Now let us turn to some nuts and bolts: the CG Supervisor's pipeline design work-flow. (Bear in mind this work could be lead by a studio VFX Supervisor or CG-VFX Department Manager.) In doing so, my intent is to describe my process in a very generic way. This is a process that can work if the production pipeline is for a new company or department and equally well if it is a new project or an expansion.
But first, let's look at the seminal published work of
Dane Edward Bettis, who describes a "three layer" process for designing and implementing a CG pipeline. Generally, Bettis has a good basic starting point, and without risking plagiarism, let me refer readers to Mr. Bettis's paper for a different perspective. Bettis begins with the assumption that there is an existing CG department that is re-designing the pipeline for a new project. He is also working within a specific context of CGI animated feature films. I'll summarize the main heads:
The VFX pipeline structural form is dictated by :
the functional mission
the functional mission
service mission of the company or department. This mission will be in the form of services to be offered: is the mission CG animation, motion graphics, digital effects or some other visual effects service? The more narrowly defined this mission in the designers' minds the better. For example, is the mission to provide digital effects for any producer, or is the focus on film, HDTV, DVD, internet distribution, or the latest gadget from company A.
The company's competitive strategy, which some may call pricing or marketing position is another important part of the functional mission. Is the company competing on the basis of price, service (turnaround, client relationships, volume/capacity), the work (quality, unique technologies, skills or methods) or some combination? Each of these factors may bear on how all three classes of pipeline are to be structured. For example, if the strategy is to provide a certain fixed capacity of shots with widely varying direction to a client on a recurring basis (for an episodic TV show), the pipeline will be structured differently from a pipeline designed around a fixed order of very specific shots.
project scope. Whereas service mission goes to intended services and competitive strategy may address general capabilities, project scope attempts to define with as much specificity as possible the parameters of the project: services needed, level of difficulty, volume of work, schedule and budget are key factors. Additionally, client interactivity and delivery needs are part of the scope. For example, if your client is hooting 12 timezones away during your schedule, this will impact your approval pipeline and that may impact how your production and material pipelines function. The 12-hour offset will tend to add a minimum of 24 hours to get feedback on each decision, which puts more pressure on your production pipeline. It also means that work on shots will proceed in spurts --so workers need to have several projects with offset schedules to reduce standby slack. Likewise, the asset and materials pipeline will have additional demands to generate approval materials and deliver them to the client. Project scope includes every possible parameter related to fulfillment of the service mission.
Use a hypothetical template project when designing without a known project scope. Suppose a client walks in the door and needs a 100 water and fire effects shots in six weeks and another walks in needing a complete branding campaign with a CG character and motion graphics in three weeks. Each of these projects have a definable functional mission. But in order to meet those deadlines your department must be pre-engineered to meet the demands. With a pre-engineered pipeline, when the actual clients walk in the door, the task becomes one of tailor-fitting rather than building from scratch. Use a template project, (or projects) together with the service mission and corporate competitive strategy to design a pipeline with general capacities.
Image by ToniVC via Flickr
of the essence,
so your company or department may need to be prepared for what walks in the door. Film studios and producers are squeezing visual effects vendors with tighter schedules and more last minute schedules to reduce time-to-theater in post. Television and advertising producers have always been tight for time. Prepare.
With functional mission defined, the pipeline designers are likely to proceed to resource assessment. Before we do, let's consider a moment some issues of company culture that may influence our decisions.