OPEN HOUSE: Out of House VFX
Issue: October 1, 2017

OPEN HOUSE: Out of House VFX

VENICE, CA — Out of House VFX ( is a visual effects and finishing studio that works on both commercials and feature films. Long-time Autodesk Flame user/VFX artist David Stern recently took some time to share his insight into the post production business and the shifts he’s witnessed in technology.

Tell us about Out of House VFX?

“We’re a Venice-based VFX and finishing house that knowingly creates the things you’re never meant to notice in commercials and feature films. We support other VFX companies on larger projects and when necessary, lead smaller ones. Our rigs are portable and have gone to facilities and on-set around the world.”

What is your history with the company?

“After spending more than a decade at Digital Domain, where I worked on features from Titanic to Fight Club, and campaigns for Nike, Coca Cola and Sony, I wanted to try something new, so I started at Out of House VFX, where I handle finishing and VFX work, primarily with Autodesk Flame. In my time here, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some fun commercial campaigns with companies like Wieden+Kennedy and TBWA\Chiat\Day and on music videos with Katy Perry, Taylor Swift's Shake It Off and U2’s Invisible. The last two were directed by Mark Romanek. I was on-set for the Taylor Swift video for four days. Mark had brought in Jeff Cronenweth as director of photography. It was inspiring watching him work and to be part of the process.”

What are some of your recent projects?

“Our work runs the gamut, from car, beer and beauty spots to music videos. We just wrapped up a spot for the 2018 Winter Olympics and few other projects we can’t discuss due to NDAs.”

What market and technology shifts have you seen over the years?

“When I started out 20 years ago, I was using Flame, which was considered state of the art, even though it looked like I was tethered to a massive refrigerator – and that was for SD deliverables. Today, I can take Flame with me on-set and we’re delivering in 4K. It’s crazy to see how far technology has progressed. Today’s tools have a lot more horsepower, which is crucial as we arrive at a new juncture where TV stations and shows are requesting 4K masters, and 8K is peeking its head around. Post production timelines have also vastly changed. What once took weeks, now takes days, and what took days, now takes hours. Furthermore, the available pool of freelance talent has expanded, which has been great for Out of House VFX.”

How would you describe your work?

“Iteration is the nature of the beast that is VFX and finishing. Very seldom do you nail it on the first try; when you do, you still go around the wheel; so there’s an iterative process with each project to get it to a state you like. I like to call it ‘deadline art’ — you have a certain amount of time and aim to make good decisions quickly. This is where tools like Flame are important — they give you the confidence to take on new tasks and know that you’ll be able deliver the final product on-time and on-par with client expectations.”

What are some of the challenges you currently face?

“Right now, it’s 4K. When working with 4K content, throughput remains the main challenge. It can really slow you down. You can opt to work in proxy mode, which we used to do with 2K to the keep the speed up, but even now, we’re generating proxies for 4K, and seeing a bit of slow down. There's always been a give and take. Images sizes get larger and shortly thereafter the hardware gets faster and usually in that order. Right now, it seems we’re in-between.”

What tools are you using?

“I largely use Flame and have for nearly 20 years. It’s a toolset that consistently evolves with the times. Currently I’m on Flame 2018.2 and am part of the beta program. Flame has a great planar tracker that saves me a lot of time by automating some of the process. I also regularly use the action multilayer compositing tool, which has been streamlined over the years, and allows me to take lightbox and apply color correction. 

“CameraFX is another great feature for lightbox effects, and 3D compositing using the new possibilities with physically based shaders (PBRs) and projections for set-extensions, and in some cases set creation. I may be a little old school but the recent enhancements in paint, with added bit depth and stroke management, are awesome! I paint on almost every project. Furthermore, the connected conform workflow in Flame has taken a lot off my plate by automating a large chunk of my workflow, which is great because conforms are always tough. As soon as the client approves the edit, we often get an XML from the editor’s system and depending on how organized the prep is, that dictates how fast we can create the conform. The connected conform workflow makes it easier to conform sequences that share similar sources and contents.”

Has the latest Flame extension release impacted your workflow?

“Flame 2018.2 has given me a better way to keep projects organized. Having the ability color code my timeline makes it easy to keep track of shots. The open clip workflow is also really powerful. For the longest time, a big part of the lead Flame artist’s job was manually keeping the spot current for directors, VFX supervisors and digital artists who needed to see the latest work in progress. Now we can just do that with Open Clip and our timeline is automatically updated. Comps can be reviewed, chosen and updated in the edit, and all the changes are reflected through the different versions. It gives me more time to complete shots. We’re also currently exploring pybox and see a lot of potential in being able to open up to scripts.”

What was your initial reaction to the changes to Flame announced last year?

“I was a little shocked at first, but knew things needed to change, and in the end the changes have helped me better define what I do and how I structure my process. It’s a transition that has served me well. Flame really is the best editorial and VFX solution out there; it’s amazing.”