Vancouver-based visual effects house Image Engine has been in high demand since its opening in 1995. With numerous Emmy, Gemini and Visual Effects Society (VES) nominations under its belt, Image Engine has built a notable roster of credits over the years including The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, 2012, Watchmen, The Losers, The Thing and most recently, Immortals. For their work on District 9, artists from Image Engine received Academy Award and BAFTA nominations as well as a VES win.
To ensure that they continue to deliver their trademark high-quality, cost-effective work, Image Engine constantly explores ways to improve their production process. Initially, the studio developed a proprietary system to streamline production management, but found that it didn’t deliver the efficiency they needed and drained valuable R&D resources. Below is a brief view of the way Image-Engine worked with the Shotgun Production Tracking software.
Jesper Kjolsrud was in charge for The Thing project as the production Visual Effects Supervisor alongside Steve Garrad, Visual Effects Executive Producer. Neil Escuri joined them as Digital Effects Supervisor. They worked closely with Director Matthijs Van Heijningen, Producers Mark Abraham and Eric Newman, Visual Effects Producer Petra Holtorf and Universal Pictures to realize a new vision for the 2011 film.
For production of The Thing, Image Engine’s contribution spanned over a year, from pre-planning, on-set supervision through to post-production with a crew of over 100. The majority of the work involved creating computer generated creature transformations and digital environments. In all, there were 167 100% computer generated creature shots. They were the main house on the film.
“We were growing and taking on larger film projects, and we knew we were going to need a database-driven production management software solution that would grow with us,” said Shawn Walsh, Visual Effects Executive Producer and company partner. As the company approached work on The Thing, they began to investigate Shotgun, a flexible and scalable web-based project management system tailored for visual effects, CG feature animation and video games.
“We had a lot of desire to roll the knowledge from one completed project over to the next one starting up,” said Walsh. “Shotgun allowed us to handle an increasingly complex workload. Also, when we looked at how far we could get internally in six months of development time and where we would be with Shotgun in the same time period, it was clear that we’d be where we wanted to be faster with Shotgun.” The studio quickly brought Shotgun in house, and by the time production started on The Thing, it was a key component of the pipeline.
Shotgun gave the studio features and capabilities that enabled them to use common data across production operations. “The information is now maleable and formatable in a way that we can truly use it,” said Image Engine Producer, Vera Zivny. “Shotgun provided a great hub for the massive amount information required in production and addresses the different needs of different users.”
Each member of the production has specific informational needs, and Shotgun enabled them to extract only what is relevant to them and host that information in one location. Live updates ensure the information stays current automatically. Imagine Engine was able to make Shotgun work with their production management style without making any major adjustments to their pipeline.
Even though Shotgun is ready out of the box, it is highly customizable and can be tailored to suit specific client and project demands. Image Engine regularly collaborates with the team at Shotgun to continue to optimize their use of the Shotgun system. “The people at Shotgun have been great about working with us to improve our methods and achieve our goals,” said Image Engine Facility-Wide Production Manager Rachel Scafe.
“The Shotgun API is really well designed. It’s easy, logical, and very straightforward,” said Image Engine Developer, Ross Kakuschke. “Our main operations are hooked into Shotgun through our in-house developed pipeline to make dailies, video outs, film outs and deliveries. We even integrated Shotgun with RV and Cinesync to customize our playback systems.”
Image Engine also developed a Shotgun event daemon that queries the event logs and monitors events in Shotgun. Kakuschke explains, “Once tasks are completed, our Shotgun daemon will automatically assign a different status to that task. For example, when a matchmove task is complete, the program updates that shot to an animation task. Task emails are distributed as needed so the whole flow of information is automated and streamlined.”
“Before we had to manually update the status of each task individually and there was a lot of separation between departments,” notes Zivny. “With Shotgun, we can change the status of things on a large scale which saves a lot of time and prevents confusion.”
Image Engine production coordinators previously unfamiliar with Shotgun have been particularly impressed by instant notifications and lack of restrictions. They are able to create their own customized pages and organize pertinent information however they prefer. Over the course of a production, the information important to a coordinator evolves so the interface flexibility is extremely useful.
Implementing a new production management system can be daunting, but the switch to Shotgun was seamless. Once artists were trained to extract information from the database on their own, Image Engine’s transition to Shotgun was been a fairly smooth process,– especially when compared to the transition to their proprietary production tracking system for District 9, which required a great deal of manual input and and linking across disparate databases.
“On that show we had several coordinators to schedule tasks and link everything together, often with the aid of their own separately maintained databases,” said Zivny. “There was a lot of heavy communication between coordinators and between the coordinators and artists.” With Shotgun, Image Engine can now input schedules and see how resources are allocated in a streamlined fashion, which reduces the risk of miscommunication. This feature is particulary critical in scheduling ‘multi-purpose’ artists who float between several teams. “Purchasing a solution that tracks most of what we do just made sense,” Kakuschke said.
“With Shotgun, artists, developers and producers have a way to track everything they do in a central location accessible to everyone in the facility,” said Kakuschke. “Efficient production relies on tracking shot production from beginning to end. Without Shotgun, I don’t think we would have a way to do that.” Scafe added, added, “Centralizing live information has also upped the overall efficiency in the facility. Not only can notifications be sent automatically to the appropriate people, historical data can be used to backtrack shots if needed. Historical data can also help us predict shots on future projects and learn better practices.”
Walsh noted that Shotgun’s ability to manage multiple projects – each with their own challenges, while maintaining a level of overall pipeline coherency is to him, the software’s biggest benefit to the studio. “There are about 150 people here who interface with Shotgun one way or another. From our artists to our financial folk, everyone is getting on board. That’s probably more proof than anything else of Shotgun’s success at Image Engine.”