Calling all artists! Here’s why Legion is the place for you

Come for the visual effects, stay for the friendships

Working in VFX is one of the hardest desk jobs there is. There is a lot of passion behind the kinds of things that we do. Visual effects artists are very passionate and often want to just ‘work’ and ‘make cool stuff’. This has made it difficult to get a union going, or stop wholesale exoduses of the work to other cities and other countries.

The actual in-the-office-work though, is tough. The hours can be long. The eye strain annoying. The lack of being able to see family, friends or pets, is isolating.
This is where Legion comes in.
After missing almost the first 3 years of my daughter’s life, I got laid off from a facility here in Los Angeles and decided to start Legion in my back yard. I and the 6 other partners of Legion designed it from the ground up to be artist centric, while supporting clients with quality above and beyond the norm at prices that were very competitive.

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This made us the darling of low budget indie features and tier one horror flicks. With artists all over the world, we are able to chew through work at a pace that is above and beyond what a brick and mortar facility can do. We can run nearly 24 hours a day, and turn around work in the artist’s normal day time. The need for one artist in a dark room in Culver city or Los Angeles to stay at the job for 20 hours is a thing of the past.

Happy artists make a better product

VFX is generally a bespoke process and it takes experience and skill to make each shot for our clients. What helps so much is having our talent in comfortable situations. They are able to take their dog for a walk, go for a run, take the kids to school, or not commute 3 hours a day, and instead put that into being productive. This is where Legion excels.

That’s not to say this is for everyone. There’s a very specific type of artist for this sort of thing. Someone who can self start, manage their own workload, and know their limits are the type of people that work for us. Initially we would only work with people that were referred to us by a trusted source. That worked well for a time, but then we ran into the limitation of our circle of friends and friends of friends. That’s when it all changed.

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We have a couple artists that are basically staff at this point and they sought us out. David, our Houdini guy left Los Angeles to move to Spokane Washington for a slower pace of life. He’s been a joy to work with every day. Another is Dan, who also moved up the coast to Portland from Los Angeles. He’s been great to work with as well. A sharp artist with a sharper wit, which plays well with my philosophy about enjoying the work that we do.

There is still plenty of stress to get the kind of high end work done that we do here at Legion. It’s not uncommon that the support staff of coordinators, project managers and supervisors here in Burbank burn the midnight oil to make sure everything is getting done and delivered at the highest quality. We’re still doing client work, and clients always need something. Getting footage from the client side can be difficult at the best of times. However, we have an office full of fun and light spirited people that make the days cruise by and lessen the stress.

All are welcome, all may not stay. Legion welcomes people who can do that job and have the right attitude for the kind of ‘workplace’ that we are. Remote artists rarely get the full interview treatment that several of the last few office people have. Interviewing here at the studio is probably the most exhausting thing one would have to do for Legion. We usually spend about an hour going over qualifications and then we stop there and go for the ‘get to know you as a person’ approach. Compatibility is key. As a business owner, I don’t need to hire stress, or people that don’t understand my sense of humor. So, that is something that gets vetted pretty strongly here in the studio. Not everyone stays. We’ve lost our fair share of coordinators and producers over the last few years. In almost all cases we were sad to see them go, but it is what it is. We try to create the best atmosphere for personal growth, but we can’t always succeed.

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‘All are welcome’. We mean it when we say it.

 

To the artists out there that have been doing this for a while and think that you really could make a go of it doing compositing or CG remotely, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Legion is very selective, but we are also very inclusive. We have people from all over the world working with us everyday of the week. Let us get to know each other and make cool images together.

-JDH

What’s next for remote working? 2017 and beyond

When we started Legion in 2013, we knew that we were doing something different.

Tapping into the discontent that artists were feeling by having to pick up and move to other countries every time a project ended. After 3 years of this, it’s become clear that we’ve created the largest, and most stable version of this platform to date.

When I went to Siggraph this year and sat on one of several panels with my colleagues in the industry, I realized that Legion® was the only company on the panel that was actually doing medium to high end VFX work for film and television. During our time there we discovered that, increasingly among our contemporaries, there’s a lot of passion for the remote model, both in VFX and animation. More and more people are really knocking themselves out to set up tools and systems to get remote artists to be able to work comfortably.

