Blackbird Launches with Digistor Creative Pipeline
Visual Effects facility up and running in four weeks
The adage ‘be careful about what you wish for because your dreams may come true’ is one that Nick Ponzoni can now reflect on with a knowing smile.
Since starting his career as a visual effects artist he has worked his way up to become recognised internationally for his work and began dreaming of setting up his own studio.
His golden opportunity landed mid 2013 when he founded Blackbird and was almost immediately thrown in the deep end when asked to handle the intensive visual effects for a high-end Telecom New Zealand TVC.
“We had been talking to director Michael Spiccia about the script when he suddenly called us and said did we want the job and can we do it in eight days,” said Ponzoni.
With only an empty terrace house in inner-Sydney Surry Hills and a couple of laptops on hand, Nick immediately called on Digistor to design and build their creative pipeline in four weeks, while they simultaneously worked on the TVC.
“We knew what we needed in order to create leading visual effects so we bought Autodesk’s Flame and Smoke finishing systems as well as Blackmagic Da Vinci Resolve for colour grading,” said Ponzoni. “We added Nuke compositing and Avid Symphony for editing but we wanted to learn what technology was out there to put all the boxes together and to do that we needed someone we could trust and could do the job.
“We also wanted to set up our studio as a modular operation where we did not have fixed suites - we wanted the flexibility to be able to shift and change the software on each workstation to suit our project needs."
Do it once, Do it right
“There was so much that could have tripped us up as far as gear and equipment went and we were trying to concentrate on the TVC," explained Ponzoni. "Dealing with our creative issues was hard enough but at the same time we knew we didn’t want to compromise on getting the right tools and didn't want to be trapped into the false economy of settling on things that may have done the job but would cost us later.”
Digistor’s Matt Wood and Jordan Tiburcio, backed by a team of technicians and engineers, rose to the challenge and led Ponzoni through the maze of options to deliver the most cost effective infrastructure solutions available.
“It was also very important for us to build our facility so it was as future-proof as possible and I believe we got it right. It was good to team up with Digistor because they advised us to invest in centralised storage and use fibre for our networking.”
The build and fit out was not without it’s frustrations. Heritage listings, a small equipment room, and nearby residential housing required novel and intensive solutions to accommodate power upgrades, air conditioning and soundproofing.
The server room not only had to be acoustically insulated with false walls, ceiling and floor but it’s narrow entry with steep steps meant Digistor’s engineers had to dismantle the equipment rack and rebuild it in the room.
A DVS Spycer SAN storage system was selected and rack mounted for it’s ability to provide five 2K streams and be easily expanded to meet future needs. An ihse Draco tera enterprise fibre KVM matrix switch was installed along side to enable Blackbird’s artists to instantly patch through any software to any suite.
Digitstor continued the network and equipment installation while the Blackbird team spent two weeks previsualising the TVC before tackling on-location visual effects supervision during the shoot in New Zealand.
On his return Ponzoni was able to step off the plane and straight into post-production while builders continued to finish off the facility.
High profile success
The success of the TVC, which featured frozen moments in time to simulate the disadvantages of a slow Internet service, put Blackbird firmly on the visual effects map.
“We didn't have a lot of time to market ourselves when we first started so we were very privileged to have landed the NZ Telecom TVC as it gained us a lot of exposure and we have been fortunate that Clients have brought projects to us since this TVC went to air” said Ponzoni.
The company gained international attention after completing visual effects for US Director Rich Lee on a Hyundai TVC. Lee helped Blackbird to finish 2013 on a high when he then asked them to service his music video "The Monster" for Eminem that featured Rihanna.
“We set out to create a beautiful space that reflected its surrounding environment and while it was a lot of hard work, this three story terrace sets the ambience for us to work in,” said Ponzoni.
“Thanks to Digistor we are equipped with the best systems for visual effects design and production but it’s all invisible to our clients. All they know is that we are never in a situation of having to say ‘sorry but that suite is booked’. Our set up keeps us nimble and we can react to any demand - that makes us more efficient so we can turn over more work. Directors are the people who spend most of their time in our suites and they appreciate that we can pull up any software that we need to work on their project.”
Blackbird is covered by Digistor’s Customer Assurance Plan with unlimited phone, email and remote support and ongoing preventative maintenance on the SAN and suites.
Blackbird is a multidisciplinary studio dedicated to the production of award winning visual effects for film and commercials. The facility includes Autodesk Flame Premium including Flame, Lustre and Smoke Advanced, Smoke on Mac, Autodesk Flare on HP workstation, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, Avid Symphony, The Foundry Nuke, Open Directory Server, ihse KVM switching, Panasonic Broadcast Plasma monitors, Harmon Kardon Soundbars, Eizo monitors, Infortrend EonNAS, DVS Spycer SAN storage system, AJA I/O cards and mini converters.