How Light Sail VR went fully Remote

Our office is still there… just empty.

Since the pandemic began, the team at Light Sail VR has been working from our homes. For the most part, it hasn’t been too challenging. We check in via Google Hangouts every morning and at the end of the day. We hop into VR around lunch time to touch base and play a short game. We upgraded our home computers and heavily utilized Google Drive to synchronize project files and media. We managed to deliver several high profile projects this way for our clients. This all seemed to be working well, until it wasn’t.

The problem of working this way is that it doesn’t scale to technically challenging and large projects. Especially given the poor upload speeds offered on most residential internet plans, there were several pain points that came to light in the middle of our last project for adidas.

So, after a year of working from home, and even with the thought of returning to an office soon, we decided to take the company completely remote for all of our post production work.

Why Go Remote?

Before I get into the how, let me answer why we decided to do this.

First, I’ve become accustomed to being around my family and it’s been great to be closer to my two young daughters. I feel like I’ve been more present in their lives than ever before. Spending long days and late nights in an office when crushing under a deadline was hard. Now, I feel like I can set up a render, check in with the family, etc.

Second, some of the folks we love working with have relocated outside of Los Angeles and having a dedicated remote work system means that we can now collaborate with them (and anybody else) no matter where they decide to live.

Our goals were clear. We needed a system that allows us to:

  • Give editors and artists the ability to utilize our hardware that’s built to handle large format immersive workflows, including lots of fast shared storage and powerful graphics cards.
  • Take advantage of our in-house render farm.
  • Provide remote viewing support (including in headset) so creatives and stake holders and weigh in with notes in real time.
  • Meets strict security standards.

I’m happy to say that we’ve accomplished all of those.

Our System

We elected to go with Teradici for our remote desktop solution. Teradici is the only company with PCoIP that provides a secure, encrypted tunnel to each machine and is capable of rendering the screens at high resolution and perfect color accuracy. This is critical for the kind of work we do. We’re in good company, as Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, etc. have all used this system in the past year to deliver amazing content.

Setting it up required a bit of googling around Windows Servers, Ubuntu, VMs and Active Directory, but now we have the ability to create user accounts and assign them specific workstations on which to complete their work. These machines are securely located in our office, hooked up to our storage, and contain all the licenses for the software we use. It is a lot less work than setting up a remote editor with the tools and workflows (and sometimes hardware) to get the job done.

Furthermore, it means that we can send large files to be processed by our Render Farm. Before this solution, the Render Farm laid mostly dormant as it wasn’t practical to send large files across the internet. It also wasn’t practical to move the Render Farm to my house, or the editor’s house. For me, this is one of the best reasons to invest in a remote system like this.

Remotely accessing the computers works great. It honestly feels like I am sitting directly in front of the machine from the comfort of my home. However, confidence monitoring is an area that presented a challenge. How could we offer the experience of sitting in an edit bay with the editor and giving creative feedback quickly.

For this, we turned to Medialooks’ Video Transport along with the free NDI Tools available for Adobe Premiere Pro. Premiere Pro’s playback engine outputs an NDI stream of either the source or record monitor. Video Transport’s publisher takes that and pushes it to the web, where the editor can send a web link to stakeholders to review.

Reviewing immersive content presented another challenge as typically you have to have a headset hardwired to a PC. To solve this, we built a custom Unity app that I’ve published the source code for on my GitLab to take the feed received by Video Transport and display it in the headset. Currently it supports monoscopic and stereoscopic 360 videos. By connecting my Oculus Quest 2 via AirLink to my PC and launching this app, I can now review footage being edited on the timeline in real-time from the comfort of my home. The latency is extremely small and clarity quite good.

The Cost / Benefit

All of this technology doesn’t come cheap. Teradici is about $1250/year. Video Transport for up to 5 point to point connections is $1250/year as well. However, we’ve already invested a considerable amount of capital into the technology in our office and when you take a look at the time savings, security benefits, and vast expansion of the talent pool, I believe that these solutions will more than pay for themselves while providing an even better experience for clients that are increasingly more global.

For me personally, getting to create while still being available to my family has led to a better work/life balance and that’s worth everything to me.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Have you taken your company remote? What prevents you from doing so?