A full house for 'Remote Studio Productions' with Animatrik, director Ciaran Foy and MasterKey, hosted by Ian Failes from VFX blog
VFX Legion’s SIGGRAPH panel with Animatrik, Ciaran Foy, Master Key and vfxblog

Most models I saw didn’t have a revenue source. There were great creative systems that allowed animators to work and collaborate with each other all around the world. However, it was all about pushing the passion projects. Most of these were zero revenue models or artists that were just getting working, early in their careers.

By starting a business like Legion® with senior artists and a clear revenue stream, we have broken through the glass ceiling that is remote production. In the upcoming year, we will be rolling out a platform from which remote artists will be able to work with absolute security – another first for the industry.

More and more people will be brought into the Legion fold, and other companies will do more to emulate what we have done. The goal for everyone should be to find the revenue stream that makes it all possible. First we unlock the artist from the facility, and in giving them freedom, we generate high quality work that productions will want to pay for.

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The future of crunch times and the ‘culture of fear’. You’re looking at it!

The Legion Way of working will become the norm for remote visual effects work.

TV VFX – how we approach it at Legion

The amount of visual effects that support television today may surprise you.

It comes in all shape and sizes, but in the vast majority of television shows, there are three main areas into which you could categorize VFX for TV:

In your face

This is bold, in-your-face, Game of Thrones-type VFX; dragons soaring past a grand pyramid, or blowing up a fleet of ships in a storm of green fire. There’s a lot of passion and magic behind that work – teams of hundreds across multiple studios come together to create something approaching, or in some cases exceeding, feature film levels of visual effects for a weekly show.

World augmentation

The second type of work is less obvious. This comes in the form of set extensions, changing locations, adding buildings or signage changes, and so on. They comprise many little things that, when added to a show, allow the viewer to believe a scene was shot in Washington DC or New York city, when in fact it was shot in Los Angeles or Toronto.
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Cleanup and fixes

The third type of VFX in television is production fixes: removing cables, stands and lights, or making subtle beauty enhancements, like taking labels off of TVs or replacing hastily taped over logos on laptop screens. That’s par for the course for many shows on television today.

Here at Legion® we specialize in the latter two types of television VFX. And while they may not be as big or bombastic as a fire-breathing dragon, they’re no less important when it comes to world-building.
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In 2013, we worked on a show called Revolution, which takes place in a futuristic world without electricity, where civilisation has fallen into disrepair, unkempt and overgrown. This gave us a chance to flex our matte painting muscle with beautiful paintings of an overgrown capital building in Austin Texas, a skyscraper that has become overgrown, and an empty street, free of all modern day accoutrements.

In 2015 we were brought on to take over Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder and The Catch for Shondaland. All of this work falls squarely into the last two categories.
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Scandal is filmed here in Los Angeles but takes place in Washington DC and other cities around the country. There are many locales in and around Washington DC that we fill into the backgrounds with the use of green screens and matte paintings.

How To Get Away With Murder takes place in Maryland, but is also filmed in Los Angeles. Most of the work on ‘Murder’ is about putting images into computer screens, adding digital blood to actors, or clearing out palm trees from the sky lines of outdoor shots.
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Finally, The Catch takes place here in Los Angeles, but we’ve added buildings under construction buildings, a car crash, multiple people getting shot or shot at, as well as computer screens and televisions.

 

And as long as no one notices we were ever there, our job is done.

We are all magicians

Founder’s moment, by James.

Summer time.

Warm weather here, rainy down under. Summer is the lull in the television industry that allows us to tackle preparation for the next season. We’re upgrading the render farm, adding some new gear, experimenting with a little VR and overhauling security to start taking on larger, more secure jobs. Lots to do and only a precious few weeks to try and do it all.

Three and a half years of Legion Studios has taught me a lot about this industry. It’s cutthroat, demeaning, awful and yet terribly rewarding. One of Legion’s big goals has been to make sure that we spotlight the artists who make up our team. None of this works without a passionate group who are committed to making this work. I am so impressed by the people that we have working with us.

