If you are a runner or in a similar junior position, and want to be Producer for example, be the best runner you can. When i saw someone who was always two steps ahead and not trying to be the best at the role they were in at the time, it raised alarm bells.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Stallard, Global Head of Production at Hotspring
Ben has 25 years experience at the forefront of commercial visual effects, having spent eight years at MPC and twelve years at The Mill as head of production, group production director and executive board member. Since leaving The Mill in 2019, he founded ArtclubVFX, a start-up VFX outsourcing business based in London. In 2020, Ben joined Hotspring as Global Head of Production to grow their network and help studios across the world work seamlessly with the best talent, wherever they may be located.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have spent 25 years in VFX, producing all sorts of Commercials, music videos, title sequences and motion graphics projects, including 6 years as Head of Production at Mill London — the largest commercial Production team in the world. In my latter years I was involved in how The Mill (part of Technicolor) utilized its Bangalore studios to get work done efficiently and quickly. During that time I saw how sharing work in that way freed up artists locally, allowing quick scaling and also driving financial efficiencies. When I left The Mill in 2018 I set up ArtclubVFX to service work from the UK and US in India. Soon after the pandemic started I linked up with Jon and Varun, founders of TraceVFX, the largest VFX outsource company in India which they had sold to Technicolor, and they asked me to join them at their startup, Hotspring. It’s the perfect blend of what I have done in the past with what I believe the future in VFX will look like. Hotspring is reinventing VFX workflows and has the capacity to service a whole multitude of other industries.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I can’t get it down to one story. When I look back, rather than individual stories, it’s more chunks of time that I remember most. There were two periods of time that stand out. The first was the mid 1990’s when I had just started working in Soho at MPC as a runner on Noel street. It was just so much fun in Soho then, the era of big name Directors, huge Productions with budgets to match, Britpop, house music and hedonism. We were in the final throes of being unencumbered by phones, apps and the internet. Anything seemed possible. The second period of time was being Head of Production at The Mill from 2010–2016. The Mill was a company at the very top of it’s game, winning everything, doing some really fantastic work and firing as a team. I did enjoy working with some great Directors along the way like Anthony Mingella, Jonathon Glazer and Frank Budgen. The stars were aligned at those points and I think that’s happened here again at Hotspring.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
The Hotsping platform automates the triple bidding, management and delivery of outsourced tasks. In the VFX industry, outsourcing is not new but it has always been a laborious, manual task which can lead to mistakes and inefficiencies that ends up being a big time waster for Production. Hotspring is a marketplace, a project management tool, a communication system and an operational scaling function all wrapped up in one package, and we have proven over the last year that it makes businesses more efficient. It centralises and consolidates what can be a fragmented and varied way of working, giving greater control and visibility to the whole company.
Using virtual machines hosted on AWS, Hotspring can be deployed on projects securely as the talent working on it never actually receives the material. They just login to our system, access a VM in the cloud, work on the pixels in front of them and log out. No material is ever uploaded, downloaded or shared. It is fast, secure and enables talent to work more remotely.
As a Producer looking to outsource work, it will dramatically speed up the outsource process, saving hours of time. Think about simultaneous triple bidding — an instant time saver. As a manager, scaling your business on demand through Hotspring delivers a cost effective way to take on bigger projects without having that cost baked into your business model. As an artist working for Hotspring, you can earn more money and work where you like — something unimaginable in VFX outsourcing even a year ago.
In fact, any industry that needs CG or VFX related tasks executed by remote teams can benefit from Hotspring — think CG assets for e-commerce sites, architectural assets, teaching assets or infrastructure project assets — the list is long, and as Hotspring is designed to execute manual tasks in an automated way, it’s very scalable.
How do you think this might change the world?
The world is becoming more and more decentralised. Technology is allowing industries to invent new ways of working, democratising the marketplace. Hotspring unlocks vast networks of remote talent, provides the stability needed in executing tasks remotely and frees up the artists actually doing the work to work from wherever they like.
Hotspring provides the infrastructure — the ‘roads and bridges’- for a new way of working globally, fairly and more efficiently. As we have very low overheads, our model also provides fairer pay levels to artists in low cost centres and allows traditionally migratory talent to work where they like — reducing global travel which is a positive for the environmental crisis, and crucially, serves the best interests of clients worldwide saving money and time.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
If having more TV series and movies to watch is a bad thing, then yes — we should be increasingly conscious as a society of making sure we’re thinking about how much content we’re consuming, and providing alternatives — especially for children — that we know have a more constructive impact. I was happy playing with star wars figures as a kid, now young people expect photorealistic graphics and complex narratives!
