Animals are magically born with the skin of other animals in a secret valley at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro in NBCUniversal DreamWorks’ new animated series “ZAFARI.” Currently in production and set to premier this November, the series features 52 11-minute episodes that follow the adventures of Zoomba, an elephant born with zebra stripes, and his sidekick Quincy. “ZAFARI” Creator, Supervising Director and Executive Producer David Dozoretz is producing the series in collaboration with CG animation and VFX studio Digital Dimension. Based in Montreal, Digital Dimension is home to a 160-person crew and an impressive pipeline built on Shotgun Software for production tracking and review.
Digital Dimension introduced Shotgun in its workflow as it began work on the series. “When handling a large volume of high-quality shots for a project like “ZAFARI,” there’s an added layer of complexity that demands greater productivity, and we knew Shotgun could help us. It’s given us a collaborative hub where we can visualize, associate and index, and also ensure that dependencies, assets, shots, sequences, tasks and the like are tracked,” shared Digital Dimension CTO Pierre Blaizeau. “We’re a strong believer that Shotgun should hold all production information, so we’ve put it on top of everything to ensure it triggers and manages our processes and data.”
Since making the leap to Shotgun, Digital Dimension has integrated it with other tools in its pipeline, which currently includes Autodesk Maya, Deadline, Houdini, Redshift, Substance, Unreal Engine and V-Ray. “We’re always looking at how we can refine our workflow with new tools that enable us to work more efficiently and ensure our applications naturally talk to each other. Shotgun has made all the difference compared to our old workflow, which felt disorganized and disconnected,” Blaizeau explained.
Dozoretz, an early pioneer and longtime advocate of digital collaboration toolsets, even before platforms like Shotgun existed, encouraged Digital Dimension’s move to Shotgun. “I’m a huge believer in digital network communications tools like Shotgun for shot management. It’s especially important for a show like “ZAFARI” where we’re handling 120-150 shots per episode, and episodes totaling nearly ten hours of content,” he added.
Between writing and voice recording; layout; blocking; animation, polish and lip sync; and effects and rendering, “ZAFARI” episodes take up to six weeks to complete, with five episodes often in production simultaneously. At the end of the 18-month production, Digital Dimension will have delivered more than nine and a half hours of animation – the equivalent of five feature films. With 22 episodes already under its belt, the studio has already completed 3,080 shots comprising 18 characters with 35 different variations, 50 locations and more than 200 props.
Shotgun helps Dozoretz and Digital Dimension monitor the evolution of assets, and track the production’s overall progress. “I love Shotgun. I can keep track of everything and get notes back to the production team, before they even submit shots to me; that’s invaluable on a tight schedule. It also gives me a sense of the big picture, so I know if we’re headed in the right direction,” said Dozoretz. “Shotgun not only keeps me on top of what’s happening procedurally, but just looking at its media page and seeing all the amazing work that’s coming in can cheer me up on a rough day.”
Splitting his time between LA and Montreal, Dozoretz relies on Shotgun’s mobile app when travelling, and continues to uncover new uses. “I’m always looking at the Shotgun app on my phone to review everything that’s coming in; it’s proving helpful in ways I never of thought of,” he shared. “I was recently on a call with a toy company, discussing a “ZAFARI” character that is going to be created. I saw in Shotgun that Digital Dimension had just finished a new render test of that character, so I was able to tell them with confidence that I’d have an updated asset to them by the end of the day.”
Blaizeau and team plan to expand Shotgun integration even more deeply for future projects and seasons of “ZAFARI”. “We want to create components and modules that are elegantly integrated into Shotgun so we have greater flexibility to manage the incomes and outcomes of projects,” shared Blaizeau. “And we’ve used Unreal Engine to implement a real-time production process for “ZAFARI”, so we’re looking into building tighter Shotgun hooks to accommodate that workflow as well.”
Having experienced Unreal and Shotgun working together in production, Dozoretz is enthusiastic about the creative potential of this new way of working. “Digital technology is becoming more non-linear and on the current trajectory, we’ll get to a point where you’ll be able to consider the lighting in the shot while you’re working on animation – something not typically done in traditional pipelines. For example, using Shotgun with Unreal, I could view two versions of the same shot – one an animation, and right next to it a lighting or effects test. You still have to use your imagination to plug them together, but the gaps you have to make as a creative are starting to get smaller, allowing us to focus our imagination on conjuring up wild things like zebra-striped elephants.”