Five Free Tools And Tips To Give You An Efficient VFX Workflow

Five Free Tools And Tips To Give You An Efficient VFX Workflow

January 1, 2019
Logan Leavitt

Improve your VFX workflow today with these 5 free programs and useful tips.

As budgets get smaller and deadlines get tighter, it’s crucial to know where you can cut corners. Often-times, there are aspects of our workflow which could be updated in the most cost-effective way possible: free stuff! 

In the world of software, plug-ins, and downloads, free has come back in style through open-source tools with transparent creators and bustling communities. Though it belongs on a different list, Blender is the ultimate example of today’s open-source revolution. More than ever, an artist can find many of the tools they need—zero dollars and a few clicks away.


PostHaste is a simple and easy to use platform for creating templated file structures for a variety of creative projects. File structure and naming convention are two of the most important steps in getting organized for your projects. 

If you freelance or work from home, you need to be able to find old work and search through archives quickly and reliably. PostHaste is amazing for its initial organization, but it also helps you uphold consistency as you move from one project to another. Once you become familiar with your process, you’ll be working faster than ever.   

DJV Imaging

If you’re on windows especially, viewing tools are pretty worse for wear. You probably have some conglomeration of windows media player, QuickTime, VLC and others floating around your hard drive. DJV Imaging is here to save you. 

This one-stop tool is billed as a media review software that is built for VFX, animation, and film production. As such it has all the tools and capabilities you’d be hoping for. First and foremost, DJV Imaging plays image sequences in full time with support for DPX, Cineon, and OpenEXR formats. Along with this, bells and whistles such as live histograms, color pickers, and batch command line capabilities make DJV Imagine a no-brainer for your post workflow.


If you’re managing a project with multiple people across a myriad of software, PostHaste and a spreadsheet may not be enough to keep you on course. There are several advanced pipeline management tools with big features and big price tags but in the world of free, Prism is a great start.

With support for mainstays such as Maya, Nuke, Houdini, Blender, and more, Prism is able to sync project files with shotlists and even exchange data across them as well. Prism’s advanced features allow you to automate render structures as well so you can keep tabs on versions and changes as you work through internal and external feedback.

We can thank internet speeds for online creative collaboration. The days of sending drives by snail-mail still exist for remote workers, but apps like along with a speedy connection are revolutionizing the work in progress and review process. Many of the other tools on this list will improve your internal workflow, but can up your external feedback game as well. 

Commenting and collaboration are the best parts of You can send guest links to projects or individual shots where clients are able to leave general comments and specific timestamped notes. has some limitations in its free version, but you can get up and running with one project and upload limits right away. 

Google Apps / G Suite

Sometimes less is more and a basic tool is all you need to solve many of your workflow problems. Google apps or G Suite is that simple tool. A platform like Prism can totally change your post-production organization, but a well-managed spreadsheet with multiple collaborators offers a shocking amount of direction as well.

The best part of G Suite, when compared to other basic work applications, is its collaborative and cloud-based nature. All your files can be accessed by users you determine on any system at any time. This takes away the worry of losing files and lets you keep track of things on a laptop at the airport level of mobility. 

3 Tips For Speeding Up Your VFX Workflow

1. Preplan and Prepare

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.

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 tools and tips. In the Visual Effects field, time really is of the essence, and every overtime hour saved is a success in workflow management.

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