Nick Guth, one of our episodic leads is, I think, a genius. He finds solutions to some of the hardest shots we have. He worked a crazy week to create graphics for a money counterfeiting machine in The Catch.

H Haden Hammond took on almost half the work on The Purge: Election Day. It was his eye for consistency over large sequences that was key to making the whole last half of the movie work. We couldn’t have done it without him.

The New Zealand pod of Jean-Luc, Kim, and Amber (most of whom you will find in past or upcoming artist profiles) have been super artists that come in and crush difficult work using skillsets that have been developed from working all over the world.

John McConnell, painter and creative ‘Hack of All Trades’ is tireless at giving us that competitive edge when we need something completely impossible or far fetched.

Lastly in this very abbreviated list is Christopher Klassen, who interned with us for his senior year at CSUN here in LA. He’s now with us full time as a junior compositor. Legion is based on the idea of senior artists with decades of experience getting the job done quickly and effectively. However, I’ve always had the notion that bringing up Jr. artists is the best way to shape the next generation. School doesn’t teach real world implications of the theories. Christopher, being in an office that is basically all management, is literally getting a front row seat at seeing what goes on in visual effects above and beyond making cool images all day.

I think Christopher is a rare talent with a passion to be a compositor, and I don’t shirk my duty to pass along all that I know so he can go out there and start learning from real, on-the-box artists. Yesterday I was reviewing a shot of his, and he did something that I didn’t think would work for the final shot. He put an effect in that he thought would help the shot, and in some ways it did.

I told him “Let’s take it out, and see a version, then if we think it could work, we will put it back on.” Then I unloaded a story about how I had received the same note when I was at another facility in the early 2000s. Clearly our supe, at the time, could see that I was passionate about my camera shake or lens flare, or whatever it was… so he gently let me down with the “let’s do a version without it and see what that looks like” line. I passed this story along to Christopher, because I want him to see behind the curtain. Why do notes come in like they do? What drives supervisors to say the things they do? It mostly all comes down to experience.

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As we do more marketing and become a ‘brand’ for VFX, know that, as long as I run the company, there will always be a spotlight on the artists. This industry would not exist were it not for the passion, the creativity and the tenacity of the thousands of remarkable people out there in the world.

We are all magicians, cleverly fooling people day in and day out. Whether it’s giant above-the-line spaceships and alien worlds, or removing a C-stand from the set, everything we do is magic. I’m thankful for the scores of great people I’ve been able to work with, and I look forward to meeting and working with many more as the success of Legion looms large.

In the words of my 1988 high school yearbook signature, “Stay cool, have a great summer, see you in September”.

The new wave of worldwide VFX

A studio like few others

It’s no secret that the VFX industry has received its fair share of public attention in recent years, its foundations shaken by internal discord and turmoil that has gradually bubbled to the surface.

Studio closures, redundancies, and reports of unreasonable business practices has tarnished what is otherwise an incredibly creative, inventive and innovative industry – one bursting at the seams with raw artistic talent.

While it can sometimes feel like real solutions are held at bay by the industry’s massive, unyielding infrastructure, there are some post-production studios that are finding ways to buck the trend and operate completely outside of the set-ups that have come to be regarded as the norm.

One such studio is VFX Legion, a division of Legion Studios, LLC – a studio that’s trying something new.

Founded by VFX supervisor James Hattin and a team of like-minded individuals, Legion is a ‘studio’ like few others. While its HQ rests against the mountainous backdrop of Burbank, California, Legion’s collective of 50 artists are distributed across the globe, contributing to each new project from wherever they may be in the world. Here, creativity and collaboration does not take place over desks, but over vast expanses of continent and ocean; a truly digital workspace replacing a physical one.

And it’s not just new technology that has allowed for this breakthrough in remote collaborative workflows. It’s Legion’s profound passion for bringing the power back to that one core element that remains unchanging and unflinching in an industry otherwise in constant flux – the artist.

“What we’re doing at Legion is empowering a new way of working for those on the frontlines of the creative industry,” says Hattin. “There’s no reason why, in the next five years, what we’re doing won’t be the standard. It makes sense on so many levels – it’s just the way things are going.”

READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE AT CINESYNC.COM