Ok, fellow Martians, if you’re into VFX and want an introductory look into the machine that works behind the scenes, your boy gotcha! Having a clear map and knowing the steps within the process is essential. So let’s dive in!
I hope this is helpful, and I left some gifts for you at the bottom of this article.
VFX PRODUCER vs VFX SUPERVISOR
A VFX Producer works closely with the VFX Supervisor to project manage the entire visual effects production process, define the resources required, and hire artists and crew. The role is divided into Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production.
That is an oversimplification, so let’s try and dial it in more.
A VFX producer is an individual that keeps track of the budget, how much the VFX will cost, and the hours needed to complete it.
A VFX supervisor works on the effect with a team of artists, vendors, and other technical artists to bring the effect to life using software and computer hardware.
Suppose your budget for a series of visual effects is $1000. In that case, the VFX Supervisor makes the effect (with said team of artists), and the VFX Producer makes sure the effects are done within the $1000 budget limit without overextending any resources.
Sometimes, the director’s desired effect is not possible with the budget, so they’ll have to decide where they want to spend their money (or up the allotment). The VFX Producer will handle that part of the process.
The VFX Producer will go through the director and the creative team’s ideas/wants/wishes for the project. That process will include reading the script, analyzing the storyboard, and estimating the resources required to complete the work within the time and budget available, including which types of artists to assign to the project and the technical solutions needed to create the best result possible.
This process will be when a solid VFX supervisor is hired for the project and assigned their tasks.
The VFX Producer sends the VFX Supervisor to the set to ensure that the artists have all of the assets they need during post-production. The VFX Producer will stay in constant contact with the VFX Supervisor during the shoot. Their job will also warn the production team if any possible issues or last-minute decisions made on set will have consequences for the post-production schedule or the cost and quality of the work.
Rad! Everything went awesome during the shoot, and everybody followed the script (or at least the decisions made on set had no dire consequences for post-production). The VFX Producer monitors the progress of the visual effects work, ensuring that the project remains on schedule and helping to mediate contact between the director and the artists on the project.
A good VFX Producer should stand up for themselves while listening to the concerns and needs of both their clients and the artists working with them.
Here is an extensive list of things to keep in mind that will help you and your team be successful. Avoiding common pitfalls and mistakes that will make your life easier throughout the project. Also, it’s important to maintain respectful relationships between directors, supervisors, producers, and other artists.
Establish ground rules during pre-production
The client always has final approval on a project, so, as a VFX Producer, to avoid wasting time and energy, it’s essential to be extremely clear about what the client wants. At the very least, this means sitting down with the director (and their creative team) and getting hold of the script and storyboard. Other reference material – props, mood boards, test animations, grading references, and so on – is also welcome since it allows you to have some say over everything that will affect your work later.
From there, The VFX Producer can begin to plan the project. Creating an animatic from the storyboard gives the director a rough draft of the timing of each shot, the way the shot(s) it will be framed, and the camera movements within it, even before production begins. It also helps to sell the basic idea to the client, giving everyone involved an overview of the final result you hope to achieve.
The VFX Producer SHOULD NOT move on before they have final approval for the animatic. Suppose the client is pressuring you to start work without a locked cut; explain to them that this may result in extra costs and delays later on: when using CG. In that case, you can’t quickly go back and forth, so any changes you make further down the line often mean having to redo previous parts of the work. And trust me – this is extremely time-consuming and can get frustrating.
Even if a client has worked with CG before, remind them of the order in which tasks in the VFX process during post-production (modeling before rigging and animation; look development before lighting, rendering, and compositing). These stages of the process are difficult to go back to. It is essential to establish early what is negotiable and what is not. Failing to do so will almost certainly result in money problems and relationship issues with the client.
Pre-production can take anything from a week to a month or more, depending on the project. Usually, the timescale is defined by when the VFX Producer gets budget approval and the final delivery date.
Choose the best on-set supervisor for the project
An experienced visual effects artist on set will help the VFX Producer collect the proper footage and avoid costly mistakes. The more shots filmed, the more critical it is to have this person there. Even if it’s just one shot, ensuring an artist can stop by for a couple of hours will be essential.
The ideal on-set supervisor is probably the person who will be completing the visual effects in post-production. They’ll be the most invested in the work and will be able to offer suggestions that are within their capabilities or the capabilities of the other artists involved.
DON'T fix it in post!
Planning is EVERYTHING! Stay vigilant and stay concentrated!
Everything that you can do live on set will be more realistic, less expensive, and faster than trying to do the same thing in post-production. Make sure that someone is clearing cables, crew members, signs, coffee cups (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones!), and other undesired objects from the edges of each shot.
If the production requires complex visual effects, ensure the on-set supervisor takes reference photos of the set. Even pictures taken on a phone will be better than nothing. If the job calls for set extensions or matte paintings, it also helps to have photos of anything that might be referenced or reused in post-production: the surrounding landscape, the sky, and materials like grass, dirt, rocks, wall textures, and HDRI’s.
If you have to use tracking markers, take photos BEFORE placing them: these will be helpful when removing the tracking markers in Post Production.
A few more things:
Be careful that shadows of crew members don’t appear in the shot and look for reflections in mirrors or windows, and watch out for continuity errors. It helps to take photos of every shot to remind you what clothes actors wore and where props were placed.
Have the right blend of artists
The number of VFX artists needed and how the work gets divided depends on the nature of the project.
A project with an extended deadline usually have the work divided among several artists who specialize in particular disciplines (concept art, modeling, look dev, rigging, animation, texturing, fur and cloth, other effects, lighting and rendering, compositing, matte painting, finishing, and so on).
If you have a tight deadline and/or a limited budget, it is better to hire a 3D generalist for most of the work and only bring other artists on board for highly specialized tasks like simulation.
