Search form

Startup Visualization Company OPSIS Finds Success with RFX’s Virtual Studio

Co-founder and CEO Henrik Fett talks about starting a new studio in the midst of a pandemic, and how the RFX Virtual Studio, powered by solutions from NVIDIA and Supermicro, made it all possible.

Starting a company in the midst of a pandemic isn’t the sort of thing that most people would consider a great idea. With so much uncertainty about… well… everything, taking unnecessary risks is counterintuitive at best, and pretty much totally nuts from a less charitable perspective. And yet, that’s what Henrik Fett did when, in 2020, he and his partner Tefft Smith co-founded OPSIS. With credits that include the Emmy Award-winning series Hacks and Stranger Things, Opsis offers pre-, tech-, and post-visualization services, as well as final visual effects work, for projects ranging from features and episodic series to large-format rides and installations. In two short years, OPSIS has grown to a core team of about 30 artists, bringing on vetted collaborators as needed for individual projects.

Significantly, all of this was made possible by Fett and Smith’s initial decision to partner with RFX - founded and run by multiple Academy Award winner Ray Feeney - whose Virtual Studio effectively replicates a private data center, providing a complete turnkey production environment that can be configured with GPU workstations, servers, shared storage, and networking.

Regarding his timing in starting OPSIS, Fett, who freely admits that it was questioned by many, points out that, while it was a time of great uncertainty, it was also an opportune moment.

“When the pandemic came around, we were all dealt a whole new set of realities,” he says. “It was a moment where you could really create something new, think outside the box, push the envelope. So, we really embraced that moment and, together with my business partner Tefft Smith, who already had a very successful run as a visualization supervisor, we jumped right in. Purely from a practical standpoint, we had the advantage of name recognition and longevity in the business. People knew that we knew what we were doing.”

That name recognition helped OPSIS quickly land a number of projects, including work on Season 4 of the Netflix Emmy Award-winning smash hit, Stranger Things. According to Smith, “We helped production postvis several episodes of Season 4, completing everything from character animation of the Demogorgons, bats, and dogs to the set extension of the Upside Down.  One of the most challenging sequences we helped visualize was when Nancy and the crew battle the Demobats when they show up in the Upside Down to save Steve."

The studio also worked on HBO Max’s Emmy Award-winning Hacks for production side VFX supervisor Dan Levitan. OPSIS VFX supervisor Justin Jones describes, “For Season 2 of Hacks, Deborah Vance takes her show on the road, which created numerous challenges of being able to get the characters in all the various locations that they needed to be. We took on the challenge of helping production with this by tackling many of the shots where they are traveling. Whether it was car, tour bus, or cruise ship, the production was able to shoot the bulk of the shots on stage while we added the necessary backgrounds, day, and night, including skinning the vehicles with reflections and grime to add the realism to ensure that none of these would pop the viewer out of the scene.”

Smith adds, “...for one of the shots we had to figure out how to achieve the director’s vision in a single shoot - aerial to closeup of our talent driving their car in the desert, we start wide following the car and swing around to a closeup of Deborah and Ava having a conversation. In order to achieve this, we started by visualizing the shot with the director. Once we had it the way she wanted it, we reverse engineered the shot to figure out how best to shoot it.  We figured that it would be multiple cameras and set ups.  We had a Drone, a follow car with a camera on the front, and then a greenscreen of the talent.  We visualized them and sent back the tech data so that the production could go on location to shoot.  After they shot everything, we ended up quickly postvising and tracking everything to fit together before taking it to final comp."  

Working safely, and remotely, during the pandemic, was, according to Fett, a “Wild West situation” in which anything was possible… and probable in helping clients realize high quality visual development on tight schedules. To quickly enable teams to move onto projects with confidence in their pipeline and toolsets, Fett and Smith had to make some concrete decisions about what kind of setup would make the most sense in terms of flexibility, cost-efficiency, and security. One possibility, Fett says, was to buy a lot of hardware, hire an IT professional, get a lot of air conditioning and lots of power, and build a traditional studio/machine room. But Fett and Smith didn’t want to be tied to a brick-and-mortar enterprise.

“Our goal was to stay flexible, nimble, and not establish a colossal machine that we have to feed,” Fett clarifies. “We are working with top talent in our industry and needed to make sure that we could accommodate everyone’s new reality, while providing a state-of-the-art environment in regard to the backbone of the studio, with security and ease of use at the forefront of our minds. Quality over quantity was our mantra and, in order to attract that kind of talent and make sure that our clients felt that we can handle their projects securely, we knew we needed help. We needed someone who was willing and able to work with us, to grow with us, to help us grow. Someone to anticipate things that we don't even know yet that are right around the corner.”

So, when it came time to cement his and Smith’s pipeline decision, partnering with RFX was something of a no-brainer. They’re one of the oldest hardware/software solutions provider in the visual effects industry, and Fett’s relationship with them goes back 25 years. Moreover, as Fett observes, “It's not like they're resting on their glory days.” He was aware that RFX was in the forefront of the virtual studio movement, and he knew he could depend on them for guidance and support, including ongoing access to an easily scalable, efficient, and cost-effective tech stack that took the guesswork out of planning and implementing a production pipeline.

RFX Virtual Infrastructure CEO Prashant Buyyala, who is also an animation and VFX executive with 25+ years’ experience building and managing production studios for companies like DreamWorks Animation and Rhythm & Hues, says that OPSIS and RFX were a perfect match.

