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Three Ways To Stay Productive On The Go As A VFX Artist

Three Ways To Stay Productive On The Go As A VFX Artist

Don't let your productivity dwindle while you're on the go. Implement these techniques to stay productive!

We’ve all been there. Last minute travel, cramped flights, Uber rides stuck in traffic — you name it. In the professional world, this is just a small nuisance for some. You can still check your email, undergo simple tasks, and generally keep connected to most fields of work. 

For VFX artists, however, whose lifeblood is the system on which they work, travel can be a hard roadblock for progress. With a nice portable monitor, shoving your desktop in a suitcase or a pelican can be a viable option, but it’s simply not practical for most. Whether you’re surfing on couches or with family over Holiday, these three tips can help you stay at least a little bit productive while on the go as a VFX artist.

1. Work Lightweight on a Laptop

Laptops have become more and more powerful every year, and for many in less tech demanding fields, a trusty Macbook is all it takes to do a rockstar job. For compositors, animators, modelers, and more, however, it’s essential to know the boundaries of your machine and prepare to work lightweight. 

Some programs make this simple. In After Effects, which can be perfectly viable on a laptop, it’s clear what is going to leave you waiting on your cache while your laptop sounds like it’s going to blast off. This is where the planning comes in: it can be crucial to reconsider the priority of your shots based on your constraints. If you know you’ll be away for the weekend, it might be best to save some roto for the road. 

For Nuke users, The Foundry has a great solution: Nuke Assist. Nuke Assist is a great option for lightweight work on a laptop. It’s a slimmed-down version of Nuke with all the limited features you’ll need for busy work on the go, from roto to paint, among other basic compositing tools.

2. Remote Desktop

Remote desktop is pretty much never a perfect solution, but in a pinch can be the biggest lifesaver of all time. Though I’ve done it before myself, making meaningful progress on a project is not usually possible and never efficient through remote desktop. What remote desktop can do, however, is completely save you through any last-minute tasks and fixes. 

If you need to do a quick re-render, left a file on your hard drive, or even need to make small changes to things such as a comp or model, a remote desktop can save the day in an otherwise nightmarish situation. One of the best options is to sleep your computer and allow remote wakeup access for a just-in-case (as long as you have good security, I should add).

3. Plan… A lot

One of the best parts of being an artist of any kind is you’ll rarely find yourself in a spot where you can’t make “progress” through planning. Oftentimes, this is the force that can get you out of a rut and freshen your eyes. When you’re away from home or the office, maybe even on a quick trip to the coffee shop, consider creative ways you can outline and reconsider your work.

In my experience for compositing, this comes through at two levels: the technical and artistic. On the artistic level, I find it crucial to see with my own eyes in order to replicate it on the screen, especially when going for photorealism. For example: while working on a film with a liftoff sequence, one of the most valuable periods of post-production was during a sudden stint of travel. It allowed me to look out of plane windows and even capture some reference footage on my phone.
On the technical level, there are always ways to consider your approach to certain effects. You can watch tutorials, read books and blogs, or start collecting assets for your next shot. I’m often shocked by how much time away from working on a shot helps my process in the end. There’s always more to plan and refine. 

For modeling and CG work, this process is similar. Take photos of interesting materials you see while traveling, sketch plans for your next model, and take in the world around you and apply it to your work. Though many consider having an eye a talent, it’s something you have to develop as well. This is how you can stay productive all the time as a creative.

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