From science-fiction blockbusters to super-hero thrillers, Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI), has created special effects and animations for some of the biggest movie releases in recent years. In its 28-year history, the studio has produced stunning sequences for more than 100 live-action and animated films, including most recently Jumanji: The Next Level and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, for which it won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film.
“A major film production involves hundreds of employees who must communicate seamlessly, both internally and externally, to meet demanding studio deadlines,” says Mike Ford, SVP of Software Development and Systems Engineering at SPI. “These are huge, multi-million-dollar projects where the ability to make the right decision and execute is fundamental to influencing how the next blockbuster movie performs at the box office.”
The creative and technical teams working on these multi-million dollar projects are spread out over many locations, with employees working from home in Vancouver, Canada, and Culver City, California. No wonder the studio puts so much emphasis on teamwork to meet demanding studio deadlines while allowing the talents of its artists and developers to shine.
“We rely on clear communication to solve problems quickly and bring creative breakthroughs to life,” says Mike. “But our previous productivity and collaboration tools added friction to this process. Employees spent too much time toggling between communication apps and tracking down the latest document versions rather than moving projects forward.”
Inspiring innovation, enabling collaboration
To help employees collaborate more efficiently, SPI turned to the Google Workspace set of enterprise applications. “As well as the apps themselves, we liked the fact that the environment is operating system agnostic,” says David Miya, Executive Director of Network Services at SPI. “It doesn’t matter whether you work with Mac, Windows or Linux devices, anyone can access Google’s online productivity and collaboration tools.”
Because Google Workspace is built in the cloud and browser-based, users enjoy maximum flexibility and accessibility across desktop and mobile devices.
“Collaboration and culture were the two drivers behind our decision to go with Google Workspace. We needed a suite of tools that delivered a more consistent communication experience, and better supported our reputation for innovation.”Mike Ford, SVP of Software Development and Systems Engineering, SPI
Having presented the advantages of Google Workspace to the business and won the backing of key stakeholders including SPI’s senior leadership, Mike and his team enlisted the support of Google Cloud Premier Partner SADA. In addition to 1,500 Google Workspace licenses, SADA also deployed 1,700 Google Cloud Search licenses, and 2,900 Google Vault licenses to retain and safeguard information from the company’s data repositories that contain production business data.
“It was a highly complex project that impacted close to a thousand people, but SADA ensured that the changeover went without a hitch. This was vital given that the teams at SPI work nonstop and cannot afford a moment’s downtime. SADA also delivered change management services and training for all users so that they could work uninterrupted from day one of the switch over.”Mike Ford, SVP of Software Development and Systems Engineering, SPI
Solving problems faster, bringing ideas to life
Google Workspace has transformed the way that teams collaborate on projects at SPI. Whether they’re sharing Docs or Sheets, employee experience is standardized and all employees use exactly the same user interface for commenting, editing and notifications. Even before closures led to more working from home, SPI teams consistently relied on the ability to collaborate in Google Workspace. Since, the dependency on the Chat and Meet toolsets grew exponentially. If they need to, they can switch seamlessly to chat or video conferencing in a single click, accelerating communication when it is needed the most. “Reducing the amount of friction from thought to implementation is what we strive to do every day, and Google Workspace fits right into this philosophy” adds Mike.
Above all, it’s much easier for teams to solve problems and realize their creative visions. “It doesn’t matter whether discussion involves two or three people, or a larger team. You can bring people into the conversation with a quick question via Google Chat, or set up a group conference at short notice with Google Meet,” says Noah Chandler, Customer Success Manager, SADA.
Google Workspace also helps SPI to reinforce a sense of purpose and belonging, especially where so many individuals work from home. SPI has deployed Currents, a ‘water cooler’ style social platform, where everyone can connect at the company level as an online community to share insights and resources, and have meaningful discussions about a movie production or project problem.
Freedom to collaborate in a secure environment
Developers at SPI have also warmed to Google Workspace. For them, Google Workspace is much more than the sum of its parts; it is also a platform that can be extended to the needs of the business. “Trust me,” says David, “if there is an API, they will use it. For example, developers have automated production workflows by pulling data from SPI’s production tracking systems and then using internal scripts that automatically update the production status in Google Sheets.”
In addition, developers have built ‘help chatbots’ based on Google Chat using Dialogflow, a natural language understanding platform. Using Dialogflow, employees can program the bots to ascertain people’s issues and steer them towards immediate answers or a helpdesk ticketing system.
“This ability to bridge Google Workspace with our existing systems, through APIs and Google Scripts, makes a huge difference to the value we get from the platform.”David Miya, Executive Director of Network Services, SPI
Alongside the freedom to collaborate, Google Workspace offers cutting-edge security that protects SPI’s unique visual content and other sensitive data. This includes Google Drive security settings such as Data Loss Prevention and Context-aware access which protect against external and internal threats. Security also took on extra importance as more employees switched to working from home during the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks to SADA Systems, SPI was perfectly positioned to move to complete remote working during the pandemic.
Keeping the business at the cutting edge
The SADA team worked closely with SPI to ensure that they remained a leader in the industry, optimizing the up-and-coming Google Workspace features. This includes access to the Google Alpha Platform, so that SPI personnel can absorb the latest developments before they are released and test their suitability for the business.
“What I really like about the relationship with SADA is that we get more than just a heads up about new features, we get use cases that fit our specific business.”Mike Ford, SVP of Software Development and Systems Engineering, SPI
This approach led to the early adoption of Jamboard, an interactive whiteboard where distributed teams can share visual content and contribute on-screen feedback. SPI is looking at Jamboard features as a way of connecting its software and systems teams for white-boarding problems, scenarios, and solutions.
SPI has also deployed Google Meet hardware, a light-footprint video conferencing system designed for large flat screens that includes Google Chromebox. This arrangement is better suited to the presentation of storyboards and film clips than a laptop display.
“Animation often relies on actually seeing a performance acted out, and Google Meet has really brought our teams together to be more creative even if they are thousands of miles apart,” says Mike.
The simple, unified, and easy-to-use communication toolset Meet provides allows creative teams to work closely together across studio locations, as well as in the heavier work from home environments.
“SPI’s culture is based on pushing the boundaries of technology, including our business systems. That’s why we enjoy working with SADA. They constantly search for new ways for employees to collaborate and be creative while ensuring that we get the most from our investment in Google Workspace.”
Google Workspace Results
- Smoother collaboration between offices in the US and Canada
- Automation of production reporting
- Swifter resolution of internal issues using in-house chatbots
- Seamless transition to working at home during COVID-19 lockdowns
- Inspires teams to collaborate on creative and technical solutions in a common interface