“The RFX Virtual Studio is a complete turnkey production environment designed for the needs of creative studios like OPSIS,” says Buyyala. “It can be configured with GPU workstations, servers, shared storage, and networking. The Virtual Studio can be rapidly provisioned and customized on demand, based on production needs, and they only pay a simple and predictable fixed ‘rental’ fee for the infrastructure needed. The RFX team takes care of the technical complexity behind the scenes, so that the artists have a simple interface that gives them the infrastructure they need to focus on production.”

He continues: “For example, one of the benefits we offer is a centralized file server for the virtual workstations, which means you don't have to download everything from Dropbox or Google Drive onto your home computer, work on it, and then upload it. The artists are all working on the workstations located in the virtual studio and they are seamlessly networked together. The technology and infrastructure allow for exceptionally smooth collaboration, even though the people are physically disparate. The other big advantage is being able to just call us and say, ‘Hey, I have three artists starting up next week. Can you set up new workstations for them?’ And before you know it, the systems are there, using all the best Supermicro hardware, the latest NVIDIA GPUs like the NVIDIA A5000 and A6000, NVIDIA VGPU software to virtualize the GPUs, the state-of-the-art AMD CPUs, and all the right software pre-installed and configured.”

“Being able to provision custom configured virtual workstations within a matter of hours, or even minutes, is unheard of,” affirms Fett. “And it makes so many things possible that otherwise would've been impossible.”

Asked for more details about how RFX’s virtual production platform specifically helps OPSIS do what they do, Fett explains that, as a visualization studio, as opposed to a visual effects house, for them it's all about digital pixel and image manipulation using whatever tool is best for the task, including tools that are not part of the traditional VFX toolbox.

“Our artists just need to get their virtual brush and do what they do best, without having to think about versions or machines or programs,” he says. “We could try to educate ourselves to know exactly which is the best graphics card or what is the best of something else. But we just call RFX and say, ‘We just signed this project. We have five Unreal Engine guys. We need them to be up to speed ASAP.’”

He continues, “Now I can go out to clients and say, ‘We can do this. We can make this happen within your schedule.’ Because I know that I can pick up the phone or hop on a Zoom and say, ‘Here are our needs and this is our timeframe.’ And that is the only way that a little disruptor like OPSIS can swim with the big sharks out there.”

The competitive advantage for studios like OPSIS, Buyyala emphasizes, doesn’t reside in a technology stack. Their advantage is the “creatives” – the people that come up with amazing ideas. And RFX is ideally positioned to support them, no matter which specific technological tools they’re using.

“RFX has deep relationships with partners like NVIDIA and Supermicro, and we are able to work closely with them to design solutions for our customers based on the next generation hardware that Supermicro makes available to us,” explains Buyyala. “Sometimes we even work on these solutions well ahead of the actual need materializing. For example, as we better understand OPSIS’s needs, we research and integrate solutions like NVIDIA Omniverse Enterprise - a platform for building custom 3D pipelines and simulating virtual worlds - and figure out how it will play a key role in their upcoming projects and workflows. Then during our discussions, not only can we discuss Omniverse knowledgeably, but we can say, ‘Here's a demo environment. We've already set it all up for you.’ And within minutes, they can start using it and see how it's going to help solve a problem.”

In addition to optimal flexibility and the ability to quickly scale up or down as needed, RFX’s model also offers a welcome predictability when it comes to pricing.

“If you go to the public cloud providers, the costs can be quite variable,” Buyyala adds. “Sometimes you get surprise bills at the end of the month. We provide flat monthly rates. If an artist forgets to shut off a machine, there's not suddenly a bigger cost. It's all-inclusive.”

Both Fett and Buyyala also believe there’s a mismatch of sorts between the virtually unlimited capacity of the big cloud providers and the actual needs and culture of the animation community, which has had some unfortunate repercussions. The ability to provide “a thousand computers at the snap of one’s fingers” is antithetical to the industry’s traditional ideals of constraint and optimization, which served to create partnerships among producers, supervisors, and other members of a team. The big public cloud has created a kind of pressure that’s led to a more adversarial relationship and ultimately unproductive bidding wars.

Another advantage of the RFX virtual studio model, Buyyala says, is that you're switching from a CapEx-based investment to an OpEx-based one, which makes a huge difference.

“When it's CapEx, the infrastructure is in the budget as part of an overhead line item,” he elaborates. “Clients hate paying for overhead because it is a large ‘black box’ and they feel like they might be paying for technology, and that's going to help other competitors. Whereas if it's an OpEx expenditure, they think, ‘I'm paying for renting this machine for three months for this sequence, along with this artist.’ That's a model that they understand because they do that already for Avids, camera gear, lighting, and other equipment. Also, if there's an extension or a delay in the schedule, it's easier to show the additional costs – actual OpEx costs. It's transparent, and it's a lot easier to get a client to help fund that.”

Summing up, Fett points out that the industry has always been constantly changing and, while he does his best to keep up with all the IT advances, it’s really not his core business.

“It’s not that I’m allowing myself to be ignorant of these things by pushing it to someone else,” he clarifies. “But I'm very clearly trusting the advice and the expertise from RFX's team in my day-to-day operations. And I definitely would look to them for guidance for future betterment of the system.”

For further information, please visit:


RFX Virtual Infrastructure at

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.