The shorter the deadline and the more complex the VFX work is, the more senior the artists you will need. If the production lasts several months, you can afford to take on some junior artists (who will need to be supervised by the lead artist of the department) to tackle less critical tasks. Remember that ‘junior’ doesn’t mean ‘bad,’ just inexperienced. Investing time in supervising a junior artist will help them develop their skills and become a “rockstar \m/” artist in the future.
There is no exact formula for determining the number of artists you need, and the essential factors are the complexity of the work and the deadline. The less time you have, the more you will need to reinforce your teams. A VFX Producer will work with a VFX Supervisor, analyze the director’s notes and schedule, and compare them to the artists’ profiles.
However, while both figures vary significantly from project to project, a single artist can produce a basic character in two weeks – something more detailed or realistic can take much longer – or produce 10 seconds of animation per day. Remember that junior artists work more slowly than experienced ones – it’s good to estimate that they will take one and a half to three times as long to complete a task correctly.
A small side note on Junoir Artists:
I love working with Junoir Artist. But please treat them with respect and patience. This industry tends to walk over lower-level personnel, and burnout is real. A happy artist results in their best work!
“Time is money and money is time!”
Stay aware of the state of a project. It’s essential to keep an update of your line test every day to see what’s going on in between shoots.
Talk to people directly! We may use computers for work, but we’re still human. Even if a production-tracking system like Frame.io is being used, the VFX Producer must constantly communicate with the VFX Supervisor or the department lead about what has been completed and what hasn’t.
The most significant warning sign that a project is going astray is when the agency/vendor, director, and client are not on the same page about what needs to be done. Also, watch out for individual tasks that go back and forth – A LOT. Working on the same task for more than a few days quickly becomes unsatisfying, so you can often see artists becoming stuck or losing motivation.
If things are getting deadlocked, you can always stand by production until you have definite approval to move on. Rather than wasting time and energy on contradictory ideas, get everyone in the same room, and make them find a compromise that satisfies them all.
Hunt & collect the right information
After the live shoot, an EDL (Edit Decision List) will be provided with the necessary footage and transcodes, camera report, and the shooting report.
The camera report tracks the camera lenses and settings used on each shot: which is essential if you need to replicate the real-world camera inside 3D software to match the effects to the look of the background plate. Automated reporting systems generate some necessary information alongside a clip’s thumbnail. Still, they are incomplete, so the VFX supervisor should note all the vital information on-set.
This information can include:
Although online production-tracking systems will create VFX shot lists for you, for smaller projects, a simple spreadsheet containing a thumbnail image and critical information for each shot will often do the job.
This information requires someone to generate a VFX shot list to pass to the team.
The list will contain notes on what the effects should look like, plus timecodes for the corresponding footage. It may be part of an online database, or a simple spreadsheet, and should contain information like:
A system for reviewing dailies
During post-production, the director will want to see how things are coming along and provide notes on the work in progress. To do this, VFX facilities generate ‘dailies’ showing the latest version of everyone’s work.
Many software platforms are available specifically for screening and reviewing dailies. Usually, these are secure web streaming services to allow your team to work remotely. Examples include Frame.io, ZedDrive, DAX Production Cloud, PIX, and COPRA. Choose a platform that suits the needs and budget: a simple shared Google Sheet can do the job if you’re a small team.
I have a network that each team member has access to. This is usually for acquiring footage, assets, and final delivery output. For most productions, Frame.io is the most affordable.
Edit Handles are extra frames before or after the visible portion of a clip. But those extra frames also need 3D tracking, rotoscoping, cleaning and restoring, and whatever else you need to do to the footage before you can begin working on it.
Match the length of the handles to the complexity of the effect. If you’re just color grading, you can afford to have 25 frames in and out, but if you’re working on a tricky vfx effects shot, you will be grateful to have five. Whatever figure you choose, ensure that the director, the editor, and the production team know they won’t have a lot of trim in certain shots.
Be organized with file names
Even if you’re the sole visual effects facility, you aren’t the only team working on a project. So be organized with the files you send out. Using the same phraseology on each job will also help you to find files later.
For example, here is one possible file-naming convention:
(CLIENT)_(PROJECT-NAME)_(DURATION – FRAMES)_(VERSION)_(DATE YYYY-MM-DD)_(USER)
It would look something like this:
In addition, each time a file goes out, I normally ask for the following information to be burned into the footage or, in most cases, a 1 frame picture slate at the beginning of the shot:
I know this bothers video assistants, but I am very strict with this rule. It saved me several times on jobs! When clients modify the file’s name, you will always know what version of a shot you are looking at, and there will be no possible confusion.
VFX Shot Numbers
Increment shot numbers by tens. This will allow you to add new shots between those you have already assigned. For example, if a vfx shot was missed or added between 010 and 020, you can add a shot, such as shot 015. You’ll preserve the continuity in your file naming and ensures that shots are numbered sequentially, making life easier for your team.
010, 020, 030, 040, 050, and so on
Later, if a new VFX shot is added between two existing VFX shots, you can add the difference for the new shot number.
For example, say a new shot is added between 040 and 050, and the new should be 045. And if for some reason, a new VFX shot is added between 045 and 050, the latest shot would be numbered 048.
Keeping a record of every shot is the basis for everything you’re going to do from here on out. The most important information to track is:
To make life somewhat easier, I’ve created a simple Google Sheet that has the very basics of tracking for you to use.
VFX Tracker and Project Manager Google Sheet (simple).
Some Features include!
- Artist Name(s)
- Type of shot (customizable)
- And More!
For questions and additional information, please visit our Documentation & Help page.
This file is provided “as is,” without warranty of any kind, expressed or implied. In no event shall the author be held liable for any damages arising in any way from the use of these scripts.