Assembly video editor Josh Laurence saves weeks of work using Runway

Josh Laurence is an editor and artist at Assembly, a post-production house with clients ranging from Netflix to Maybelline. Prior to Assembly, Josh spent 11 years establishing GlossVFX in New York and Chennai, India, supervising finishing for clients such as Prada, Chloe, Gucci, Tom Ford, and Harry Winston. Outside of his beauty work for advertising, Josh has led teams on projects with major studio clients such as HBO, Warner Brothers, and MGM.

In this interview, we talk to Josh about how the pandemic brought new challenges to his workflow, leading him to adopt Runway as a time-saving solution.

Hi Josh! Thanks so much for joining us today. Can you tell us a bit about your work at Assembly? How many projects do you typically take on at the same time?

At Assembly, we have 3-8 concurrent projects at all times. They can range from high-security film projects from major studios to films for high-end luxury, fashion, and beauty brands. I manage a team of 7 Flame artists using AWS cloud-based virtual machines. We all live in different parts of the country, some on the West Coast, some in the Midwest and many on the East Coast. The VMs are all interconnected so we can collaborate on projects in a secure environment. This allows us to scale up and down as needed.

Can you tell us how you discovered Runway?

Assembly is a new company still in its first year of existence, but in my previous role doing beauty, I worked to create a motion-based division of a print company. At my previous company, we had explored outsourcing our still frame masking to several overseas companies - with excellent results. But over time, as we found the costs increasing and our company grew, we found ourselves in need of a dedicated team.

So we opened our own satellite studio in Chennai in South India. I went there and trained 30 new artists - dedicated to masking for our projects. They flourished and over time, we found that both offices grew with additional artists in NY and overseas. When we locked down in 2020, the process was thrown into chaos from our clients to our team abroad. The uncertainty affected our clients who halted work and both offices reduced capacity until dissolution a few months later.

In this slow period, I joined - an online community of Autodesk Flame artists which features weekly live forums demonstrating capabilities of Flame and featuring presentations by companies making tools that complement the workflow. [Runway co-founder] Cristobal was one of the early demonstrators and I was completely blown away by the ease of use and quality of Runway. I immediately opened an account and started using it on my jobs. I found the tools very fast, and accurate enough to get useful masks back within minutes, instead of the (what I thought was fast) days that it used to take. Runway is a game changer. It’s the first of its kind and just in its infancy, but it is already proving very valuable. When I need a mask, I’ll start with Runway first.

What projects have you recently used Runway for?

We recently used Runway on work for Pat McGrath Labs to accurately control the background grading. Runway was used to cut mattes for 28 shots - including moving hair on four different models. The mattes were available to our team for use in the shots within a few hours. This is work that would have taken a large team more than a few weeks to do the same.

What would you say, are the benefits to using Runway?

Runway is accurate, inexpensive, and dead simple to use. It’s the new baseline for the future of masking in video.

What result did it produce?

By creating high quality masks that make a great foundation for a shot, I can get my team to focus on the cleanup work faster. Previously, the masking process would take 75% of the time spent on a shot. Now the tables are flipped and shots where I use Runway masks go faster than ever.

Do you see yourself using Runway in the future?

I can’t stress this enough, I am very eager to continue to work with Runway to help streamline their interface to make these tools even more accessible.

What sort of work are you interested in exploring in the ML space?

I would love to see a tool where I draw an example mask and Runway extrapolates the selection across all frames of a shot. That is the holy grail of masking.

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