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Be Your Own Producer: The Importance of Organization in VFX

Be Your Own Producer: The Importance of Organization in VFX

Are you having a hard time staying on top of things? Logan shows you how to be organized while still balancing what your experience has taught you.

Visual effects can be collaborative one day and solitary the next. In one moment you’ll be working with a large team to tackle big picture problems and in the next you’ll be focused in at your desk chugging away pixel by pixel at a piece of tape wardrobe left on your star’s jacket. In either case, there’s always a plethora of data, assets, files, and more to be handled, managed, and ultimately messed up.

Your work will evolve, expand, and change hands through the course of its project lifetime. This game of digital telephone leaves a lot of room for error and can end up slowing your workflow if you aren’t on top of it. The solution is simple: be organized, but in practice it’s an art of balancing what your experience has taught you with your own creative process.

The Basics

At the most basic level, organization in visual effects comes down to managing workflow and data. For workflow, it’s about tracking and record-keeping as much as it is the mindset and the level of motivation your bring to the process.

Over the course of last year, I worked on a solo project for The Field Museum of Natural History in which I was tasked with re-creating a diorama of an Ethiopian watering hole. As I tuned and managed my workflow during the project, it became clear that having a confident and efficient grasp on my progress was necessary for both keeping my motivation up to speed and being able to accurately estimate the work and time I needed to allocate to the various stages of the piece. 

I tracked budget, shot versions, assets, deadlines, delivery dates, and more using spreadsheets for details and a Trello board for a more rudimentary look at what I should be prioritizing and working towards. Whenever I ran into a snag whether through client adjustments, time constraints, or other factors, I was able to adjust and adapt without the need to rack my brain on the best path forward or worry about how all the pieces would come together. 

Another major part of this is simple data management. This starts with folder structure and naming conventions and extends all the way to storage, backup, and archiving. Cast a large net when considering your approach to data management by anticipating any and all of the data, files, and assets you’ll be handling. Once you’ve found your conventions and method, changing them mid project can defeat the purpose and leave you caught in a maze of folders.   

Fitting into the Larger Picture

Oftentimes, artists are placed into a system which is already tried and true. Nonetheless, fitting into this system well is a part of organization too. In a large production, the sheer number of assets alone can knock someone less diligent off course. If a compositor is working on a shot of a burning World War II era city, for example, and isn’t sure if their stock fire asset is the latest version the client wanted to switch to (maybe they liked how it was more ‘yellow’) it could lead to hours of reworking and backtracking.

Avoiding these slip ups starts with initiative and self motivation. Rather than a robot which your teammates download shots onto and get exports in return, you should take pride in the work you’re given from the perspective of both an artist and a solo producer. Handle your portion of the project in a proactive way, rather than a passive one, by strengthening your own personal management habits.

If you’re in a big studio setting, you’ll be operating in a much different way than freelancing at home or working remotely for a small team. Consider the organizational structures at large for the project your working on and how these will inform your own. 

What is your feedback process? How many revisionary periods are there? What are your deadlines, shot numbers, workloads, and workflows all shaping up to be? These are preparatory questions which will steer you in the right path before you begin to work and set you up for both success and resilience to bumps in the road.

Perfecting your own System

Once you’ve fully understood the requirements of your team and the project, the remainder rests in your hands. This is where creativity meets the organizational process. There’s no right way to organize oneself and keep oneself on track. 

Perfecting your own system of organization is the first step to becoming self-sufficient. This scale rests on the ladder of junior-mid-senior level artists as supervisors begin to learn what members of their team they have to spend time micromanaging and what members of the team they can trust to do it themselves. 

Tweaking your system starts with introspection: what methods work to keep you on track? What constructs motivate you and which do the opposite? 

Using Tools to Help

When it comes to tools and optimization, a good start is Posthaste for folder structures and simple spreadsheets for shot lists and tracking your progress. Again, though some companies will handle these mediary aspects for you, taking control of your own process by self-tracking factors such as the assets you’re waiting on, the deadlines for your work, and more will make you strong link in the chain.

Building this experience is crucial to hardening your work ethic and preparing you for supervisory roles in the future. If you can’t manage yourself, you won’t be able to manage others. At the same time, many find that taking command of their organization improves their focus, keeps them locked in, and most importantly allows them to focus on creating.

The next time you work on a project (small or freelance especially) take note of every point of confusion or clarification you need that takes up time. Maybe you take a couple extra minutes to locate an element because it’s not on an asset list, or your folders have become a mess because your naming convention wasn’t broad enough to cover your needs. Whatever the case, the next project can always be better. Add a column to your internal shot list, maybe one more underscore and field in your project file names—whatever it takes, you can always be more organized.     

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