, appropriately on our backup windows. And every step of the way Atempo support has been there. It’s been critical for us.
We have a wide variety of different technology vendors that we rely on (in addition to our backup infrastructure) and I would say out of all the vendors that we have that we work with on a regular basis, Atempo support has been top-notch. I want to highlight the fact that when we work with a vendor, be it backup or email or whatever services we're using, we want a partnership. We want to be able to interact with a vendor in a way that we don't feel like we're just having to go through “tier one support”, maybe with someone who doesn't understand exactly what we're asking or what our needs are. We've never felt that way with Atempo. Each time we interact with support, they know our environment, they look at our caseload they can pinpoint it, or at the very least, they're looking carefully at our logs. Not many support professionals or support organizations do that. In my opinion, maybe I'm a little biased because I've done support for a large segment of, of my career, but it's a rarity these days and it's something that I certainly appreciate
Legacy Effects Data Workflow
Our common or main workflows involve multiple teams working on the same set of files at once: a set of designers, a video production team doing behind the scenes work, or the daily captures, different departments viewing a project. We have a lot of people making changes to our files infrastructure so making sure that we have timely backups of that data is critical. If something does go wrong, we need to be able to clearly tell what happened. Atempo Tina has a logging feature that does just that. For example, the log will tell us that we lost connectivity to the network. With detailed information telling us exactly what happened, I am able to dive in immediately and take corrective action and then simply resume the job.
Outside of those rare instances where we have had to work with support the system just works. Tina does what it's supposed to do when it's supposed to do it. And that's truly nice.
Daily we are dealing mainly with our users and our file server. We are very sensitive to the needs of our clients and ensuring that we maintain our non-disclosure agreements and ensure we have a secure environment. Part of that is making sure that much of the content we're dealing with (or exclusively for certain clients) is on-prem utilizing on-prem file server. This is something that Atempo Tina fits into nicely. Some other backup vendors tend to try to establish service billing based on how large your datasets are. Atempo’s never done that to us.
Maintaining our file server, as it is, and ensuring that we have enough room to grow, and that growth is covered without being unnecessarily billed is a big priority. With Atempo we’re covered and from our perspective, that is a breath of fresh air.
Atempo Kept Things Working During the Pandemic
Productions are coming back and they're not just easing back in. It was a complete storm. During the shutdown, we were getting along. We, had, at least for us, a lot of projects that were starting then suddenly they stopped and then back on and back and forth and back and forth. We reopened in June. We've actually had no issues since then. All our protocols and procedures have been in place. Everybody's been following them. We're in our own little bubble, knock on wood, but everything has gone well. And we haven't been back and forth from set with our crew. We've got several shows that we're starting up in June through September that we're maybe going to start here, maybe we aren’t. We didn’t know what would happen. Then the next thing you know, we’ve got 20 projects hanging over our head, on hold and we’re all asking; when are they going to say, go? And at one point, everybody in Hollywood just said, GO. So we're at a point where we've actually turned down a few things because the bandwidth while still having to adhere to COVID guidelines. This might be the busiest we've been in the 12 years we've been open and it's a good problem to have, but it's definitely tough. I can say without giving too much detail, I believe we have two feature films shooting. Now we're working on three others in-house and we have two television shows shooting.
During the pandemic a lot of what I was doing was remotely checking in and making sure things were running the way they were supposed to; tapes, weren't filling up things of that nature. Sometimes when there are no problems, as there weren’t, it’s easy to become complacent so when the system does get stressed it’s a challenge. But with Tina we didn’t have to worry.
To Damon’s point, when production did come back, it came back fast. One of the first requests that I received concerned the repository of previous projects. It doesn’t make sense to keep all of our past projects on the file server so we utilize Tina to archive some of the older data sets. Having that archive available and knowing that if I have a request come in from a customer or a team member saying they need to look back on a project from five years ago that’s already been archived to tape, we can accommodate them quickly and efficiently is essential. Tina allows us to be very specific on periods of time, and it has our shares mapped out so we can clearly see, okay, we know that this was a feature film, and we have a project within that feature film that, carried that content. So, I can drill down and see the exact content that's available.
I think that's a perfect example of how we utilize Tina and why it's been critical. You know, if, if the system wasn't reliable and we had those requests, with how quick our turnaround times are; they want it now, now, now, particularly for media and entertainment. It's very compressed timelines. So, if a design person or modeler can't get that reference material within a day or sooner they're going to abandon the request. So, I have to ensure that we're on top of things. Responsiveness and stability are something that are critical for our environment. I feel that a lot of it professionals subscribe to this-- the operations that we manage should be seamless. None of this should negatively impact the business. I've heard this phrasing, “If an IT person is doing their job, you don't even know it. It should just be working.” Finding partners that can help us achieve that has been critical to our success. And we feel that Atempo has been a big part of that success post pandemic and otherwise.
- Please listen to the episode for the full interview with David Castinez and Damon Weathers -