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Jon and Varun build a very successful bricks and mortar outsource studio in India. They know that model better than anyone and saw firsthand that it was unsustainable. They also saw some really great talent in India that was unable to access the market (and vice versa) coupled with a growing demand for content around the world.
It became a simple question — how best to service VFX work in the future, knowing demand was increasing and dependency on outsourced tasks was also increasing. Build even bigger studios with thousands of people, managers, upkeep, travel, salaries? The answer was a clear no. The alternative was to build a platform that connects content creators to the huge network of talent, allowing a networked model of execution — meaning capacity is only restrained by the talent that exists, not the schedule of any given company.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
We are starting Hotspring in the VFX sector and have a strong presence in that market. Our short term goal is to move into adjacent industries like architectural and e-commerce asset creation.
We are underway with proof of concept in other industries and from there will scale organically or if needed, with further funding. Word of mouth is very important in the VFX industry, as is credibility. Beyond that bubble, targeted marketing strategies plus engagement of experts in targeted areas will all help.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Reaching new clients outside your circle of influence is hard in any sales capacity. We have found, particularly as we are not travelling, having local, established specialists with great reputations showcasing how Hotspring can add value has really paid dividends. We’re in the midst of growing our online presence, having just launched a revamped version of our website and getting more active on social media. It’s part of our mission to put the artists centre-stage and celebrate them, so we’re looking at some marketing strategies to engage the VFX community and spark discussion.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Occasionally in your career, you come across people who believe in you and trust your potential to grow and deliver, given the right support — the team at The Mill did that for me When I became Head of Production, that really gave me the self-confidence I lacked up until that point, even though I had been successful previously. Lots of people suffer from imposter syndrome to some degree but having someone else validate you is a great confidence booster. It taught me in turn to look for the potential in people and try, as a manager, to support my team to grow personally and believe in themselves and also that I had their back.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I strongly believe the changes we’re making around leveraging cloud technologies to change VFX workflows will have a significant impact on the lives of people all around the world who choose to pursue a career as an artist, doing this type of work. We’re reducing the need for artists to physically relocate to creative hubs to work, so people can choose to stay in their community if they want and avoid inflated rents. Empowering individuals to be able to make decisions that are in their own best interests is really gratifying, as well as supporting artists, all too often an overlooked profession that is so fundamental to our general happiness and wellbeing.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- If you are a runner or in a similar junior position, and want to be Producer for example, be the best runner you can. When i saw someone who was always two steps ahead and not trying to be the best at the role they were in at the time, it raised alarm bells.
- Growth is not going to be linear — it’s always reassuring to hear there will be dips along the way, and it’s not a reflection on you if growth doesn’t stay on the up..
- Find someone you admire or want to emulate and learn from them. Watch how they interact and how they communicate with others. (without being creepy)
- If you are working late every single day, something is wrong with the way you are working, your workload, your support structure (team) or the way you are managed. It is not a badge of honour to get burned out. I used to see Producers working late every single day as habit, because they thought they should be. With mutually supporting teams, regular workload catch ups and a grown up culture, people do what they need to do, then leave and see their families and friends, which is how it should be.
- Take personal ownership of absolutely everything. Your relationships in the office (good and bad), the quality of your work, your timekeeping, your learning, your attitude and your ego. With humility and a strong work ethic, you will succeed.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Like many people, I am very alarmed at the climate crisis. I think right now the absolute priority for individuals, businesses, institutions and governments should be to aim to be Carbon negative by 2030 or sooner. If i could inspire a movement it would be to push more businesses to take ownership of their carbon output. It is hard, no one is perfect, but it can be done if we all mobilise toward the same goal and there is some great work being done already, like B corp certification, but we are up against it. I think the pandemic has shown us we don’t need to travel anything like as much as we used to, for example. Also, rather than start a new movement, let’s encourage the readers, particularly in the Advertising sector, to join an existing one like the Advertising Association.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Hotspring is ultimately an ecosystem of people. The unique technology around it is a tool to let that ecosystem flourish in a global, flexible and decentralized way of working. We have proven its value in the VFX world and continue to scale at speed from advertising into episodic and film. Simultaneously, we are developing some marquee projects in the architectural world, especially through the use of Unreal experiences. In fact the growth potential at Hotspring extends through any industry or sector that requires transactional task based execution of certain services. Integrations into adjacent internal software will further increase our ability to capture large parts of the outsource market.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.