Note from Lionel: Scott Hamilton recently blogged about a new series of posts coming from video professional guest bloggers who made the switch from Macs to PCs. This third blog post is from James Fox, Founder and CEO of Dawnrunner Studios. Stay tuned for one more guest later this month.
In case you missed the previous two guest posts:
- Guest post from Phoenix Communications’ Geoff Belinfante
- Guest post from Barnstorm VFX’s Cory Jamieson
Here’s James’ post:
This year has marked quite a few major changes, accomplishments, and challenges for Dawnrunner. Most people who interact with us are surprised to find out just how small our crew really is. We pride ourselves on our passion, agility, and ingenuity – because frankly, without an abundance of each, there are just not enough hours in the day to get our work done. From programming custom scripts and programs, to building our own equipment custom-made for specific tasks, we do whatever it takes to get the jobs done on time and on budget. That last part is always a thorn in my side; budget, if only there was more of it.
Dawnrunner was invited to participate in the Dell & NVIDIA Video Editing Advisory Program early in the year. With the changes to Final Cut Pro (FCP) having a major effect on our overall pipeline, we were forced to explore other options, and dubious does not even begin to explain my emotional state. Dell sent us a system to test drive as part of the program, a Dell Precision T5500 tower workstation, with an NVIDIA Quadro 5000. We have been a mixed platform shop for quite some time, but most of our workflow was Mac-centered. I frankly found myself expecting very little from a Windows based editing system….
…What happened when we put it through the paces – frankly – astounded me.
Having just wrapped our first in-house produced feature film, “THE DARKEST MATTER” which was insanely post and vfx heavy, we had a lot to play with in regards to computer intensive post production elements. I will not go into technical details in this post, but will say that we were absolutely blown out of our chairs with the results. We spent several more hours just drooling over what was possible. That following day, I came into the office to find Geoff Peck, Dawnrunner’s Post Production Supervisor, working on something from THE DARKEST MATTER. When I walked in – he turned around to me and said, “Remember that simulation we wanted to do for the main ship destruction?” I thought about it a moment, still worried as to why he was at work so early, “Yes? We couldn’t do it because it took too much time. What about it?” He grinned and said “Come watch it!” With a few extra hours in the morning, and a bit of prep work the night before, he had redone a simulation that we had to cut from our film because of lack of resources. THE DARKEST MATTER was something that really stretched our abilities to the limits just to get done, and sacrifices had to be made along the way. I stared wide eyed at the screen for several loops of the simulation and finally said, “We should re do a lot of what we did before.” A huge smile was the only response.
As a business owner and operator, when you’re faced with something as game-changing as this Dell Precision T5500 with the NVIDIA Quadro 5000, you find your mind exploding with possibilities. We found that not only did it allow for things which were previously not available to us, but it had an overall speeding up effect on our workflow. This meant that we were now able to do better (more sophisticated) things, and have it take less man-hours. An overall positive impact on our entire production workflow, which allows for an increase in projects through the pipeline.
A lot of the work we do is visual effects heavy. We love green screens and After Effects, and 3D graphics. Over the next several weeks we saw a dramatic increase in our overall workflow, which lead to increased project bandwidth, and the ability to bring in more work. From one single computer.
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it myself during this initial process, “You must have had some pretty awful equipment to let one computer change the game that dramatically.” Wrong. Our computers were custom built, for the sole purpose of digital filmmaking and graphics production. They were good, powerful, top-shelf processing monsters. They were not cheap. The Mac workstations we were using were top of the line, the best available to us. This Dell Precision T5500 became nicknamed throughout our office as “The Beast.” It ate all our other machines for breakfast, without breaking a sweat. I spend a lot of time in the San Francisco Bay Area, discussing with other small production shops or individual filmmakers, my thoughts on the direction of the industry – and sharing whatever tricks I have come up with to survive a rapidly changing business. I will not tell you to run out and buy a bunch of Dell or NVIDIA products – but I will say that I have completely rewritten my budget for next year and included more of these machines. If you’re in the post business, and you’re suffering from the recent changes to your workflow like we have, take a good long look at what we’ve experienced – or post a comment and I will be happy to answer candidly.
My first impressions of the Dell T5500 are very inspiring. We have another feature film and several more graphics intensive projects on the horizon, and I am excited to let “The Beast,”off its leash.
To learn more about Dawnrunner and James’ work, go to Dawnrunner.com
Here’s James Bio:
James Fox, Founder & CEO, Dawnrunner Studios: James brings with him the creative power of 12 action-packed years in the film industry. As the Principal Director, he has led the company through numerous award-winning projects, including: feature films, short films, commercials, music & industrial videos, all across the country. He has been recognized for his passion and determination to advance the industry through education and outreach, and has spoken at events like Seattle International Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival, and dedicates his time and energy on several advisory boards, and through partnerships with children’s arts education organizations. His "breaking down barriers" approach to filmmaking, creativity and technical street-smarts have labeled him a visionary for the future of visual storytelling through new methods and technological innovations. He refers to his crew as family, and provides strong and charismatic leadership – and an inexhaustible well of excitement and energy.