HaZ Film is an independent film studio led by Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull, a former visual effects supervisor turned director. After helming the Disney series Fast Layne, and setting up HaZFilm, he directed a pair of live-action films that got released on Netflix for 12 months- The Beyond and 2036: Origin Unknown. After teaming up with producer Paula Crickard to establish HaZFilm, the studio has pivoted from live-action for its next project, RIFT, an animated sci-fi action feature film produced entirely in Unreal Engine.

Challenge

RIFT is breaking new ground as a feature-length animated film, created within a real-time game engine, rather than using pre-rendered CG animation. This allows HaZ Film to rapidly prototype, film, and refine footage, keeping the small, independent studio moving quickly. However, the team is scattered around the globe, separated by oceans and time zones, creating a few communication challenges.

HaZ Film needed a tool that allowed its distant collaborators to feel like they are working in the same room together, enabling review sessions with the same kind of real-time philosophy as the film that they are creating. Dulull says that it was important to find a remote review tool that allowed for unambiguous guidance, not only to avoid mistakes and wasted time but also to make sure artists feel like they are engaged and have a true say in the production.

“Culture makes a big difference with artists all over the world. Everyone’s culture is very different in terms of how they read emails and receive notes,” he says. “As an artist, I remember having this level of anxiety about emails from supervisors or clients. Like, am I reading this right? There’s a level of mental health involved, as well. At HaZ Film, we take that very, very seriously.”

“Having worked on several productions, you see projects really slow down because of miscommunication,” he adds. ”When you’re an indie production company like us doing a very ambitious project like RIFT, we don’t have time to go around in circles with notes and decisions. We needed that same real-time ethos in the way that we communicate with each other.”

Solution

SyncSketch is a secure and entirely cloud-based video review suite that overcomes the physical distance between collaborators, allowing remote creative teams to work in harmony. It’s simple enough to send someone a link that lets them access the session via a computer, tablet, or another device, and everyone can watch, scrub through footage, and leave notes and annotations at the same time with no delay.

“Life before SyncSketch was organised chaos,” says Dulull. HaZ Film would use emails, screenshots, and Trello boards to communicate as a team, and while it worked, that patchwork system meant wasted time spent looking for notes – and chances for miscommunication. It also didn’t feel like a very creative process to Dulull, who likened it to administrative work. “It felt like a chore,” he adds. “Emails get lost, things are lost in translation. That was life before SyncSketch. It was all over the place.”

HaZ Film considered other remote review platforms that require locally installed software, but quickly realised that it wouldn’t fit their fast-moving ethos and remote makeup. “I needed something that didn’t require people to have an installation, something that can run off iPad or web,” says Dulull. “I’m a very busy filmmaker and I need something that I can bring up on whatever device and give it a quick note, and SyncSketch fits the bill very well.”

SyncSketch was quickly put to the test by HaZ Film, which implemented the tool as they began production on RIFT. Dulull describes the interface as being effortless, with a simple layout that makes sense at a glance and provides access to helpful tools. There’s no time wasted when hopping into a SyncSketch session, and no barriers to remote collaboration.

“For me to really know if a tool is going to work, I need to throw it into the pipeline. Instantly, we had a ton of shots to review and were building character assets. I need to be very specific on my notes, and need something to bring in video, scrub through the video, and draw on the frames,” he says. “You need a faster way of communicating with financiers, actors, and your team. All of these things make SyncSketch a necessity.”

Dulull says that SyncSketch makes it feel like they are running “real-time dailies” across the globe, despite the distance between them. He calls out the whiteboard feature as a particular benefit, as he keeps it open during meetings to better accentuate his ideas and ensure that ideas are saved and categorised for easy access later. “It’s saved and stored. I don’t even have to email an attachment – just the link,” he says.

“The real-time element in communicating is saving massive time. Now I can spend more time making and creating stuff, as well as having more time to think about stuff. The speed and efficiency of SyncSketch influenced us as artists to work in a better way. We don’t want to go back to the way we did things before.”

Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull, HaZ Film Co-Founder and Director

Impact

Dulull says that SyncSketch has delivered massive time and efficiency savings compared to their previous approach of communicating across multiple platforms. HaZ Film began using SyncSketch during reviews on RIFT, but has expanded its usage over the course of production, now also using it for conversations with executives. Dulull envisions it being used in pre-production, as well: basically throughout the entire process.

“Before SyncSketch, I would need an hour or two to go through and prep notes and send those to artists, and that’s just on my end. Now, I don’t even block that time out on my schedule,” he says. “I can just connect with the team and save the hassle of going through notes. We’ll scrub through the footage, talk about it, and have a conversation.”

Dulull also believes that collaborative review sessions have a democratising effect. He is not dictating notes to subordinates: he is discussing visual content effortlessly with fellow creatives, and all of their comments and suggestions are saved for later access. Everyone gets a say, and they can always pull up the sessions later. That ties into the studio’s aforementioned focus on mental health considerations.

“The happiness of my artists is a big, serious thing. It’s so important, especially when you’re a director who is constantly making requests,” says Dulull. “It gives my artists a platform to voice their creative opinions, and SyncSketch does that immensely well because it’s so simple: I can draw stuff, and it’s recorded. No one’s ideas are lost.”

HaZ Film has seen the benefits of that back-and-forth collaboration, with such remote sessions helping them crack specific elements of the look of the anime-inspired sci-fi feature. Everyone’s input is considered. “When you’re working remotely, whether it’s artists or executives, giving people a sense of ownership goes a long way,” Dulull explains. “Because everyone is enthused about the project and finding ways to push it further.”

Embracing real-time animation technology has made RIFT a unique production, and adding real-time reviews and communication via SyncSketch is pushing HaZ Film to new heights.

“The real-time element in communicating is saving massive time. Now I can spend more time making and creating stuff, as well as having more time to think about stuff. Also, there’s a level of interactivity. When you’re all working remotely, you can lose that level of interactivity,” Dulull says. “The speed and efficiency of SyncSketch has not only saved us precious time, but it also allowed our artists more creative freedom and to collaborate more effectively with one another. We simply cannot go back to the way things were before.”


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