Case study

Meet the Studio: Animal Logic

Studio Locations: Sydney and Vancouver
Shotgun Users: 400+ during peak production
Recent Projects: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part and Peter Rabbit
Shotgun Onboarding: ~ 8 months
Favorite Features: Cloud-based access for remote teams, RV and annotated notes for review, pages, and customizability

Hours Saved During Review
Ability to Manage Complex Datasets

By Sean McAlear, Production Manager, Animal Logic

Animal Logic is one of the world’s leading independent animation and visual effects studios, with studios in Sydney and Vancouver and a development office in Los Angeles. We’re most recognized for creating animated and hybrid family films, like Happy Feet, The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie, and Peter Rabbit. I’m a production manager, and for the last few years I’ve also served as our production management workflow consultant. During our recent integration of Shotgun, I was the primary product owner and workflow architect.

The challenge

One of the biggest challenges that studios face is prioritizing creativity and meeting client expectations, all the while considering budgetary and timeline constraints. As productions become more complex, managing large datasets and information is critical to operating nimbly as a studio and making confident creative and technical decisions to move projects forward. A solid production tracking system is the backbone of an efficient post-production workflow—at Animal Logic, we knew that our previous system was in need of an overhaul to maintain agility in operations.

Since the mid-2000s, we’d used a proprietary production tracking system that lacked customizability and required expensive technical maintenance. New features were difficult to integrate, and as our productions evolved, using the system to schedule and update tasks and versions had become quite cumbersome. We required a new production tracking system that could adapt to the complexity of future projects and also plug-and-play into our existing studio processes relatively simply. Because we had a robust pipeline where all aspects were interconnected, we knew the rollout of a new solution would be a challenge.

The solution

Beginning in January 2019, I worked with a small R&D team to integrate Shotgun into our pipeline as seamlessly as possible. At the time, we were in the middle of a production, so it wasn’t practical or possible to fully disconnect our entire system and transition directly to Shotgun. Instead, we developed a custom solution that would sync information from our in-house system to Shotgun in real-time.

In order to figure out how we could integrate everything into Shotgun at roughly the same time, we started by mapping out our current pipeline and detailing how each piece of data was being tracked. Our proprietary system was managing shot and asset creation, edit publishing, and almost anything else that generated files in the pipeline; to integrate Shotgun, we developed a robust communication script that would sync the two platforms whenever a new version was checked in and rendered. In our updated workflow, all new versions are input into the proprietary system first, and then simultaneously uploaded into Shotgun. We currently still rely on our proprietary platform for file management, while Shotgun drives production management, including scheduling, tasks, review, versioning, and data analysis.

We started our first project based out of Shotgun in August 2019, so integration took about eight months. Our pipeline is built around taking processes out of artist hands and putting them onto machines wherever possible and introducing Shotgun was integral to managing the influx of data generated by complex productions. We currently are working on projects in Sydney and Vancouver and have upwards of 350 Shotgun users, but at peak production we will be approaching 500+ user accounts.

“Our pipeline is built for speed and scale, and introducing Shotgun was integral to managing the influx of data generated by complex productions.”

The features

Providing our full team with remote cloud-based access was critical at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to avoid using hard-coded direct pathways to a local install of Shotgun, which would have both slowed down the platform and made connections more tenuous. We’ve updated IP address restrictions so that employees can login to Shotgun on the cloud from home, while maintaining stringent security protocols to safeguard all work and communication. The transition to a remote workforce using Shotgun in the cloud was relatively seamless, and our team still has real-time access to tasks, notes, and versions that are processed through our render farm and imported into Shotgun.

The editorial pipeline is the heartbeat of our projects, and we’ve created a custom Shotgun workflow for updating frame ranges and generating reports on edit changes. We’ve also developed a custom tool for tracking dialogue in Shotgun, which links speech to characters and shots and helps artists determine scratch versus final dialogue. Another major update with Shotgun is the ability to include version status on assets, enabling teams to quickly identify if a version is approved or a work in progress, who it’s been reviewed by and when, etc.

Shotgun is the central hub of all team notes, which has streamlined our process for review and delivering versions. Prior to integrating Shotgun, keeping track of outstanding work and managing incoming requests for updated versions was a cumbersome process handled via email. In our current review workflow, all versions are shared from Shotgun to editorial, where sequences are cut together so that effects and animation are viewed in context. Internal dailies are run through Shotgun for playback in RV and review with annotated notes. We’ve customized RV with add-on menus and proprietary tools to version up and down and gray out any shots we don’t want to focus on that day. Throughout the process, custom widgets are set up to highlight any outstanding requests or versions that require follow-up. Rather than digging through the last three days of reviews to find and share versions, widgets automate this process and save supervisors and production coordinators hours of time that can be spent on supporting their teams.

To streamline management for large departments, supervisors track scheduling and team progress towards target goals via Shotgun Pages. This frees up additional time for supervisors to discuss creative aspects of production with artists, like how to make a shot better or develop a character in a way that allows for maximum efficiency in the future.

We’re currently examining new methods to review and analyze project data in Shotgun to more accurately predict our render usage, which will aid in bidding and determining scope of work for potential projects. Once projects are active, we’re also using Shotgun to evaluate productivity and performance by better understanding our internal batting average, as I call it. This figure is the ratio of internal iteration to presentation versions, or the number of versions we have to develop and show internally before a supervisor clears it to be shown to the director.

As our projects continue to increase in complexity, our dataset will continue to grow. Shotgun is an essential pipeline solution that keeps track of large amounts of data and highlights key information our management teams need to make critical decisions faster and more confidently during production.

Our ultimate goal is to help our artists spend more time animating, modeling, and surfacing without breaking their creative flow. On the production management side, our focus is on delivering these creative ideas to the screen with a plan that’s feasible within budget and on schedule. With Shotgun central to our pipeline, we’re able to better achieve both.

Shotgun is an essential production tracking system that keeps track of large amounts of data and highlights key information our leadership teams need to make critical decisions faster and more confidently during production.