Thursday, July 9, 2009

#0010 CG Supervisor's Shot Breakdown: Part 4 - The form

Ultimately, the format of your breakdown depends on what information you include or are required to present. What information you should put in your spreadsheet depends entirely on what type of breakdown you are preparing and what method you are using for arriving at a cost estimate. You will need to consider the methods of cost estimation explained in post #0007 and the types of breakdowns discussed in post, #0008. Post #0009 can help you with the issues you should keep in mind when making your choices.

Here we can cover the essentials and offer a few suggestions applicable to most breakdowns; you can adapt this to suit your needs.

The Form of Breakdown Presentation
Use a Spreadsheet not a Text Document
Sometimes I've seen a breakdown presented as a text document, but this is a rare and inconvenient form for others to work with. Even if the text document contains tables, it is clumsy for others to add their own data, tabulate results, project what-if scenarios and the like. So, unless you are using a database or some other software for preparing estimates, you should use a spreadsheet. If you are running a small shop and using Quickbooks or similar software to prepare customer estimates, you should still develop your breakdown in a spreadsheet, for your benefit if not your customers'.

The Essential Data
Minimally, you should have a shot ID #, a description of the shot, a description of the effects work and a labor or cost estimate.

The shot ID number is often taken from the script or assigned to you by a vfx supervisor or producer who has pre-selected what shots you should consider. Unless this ID# is formatted in an unworkable way for your approval system or file naming conventions, you should use it as provided.

You will need a shot description. I usually give every shot both a descriptive phrase of my own and the full description provided. (If you are working with a script, it's on you to figure this out.) The descriptive phrase consists of three to five words, something easy to remember and something that could be written on a white board or in a small spreadsheet cell. The full shot description, if provided by a director or other person, may contain information both about what the shot is about and what you need to do. However, I usually break that into separate data fields in my spreadsheet, because one is about story and one is direction on the work required.

If necessary I will rephrase direction, but I usually prefer to keep the original words of the director intact so I have them when needed later. For this reason, I usually put the director's requests in one column, mine in another, and may allow additional columns if subordinate supervisors are helping prepare the breakdown.

Keeping an eye on the story is important, because it helps you make sure you're meeting shot objectives and continuity between shots. To help the descriptive field, I often have a field with the script segment or transcription of the audio sound bite. Again this has to do with story. However, I would not take the time to transcript the audio from a tape or video clip, this should be provided in a document or you should just leave it blank, it's not a good use of your time. (A coordinator could add this for you later, but it's better if you just can cut and paste it from a script or preliminary breakdown.)

I've experimented with listing characters, props, backgrounds and other scene elements. I've experimented with giving camera direction, lensing and lighting direction. I've experimented with breaking down what tasks are required.

When doing a widget-counting breakdown, I've found that it works best to put the widgets in rows. This way I can collapse and expand rows using subtotal functions to hide data details or drill into the estimate as needed. This leaves columns for each scene, shot or shot shot options.

Use Formulas to Make Your Breakdown Flexible
Put in formulas where needed. When you do this, define variables (elsewhere on the same sheet or make a variables sheet). This will help you play with scenarios when you're in a competitive bidding situation. For example, you could make your labor costs, pads, and so forth variables.

Don't forget to add administrative overhead -- you need to capture the labor costs of coordinators, supervisors, clerks and IT personnel. Custom programming should be anticipated as a line item if you're counting widgets --the point is to be thorough.

If using classification methods you can set-up cells to restrict input to certain phrases or codes and then use formulas to convert those into labor and cost values.

Always pad. I like to pad at a low level, for example, I add a pad to each area of labor: modeling, animation, painting and so on. In this way I've pre-padded my labor. (However, if you tell artists this number, there goes your pad!) I've done it the other way also, a global pad. Sometimes I put in a bit at both levels.

Make it Read
Always make your spreadsheet neat. You need to help your readers quickly comprehend the data and focus their attention on what's important.

For presentation, you don't need to print or display every column and every row. Build it well and by clicking the collapse and open symbols, you can have a single document that allows a summary presentation, a detailed presentation, and a full (and confidential) work presentation. When I use subtotals, I put them above the details (automatic subtotalling puts it below) because then when I collapse the data below, the subtotal remains as a sort of index tab.

Use color and fonts to focus or reduce attention. Use alignment to make text flow better. FOr example, I turn on word wrap for cells with descriptions and instructions, set all cells to align at the top, and the results look great.

Avoid leaving empty rows to create space in your spreadsheet. Instead, control the placement of text vertically and increase the row height. Empty rows make editing the spreadsheet very cumbersome.

Keep Some Things Confidential
Finally remember that an estimate should not reveal too much about your operation. So unless you're presenting the breakdown internally, I suggest you hide most of the details about how you come up with your estimate, giving just enough detail to show you've been competent and build confidence. Print it or export it as a PDF, and send that out to people. If they really require a spreadsheet, copy the data to a new sheet, but lose anything confidential. How you arrive at a bid is part of your company's proprietary strategic method of operation. Do you want your client sharing it with competitive bidders?

Remember, it's YOUR work
Think about what other information is important to you; be flexible and experiment. Err toward too much information. If done properly, your breakdown becomes your database source for managing your show's direction and approval pipeline. You can hand a good breakdown to a coordinator and have that entered into your company's collaboration system and be 90% there.

Keep it useful, keep it need and remember this is a presentation to your client about how well your company functions.

As a final note, remember your breakdown is an intention, an informed guess. If you can tactfully convey this idea to others you will take some pressure off yourself. Because at the end of the day, your breakdown will never match with production reality.


Jeremy said...

Great and useful info! Which sofware do you prefer for breakdown/spreadsheets?
Jeremy Spencer
Animal Logic

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