Outpost VFX

An advanced resource and project management system

Outpost VFX is a fast-growing international visual effects company, with headquarters in Bournemouth, Dorset. Employing over 150 people out of several countries, they create high-end computer graphic imagery used in feature films, TV and commercials and work with companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Universal Studios, BBC and ITV to name a few.

The Requirement

Owing to significant growth and an increasingly international workforce, Outpost VFX recognised that they needed a centralised piece of software to help manage the business. As Gez Hixson COO of Outpost VFX says:

"We were scaling massively at the time, we doubled in size each year, and I needed something robust enough to put in the middle of all of it. As we have multiple sites around the world, we needed something that everyone feeds into, so that at a glance I could see a picture of what’s happening around the world."

Having evaluated various off-the-shelf packages and finding that none fit the way the business operates, Gez decided to look into having something bespoke created, which led him to make contact with Yammayap.

The Approach

The design of a bespoke business system plays a massive role in the final outcome, and before any development started, Yammayap had already met with the key stakeholders at Outpost VFX half a dozen times to discuss precisely how the system should work. Using their existing Excel files, along with regular conversations and mockup designs from Yammayap, a blueprint for the application was created. What followed was an agile approach to software development, where each iteration was shared and discussed with the client. As modules of the system were completed, they were rolled out to employees, meaning there was a gradual move to the platform, not a sudden change. This phased approach helped to ease the transition and ensure that uptake was successful.

The Result

Outpost VFX now has a centralised business management system, which all of their employees around the world use on a regular basis. The system empowers management and provides near-instant information about the performance of operations happening thousands of miles away. With the ability to play “what if” games within the system, they can see how things might look in the future, meaning Outpost VFX can pivot more easily and better prepare for changes in their rapidly changing landscape. As intended, the bespoke system has become central to Outpost VFX’s continued growth and success.

"The bespoke system Yammayap has created allows us to have a much more robust plan of what the world is going to look like in two months time, we can see what might happen if we carry on on this path, and what might happen if we pivot slightly. With us now having four offices around the world, we need visibility of what’s happening and we get that and the metrics we need to drive the business forward."

"Yammayap are a great bunch, they’re friendly and work well with our team, they ask the right questions and immerse themselves in our business. I wouldn’t work with anyone else"

Gez Hixson, COO.

Post Launch

Post-launch, Chris Steele at Yammayap, sat down with Gex Hixson who is COO at Outpost VFX, to talk about the design and build of their application.

Chris Steele
Chris Steele
Project Manager
Yammayap
Gez Hixson
Gez Hixson
COO
Outpost VFX
Hi Gez, can we start by talking about what Outpost does?

We do visual effects, which is creating computer graphic imagery for feature films, TV, commercials, all that sort of stuff. We build monsters, environments, all the way down to simple things like removing a coffee cup someone’s left in the shot. We work mainly with Hollywood but also UK shows. Our customers include companies such as the BBC, ITV, Netflix, Amazon and Universal Studios.

What challenges were you facing that prompted this project?

Quite simply, there is nothing on the market that lends itself to what our industry does. In a way, we're closely linked to manufacturing business in the sense we manufacture images. We've got a vast amount of people that we bring in to do the work and we tend to work with reasonably fixed bids. We quote to do a certain amount of work and then it's up to us to deliver that work within scope and budget. Everything that is out there in the market didn't lend itself to what we do which is quite unique. I found everything we were trying to use was very much like ‘you've done this much work so here's what you should be charging’. I was like, no, we need to reverse that. Here's how much I'm charging, how much do I make at the end of it if I do all this work? So, it was a different equation which nothing on the market seemed to work for. We were scaling massively at the time, we've doubled in size each year and I needed something robust enough to put in the middle of all of it, especially as we were using multiple sites around the world. We needed something that everyone feeds into so that at a glance, I can see a picture of what's happening around the world at one time.

There was nothing on the market so it forced your hand to look at something bespoke?

