Top vfx communication Tools
How do artists, directors and producers maintain communication to create the world’s most successful blockbusters?
We take a look at three of the most popular tools that enable consistency and quality on projects
We’ve entered a global age of visual effects. Superhero action flicks might be taking the cinema by storm, but these projects come with an immense shot tally that can rarely be handled by a single studio. Instead, 3D assets and Vfx-heavy shots must be allocated across several different teams, countries and time zones. From Hollywood to New York, and from London to Vancouver – these major cities are commonly considered to be the nexus of modern blockbuster film and television production.
Modern technology is capable of uniting post-production at the global level. Here we look at three of the most popular tools that a professional artist might use to trade ideas, maintaining consistency and quality on large-scale projects.
As the recipient of both an Academy Award for technical achievement and an Engineering Emmy for its impact on the television industry, cinesync is one of the most widely adopted applications in visual effects and animation today.
cinesync is a remote review and collaboration toolset that enables users to view and collaborate on high-resolution, high-frame-rate video in sync with others in any physical location, regardless of available bandwidth. Whether separated by a few towns or thousands of kilometres, users can collaborate on imagery as if they in the same room, utilising interactive functionality such as annotation, drawing and note-making tools in complete real-time synchronisation.
This ability to collaborate over vast distances has caused a fundamental change in the way that productions are approached and managed, from pre through to post. Supervisors, producers, directors, editors and artists the world over have hugely altered their workflow: productions no longer need to meet in the same physical location, or get mired in reams of email feedback chains when iterating on a visual element of a show. They can communicate ideas directly onto an image, wherever
they may be in the world, ensuring a faster iterative process and a less ambiguous transference of creative concepts.
The speed and reliability of cinesync used in this capacity has altered the concept of ‘post’ as a strictly final element of a show. With cinesync, consideration and collaboration around VFX and other visual elements can take place from the pre-production stage onwards. HBO made use of cinesync when working concurrently on Game of Thrones’ stand-out battle scenes in season seven, specifically the Loot Train sequence and the Frozen Lake battle. While one sequence was shot in Spain, the other was in Northern Ireland. cinesync ensured that the production team could review dailies and discuss the post work, despite the creative team being split up across the northern hemisphere.
cinesync’s solid security focus makes these discussions possible. Bolstered by high-end watermarking, guest authentication and encryption technology, cinesync empowers productions to leverage global collaborative workflows in a time when content is sensitive and security is a prime consideration. cinesync is put to use on the industry’s most-anticipated blockbusters for this very reason, supporting production for HBO, Netflix and Marvel, along with other big names in film and TV.
In fact, communication via cinesync was indirectly responsible for the very first character crossover in what later became the Marvel Cinematic universe. During post-production for the very first Iron
“Productions no longer need to meet in the same Physical location, or get mired in reams of email feedback chains when iterating on a visual element of a show”
Man film, an ILM artist added Captain America’s shield into a scene – a little joke for Jon Favreau in their next cinesync session – but Favreau ended up leaving it in to see if fans noticed. of course, everybody saw it – and the Marvel Cinematic universe expanded from there.
cinesync was created for a truly global industry, by developers who are acutely aware of the needs of digital artists, having personally experienced the bottlenecks that go hand in hand with production. It has revolutionised the way in which television shows and blockbuster films alike can be pitched, produced and delivered by opening the doors to seamless global collaboration.
Shotgun is a production tracking system for VFX artists, cinematic directors, producers, and everyone else involved in the creative process. Every step of production is represented visually in Shotgun, so you can see the life of shots and assets as they move through the pipeline. Artists can be allocated key deadlines and milestones, enabling studios to prioritise certain shots, reactively scale up production and handle unexpected changes with ease.
Shotgun supports a range of digital content creation applications, allowing VFX facilities to customise their pipeline and maximise efficiencies for a number of processes – from previs to compositing. Another huge benefit of the Shotgun toolset is its integration capabilities. For instance, any playlist in Shotgun can be opened in cinesync. once a cinesync review session is complete, all of the notes and drawings can be exported back to Shotgun with a single click. Shotgun’s user interface allows easy access for artists to create notes and annotations quickly and simply.
For all of the artists out there who emphasise visual artistic direction, drawings are listed in the notes section in Shotgun as thumbnails rather than full-size frames. The frames can still be accessed by clicking on the thumbnails. If you’re taking notes in Shotgun but are annotating in cinesync, those same annotations will be automatically linked to the relevant notes.
Many successful studios, such as Important Looking pirates, consider the cinesync/shotgun integration a key part of their pipeline – and manage quite a bit of throughput for a 100-strong team of artists. “cinesync is part of our daily routine,” confirms co-founder Niklas Jacobson.
Important Looking pirates relied on this combination of cinesync and Shotgun throughout production on Jurassic World:
Fallen Kingdom, serving as the film’s largest vendor after ILM. “We just save the annotated frames discussed on-call and reingest them into Shotgun to share with the team,” says Jacobson. “our team completed 100 shots, where the main chunk was for a seven-minute-long sequence right at the opening of the movie. You’d recognise a lot of our work, including the Mosasaurus in the water and T-rex chase. It was a super iconic scene and a fun sequence for us to work on.”
A cloud-based toolset that is especially useful for smaller studios and independent artists, ftrack provides a bird’s-eye view of everything happening at your studio across
“ftrack is nicely integrated into cinesync, and we have a whole roadmap ahead of us on how to get even more clever by driving further automation, editorial and client delivery efforts” Michael Perdew, VFX producer, Luma Pictures
different projects and departments. Flexible folder structures, custom entities, approval steps and much more can be tailored to suit a particular industry, team size or geographic location. ftrack is an extremely scalable communication tool, and again features integration with a vast selection of industry-standard software – including Nuke, 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D, and of course, cinesync.
Luma pictures, for instance, has combined cinesync with ftrack to create a customised in-house review queue. “ftrack is now nicely integrated into cinesync, making the coordinators’ lives easier, and we have a whole roadmap ahead of us on how to get even more clever by driving further automation, editorial and client delivery efforts,” says Michael perdew, VFX producer at Luma.
one particular project that benefited from Luma pictures’ pipeline was Marvel’s blockbuster hit, Black Panther, which blew away audiences with its Vfx-heavy action sequences. Luma’s involvement in Black
Panther spanned 16 months with a team of around 150 plugging away across studio locations on two different continents – all to result in a full CG environment, CG traffic, a destroyed Lexus LC500 with debris, the sonic disruptor FX, and a CG panther.
it’s ALL interconnected
Communication tools have been key to expanding the visual effects industry as a whole. More so than in the past, directors, producers, VFX supervisors and editors are spread out across different locations.
From in-person meetings to online video conferencing, and from cinesync to Shotgun and ftrack, technology has made communicating with artists and clients easier than ever. By facilitating communication in this way, a large shot tally can be produced and delivered by teams working remotely, enabling seamless global collaboration to ensure an aligned vision can be realised.
cinesync users can access the in-built Shotgun Review to browse for previous versions of a shot and view notes without having to leave the session
Below: cinesync annotations on a shot by double negative during production for Pacific Rim: uprising
Left: An example of cinesync annotations on a shot created by MPC during production for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
communication tools are vital in aiding the fast turn-around of projects for tv
Below: every step of production is represented visually in Shotgun, so you can see the life of shots and assets as they move through the pipeline Bottom: ftrack provides a bird’s-eye view of everything happening at a studio across different projects, productions and departments – including flexible folder structures, custom entities and approval steps