Tuesday, 10 July 2012

REVERSION Is In The News Again

Hello everyone,

The milestones keep coming for REVERSION.

We're back in Blender News again.  But this time we talk a bit more about the de-centralized Production System that was used for making the film.

You can read the Blender News feature here.


OK, so the magazine article wasn't exactly in depth.  But that is down to the time and space available to talk about it.  Of course it is not easy to talk about a Production Method researched over 4 to 5 years in just a few paragraphs.

In brief, Cell Production System has more in common with factory paradigms like "Toyota Production System" than say the usual studio or art driven process.  You can thank my day job at an Ethanol plant for this orientation I have towards film production.

There is a "sort-of strict" adherence to "time budgets" for certain things and the value of certain processes is measured in terms of time.  I say sort of because we did have an Approval Process for pushing a deadline back for a certain item.  More often than not the "Art" arguments won over and we pushed quite a few things back in favor of improvement.  BUT!  This too is part of the famed "Toyota Way" ("Forego the immediate benefit in favor of greater benefit later").

In our experience, the Cost of Time was sort of like an expanding cone.  While Editing and Final Mastering technologically aren't the most Time-expensive of processes, in reality these usually have the largest Time Budget because they are the point of no return.  There is a saying that it's when you are editing that the film is actually being made so this, along with the Final Rendering, command the most Time Budget and everything else (Writing aside) is to support the Production Process so that you can have a timely and healthy status as you get to these last two phases.

Final Rendering, in particular, must always be considered at triple the time it takes to actually produce a render because Re-Renders are guaranteed.  They WILL occur.  So be prepared for it in terms of time.

Now for the part where the Cell system earns its name.  In order to gain the maximum speed and time possible, a film must be made with small groups called Cells which are like self-contained production squads.  X number of animators plus Y VFX assistants producing Z minutes of finished footage.  3D Modeling, Texturing, and Painting may be separate units.  The concept is to launch as many sequences as possible that look consistent and end manufacture at almost the same time so that you can slot them into a Video Editor, check them out, and send them back to re-process if needed.

It's not the first render of a shot that counts.  It's the last.

Right here of course are a number of drawbacks/considerations for this method:
1) The Director has to be able to cope with seeing a lot of footage at the same time and knowing exactly what he wants in each one so that there is no wasted feedback.  More than any other type of Production System.  The Cell system WILL fail with a disorganized Director because the amount of footage launched at identical times can be very large.
2) VFX and other Technical Documentation is as important as the Director himself.  For most of the time, Cell teams will work with only Documentation and the Director's feedback with VFX Technical Directors helping out where needed.
3) VFX Technical Directors must also be trained to review footage from different points of the film and be able to give feedback that retains consistency.
4) Overall render quality ("Look and Feel") may be compromised to allow Cells to function without a render farm.  This is the system's current weakness.  You cannot expect to produce super-quality footage with this method unless all individual PC's gain incredible power.

Pre-Production is used to manage expectations, test solutions, and to handle these concerns and drawbacks.  Again, the first consideration is to test the "Look and Feel" of the picture.  The concept is to reduce Rendering load and time while trying to attain maximum Artistic Effect befitting the Story.  The amount of time devoted to Pre-Production depends on the scale of the Story.  The Pixar adage: "Do not be afraid to Fail" counts here.  But only here.  For the amount of months spent in Pre-Production it is OK to have bad renders, glitchy armature rigs, VFX that don't look quite right.  But the concept is that when it is over you must have confidence and proven VISUAL demonstration that the film will actually work.  You must have precise knowledge of how long each phase will take, which parts are going to be hard.  And of course, how many Cells will be needed to finish the production.

I cannot stress enough that much of Cell Production is focused on the Director.  You decide what rules can be broken.  You decide what deadlines can be pushed back.  You decide if the team will deliberately cut a corner to make a date.  It's all you.  Everybody else will be developing specific technique.  The proof of their capability will be readily visible on-screen.  But the rest of the accountability is the Director's.

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