Yes, and having worked at previous companies where everything was done in Excel, which was the only way people were working in our industry, I was all too familiar with the limitations of that way of working. For instance, you can get live data, but to get a snapshot of the past you need to save multiple files, which isn’t conducive to a decent working environment.

Once you decided to get something bespoke, how did you go out to the market to find somebody to work with?

I didn't really go out to market. It was a classic friend of a friend. I can't remember who exactly it was who recommended Yammayap but I was talking to someone in the pub of the troubles I was having managing this stuff and what we were putting together. I got put in touch with Rich Burkitt (MD of Yammayap) and we just started chatting about what it was that we were having problems with and what it is that they could offer. From there, Rich, Ed and George came in and we had a 2 hour meeting where we discussed everything about the business. What we were using, what could they do, how could it be improved and designs we liked. We just broke it all down to its component parts and then we did that a few times so that by the time we got around to actually engaging in the work, we had a very clear and concise plan. I think we had about 5 meetings where we just fleshed out ideas. Between the Excel files that I was using already, the conversations and the designs that they were drawing, we had a blueprint of where to go before we set off on that.

We worked really well together. I've always been pretty clear on what I want the outcomes to be and I've always known what it is that I want to measure and then Ed and George and Rich built the blocks in the middle of it all to say, okay, if that's the final goal, here's how you get there, does that look right?

Why did you choose Yammayap and was their locality important to you?

In all honesty, the locality is not important, especially now. As a company, we work with clients in America and service the work in Canada, the UK and India and soon to be LA as well. I've never been one for needing someone to be local if they can deliver the work and that's what we strive for. COVID's just proved that again where the world transitioned to all working on the screen. So, yes, the locality wasn't an important factor in choosing them. I could be in Scotland and still work with Yammayap, it's not a problem.

The main reason why I chose Yammayap was the comfort level. From the moment we started designing and talking about things, they seemed as excited about the project as I was. They seemed to know what it was that I was trying to achieve and they seemed to have well thought out ideas.

It sounds like the design phase was very important to you?

Yes, again, we're a design company. We manufacture pictures but it's all in the design, right? We work with directors all around the world and the main thing that allows you to win the gig is whether your creatives are in sync with the director. You make sure you that you spend a lot of time talking ideas through and saying, how about this and picking up references and saying, have you seen that film? That's similar to what we're thinking here. It's exactly the same with what Yammayap built, they would pull up ideas they have seen in other places or things that they've done themselves and say, is it something like this? Do you like the user interface on this? Is that something that you'd be interested in? That was a big, big part of it, making sure that we spent enough prep work going through everything before we got started.

After the design phase, what did you make of the approach Yammayap took?

It was great. We would do fortnightly to monthly meetings where they would present a new module or a new release. I would then test it and we would try and break it and they would say, is that right? Is that what you're thinking? It might be that we would pivot off slightly but generally speaking, they'd hit the mark. So, the regular catch-ups and presentations were essential.

Now the system has been launched what are the primary benefits you’ve seen in the business?

Consistency across the board has been a massive strong-point in that everyone is using this system and everyone is fully engaged with it. The reports we can pull out on a daily basis are extremely helpful. We get a much more robust plan of what is the world going to look like in 2 months time. If we carry on this path, how is the company going to perform? If we pivot slightly and go onto that path, how's it going to perform? The metrics we pull out from it are what we drive the business with. As I say, now that we are a company that has 4 offices around the world, we need that visibility at all times. Without being physically in one location, you can always worry if something is going wrong, not knowing, whereas this gives us full visibility on how everything is performing.

What are your feelings about working with Yammayap?

We're coming back again and again. That must be a good testament to it. They're a great bunch, they're friendly, they work well with our team, they ask the right questions that make you know that they know what they're doing. They spend a long time immersing themselves in your business so that they understand what's going to be important to you. I wouldn't work with anyone else.

Thanks for your time Gez.

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