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3 Tips for Speeding up your VFX Workflow

3 Tips for Speeding up your VFX Workflow

Creating VFX for any project can be time consuming, especially without the proper organization. These 3 tips will have you making high-quality visual effects in no time!

In any creative field, optimization is key. As deadlines loom and the days grow long, the way one approaches their workflow can be the difference between nailing a timeline for a happy client or working through the night. 

Visual effects is a multi-stage process, and every step of the work provides an opportunity to speed things up and optimize your path. As you gain experience, you’ll learn the common pitfalls and time traps of individual workflows. Whether it’s an inefficient feedback and delivery system, unresponsive freelancers, or server maintenance holdups, everything and the kitchen sink will be thrown at you in an attempt to keep you from the ultimate goal: work smart, not hard.

1. Preplan, Prepare, and other “Pre” words

Visual effects starts weeks, months, and sometimes years before a single pixel appears on screen. This preproduction process is absolutely crucial to maintaining a successful and smooth workflow. When you plan ahead, you start to prepare for what areas of a project will go well and what areas will require more consideration than what would be obvious if you just jumped in. 

One of the most important steps of preparation is to be realistic with your time. Consider your process as a machine which you program to turn footage, assets, and production resources into finished work. The fuel for this machine is money and time. One of the common mistakes of new VFX artists especially is they get caught up on client happiness and so underestimate the “fuel” needed for a project. 

Be realistic with your time and consider every action in these terms. Sure, you might want to use ten weeks and your whole budget on that one destruction sequence, but this is a balancing act—how much time and money is it going to take for render and revisions? As you map out your workflow including the programs you use, your internal deadlines (very important, be your own producer), and your systems of delivery, always keep in mind the fuel necessary to get the job done. 

The single most impactful thing you can do to up your preparation (and organization) game for solo and small team projects is make spreadsheets. Keep track of everything you do and the progress you make with columns such as ‘shot #’, ‘version’, ‘deadline’, ‘date completed’, ‘feedback’, and ‘notes’ to name a few. 

2. Minimize Tech Variables

Visual effects is unique in that it’s a creative field which is entirely reliant on technology. This simple fact can become one of the largest workflow time vampires in a given project. One of the most important steps you can take to minimize your IT woes is to eliminate tech variables from your project.

This process looks different depending on the size and scope of your team and work. In a large studio, it’s an automatic process. The artists’ machines are all in a delicate balance of servers, software versions, hardware components, storage, you name it. Moreover, there are full teams and employees dedicated to keeping all of it running smoothly. 

When you’re working as a freelancer or remote contractor or with other freelancers or remote contractors things become much more unpredictable. Get ahead of this by normalizing factors such as software versions for compatibility and collaboration or storage formats for sharing (or even shipping) drives.

On your own end this comes down to knowing your workstation in and out and being comfortable tackling problems—they will happen. Make sure you have backups in the case of drive failure, reliable components, and in general an environment that is tried and true. I wouldn’t want to take on a huge project with a freshly built rig, for example. Even something as simple as a keyboard shorting out could lose you an hour of precious time depending on how close you are to a Best Buy. 

Finally, for windows users, do not run a windows update mid project. It’s like trying to add a fresh coat of paint and new boards to a boat… while sailing across the ocean. 

3. Use Stock Assets

Again, time and money are the two sources of fuel for any creative project— this makes stock assets a converter between the two. You spend money and can save a huge amount of time. For most aspects of a shot, especially at the indie and small team level, it’s impractical and sometimes even impossible to do everything from scratch. This is where stock assets and footage come in. 
Consider the cost of hiring an artist to simulate an explosion for example, now consider the time it would take for them to create it, run it through the approval process, revise it, render it, and so on. It’s rarely ever going to be worth it. Even if you make the same considerations but for shooting your own stock assets—even if you could jump in a time machine and get safety permits, a pyrotechnician, stunt doubles, and more and do the explosion on set, the answer is still oftentimes going to be the same: stock assets are the most efficient choice. 

Not only can stock assets be the foundation of a certain shot or effect, they can be the dressing on top of something that was built from scratch as well. Whether it’s to simply fill out the edges and bring the shot to the next level or even avoid revisions and rerendering of a complicated effect, stock assets are flexible and affordable for a variety of needs. 

When you’re taking on your next big project consider these tips. In the Visual Effects field, time really is of the essence, and every overtime hour saved is a success in workflow management.  

First time here? ActionVFX creates action stock footage for VFX and filmmaking. (We also have some great free stuff!)

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