Wednesday, July 8, 2009

#0009 CG Supervisor's Shot Breakdown, part 3 - Choosing what's best

As a Computer Graphics supervisor, you'll find choosing a method of cost estimation and a breakdown approach is constrained by various factors, including the information given, project scale, preparation time allowed, your breakdown audience, your objectives and whether your breakdown is given freely or for pay.

In previous posts we examined some approaches to cost estimation: widget counting, difficulty ranking, attribute classification and difficulty ranked attribute classification (#0007) and the types of breakdowns (#0008). Today we will examine the factors that would influence your choice of estimation method and breakdown type. Tomorrow we wrap it up by looking at the presentation of your breakdown.

Considering Limiting Factors
Quality of Information
The major limiting factor in preparing a breakdown will always be the quality of the information available. You may receive the information in the form of a list in a text or spreadsheet. If you get it in any form other than a spreadsheet, start by converting it to a spreadsheet.

Often the list may not contain all the information you need, so you may have to interview the client or director or whomever you need to to get the correct direction. Sometimes all you will have is your interview with the director as you go through the script together.

If you are unlucky enough to be handed a raw script and nothing more, you should go through it with a high lighter, mark any shots you think should get effects or graphics, and mark or tag each page. If you mark it, I suggest a dot in the upper right corner. Small POST-IT flags work well also. Go through it twice if time permits, then take a third pass and enter the data in your spreadsheet.

Of course, if you are lucky enough to be handed a raw script and nothing more, you may discover shots that you could help with effects that someone else may miss. Either these shots will not get visual effects support, will be done a more expensive way, or could be sent to someone else. They could also end up on your lap a week before computer graphics shots are due because someone discovered them in the editing process.

Be especially wary of oral direction at this stage. Do your best to get everything written down. It's a good idea to have a coordinator or producer back you up in when reviewing shots orally so two people can reconcile notes later. If someone else is writing notes it also gives you more time to think about the shots.

Ultimately, your breakdown will only be as good as the information you have. As the saying goes,"garbage in...."

Scale of Project and Time Constraints
As we discussed in post #8, CG Supervisors Shot Breakdown, part 2, the scale of the project may dictate how detailed a breakdown you do and what method you use for estimating costs.  A huge project, or one with more shots than you have time to consider, could compel you use sampling or shot classification methods.  Always the time allowed is a factor.

The audience - who are you giving the breakdown to?

Your audience determines how you structure your breakdown,what methods you can consider using for cost analysis, and how you present the information.  An estimate for an external client may look very different than one you prepare for an internal client, meaning a producer in-house or your boss.
It also will influence how candid you may be about revealing your methodology, how much you limit the scope of the project, what caveats and exceptions you would flag, and so on.

Keep your breakdown objective in mind

Your reason for preparing the breakdown may determine what kind of breakdown you must provide and hence ultimately how much effort you must expend.  If your objective is to win a new client, there may be a deadline for submitting the bid, and even if one is not given there is a de facto business understanding that you need to give an answer quickly.  I use 24 hours as a standard with simple bids and may ask a week on a big project.  Whatever time constraint you have, bear in mind that you don't want to miss the boat.  Ideally, in a competitive situation you don't want to come to the game too late.

Likewise, why you're making the breakdown will determine again how candid you are, how much information you provide, and how careful you are in preparing the cost estimates.  If you are bidding a season of work or a major project, you most certainly need to prepare a labor or resource analysis as well.

A final consideration - who is paying for your time?

You may not think of this, but preparing a good breakdown takes a great deal of time.  If you are working on your own it's part of the cost of doing business, but can you justify spending a week on a bid?  Maybe you need to pare down your breakdown work to make sure you're doing other work that needs to get done.  If you work for a studio, your boss's outlay may be something to consider.  Do you take the time to do a detailed budget when your boss wants a ballpark?  It's his dime, give him what he wants.  You can advise him that a more complete study may turn up some costs you haven't considered - or some savings.

Don't overthink it

All this explanation on how to prepare a breakdown is something you want to absorb but not allow to absorb you.  Ultimately, you have a big job to do as a Computer Graphics Supervisor and while preparing a breakdown is a huge responsibility and can be of vital importance to properly estimating costs and resource needs, ultimately it is a plan of action given what you know at a particular instance in time.  Once work begins, a whole new set of realities will arise that will demand your best skills as a supervisor.

Thanks again for dropping by.