Boutique studio The Sequence Group uses Shotgun’s Review tools and Pipeline Toolkit to deliver complex projects that would otherwise be difficult for a company of its size to manage. Sequence handles live action production, animation and visual effects for everything from commercials to marketing materials, in-game cinematics, live events and more. The company maintains a base of 10-15 full time employees and expands to up to 40 based on project demands. Creative Director/Founder Ian Kirby and Lead Animator Anne Jans filled us in on some of the latest projects they’ve worked on across their Vancouver headquarters and satellite Melbourne, Australia location.
How did you first hear about Shotgun?
Ian: I heard about Shotgun years ago, but it was too expensive for a studio of our size. After the license fee was reduced, we gave it a second look. Shotgun acquiring RV was the incentive we needed to finally make the commitment, and we implemented Shotgun about a year ago. Having all of our projects linked online, and also locally on our servers, combined with the automated Autodesk Maya integration sold us completely.
We don't have TDs or developers on staff, so in-house capabilities for custom code are limited. That's why Shotgun, and in particular Pipeline Toolkit, is so fantastic for us. We don't have time to write tools ourselves, and Shotgun has been completely plug-and-play for us."
What was involved in the Pipeline Toolkit integration for you?
Ian: The integration was pretty easy. Anne is a lead animator and not a coder, but she set up our whole integration in a few hours.
Anne: We figured out how to get Pipeline Toolkit up and running pretty quickly as the process is very well documented online, complete with videos that I found helpful. We primarily are using Toolkit for Maya integration with Shotgun. It’s been great. All of our assets, shots, scenes, and playlists are submitted into Shotgun directly from Maya with the entire folder structure that we’ve adjusted to our needs and preferences. So on the 3D side, we use everything that Pipeline Toolkit offers out of the box.
What have you been working on recently?
Ian: We recently did a full-CG commercial for the “Marvel Avengers Alliance 2 Civil War” mobile game release. We handled everything from start to finish, from storyboards to final delivery, based on a script developed at Ant Farm in Los Angeles. For the Marvel spot, we had artists collaborating from offices in Vancouver and Australia, and only had six weeks to complete the 30-seconds of CG. There’s no way we could have delivered that job in time without Shotgun.
We also just finished a Claymation-inspired commercial for Slack. It’s very different from our other work, and involved ten different locations, and a shot with hundreds of characters. It was a project with many moving parts, and we relied heavily on the pipeline to pull it off.
Why is pipeline such an important consideration?
Ian: It is very essential. Having a solid pipeline in place can save hundreds of hours of wasted time. It allows you to see where you’re at on a project at any given time, and avoid chasing down missing assets, or mistakenly working with old assets or bad renders. With a bad pipeline everything falls apart, so it took us a while to get here, but now we can’t imagine how we did other projects without it.
How is Shotgun most useful to the way that you work?
Ian: I find it incredibly handy to have access to mobile review. Most of the day, I’m on my iPhone moving around the studio, so being able to check things quickly and provide comments without breaking up the feedback loop, even when I’m not at my desk, is great. Client review is also super user friendly; the mobile interface is really well developed.
We’re also huge fans of RV. We can sit with clients reviewing shots and instantly pull up animatics, pencil sketches or any other shots without having to dig through a folder structure manually to find what we need to review. I really like being able to review multiple versions of the latest shots overlaid or side-by-side, which really helps make the client feedback loop more efficient, and keeps everyone honest about the progression of notes and change requests!
The EDL support in Shotgun 7.0 is also super exciting. Being able to watch your edits, or do dailies without having to free up an editor to make updates is a huge time saver.
Another really common challenge that Shotgun helped us solve is the bottleneck that occurs when clients have last minute animation notes during compositing reviews. They’ll often want animations or models changed late in the game, and now, for us to be able to make those updates across an entire sequence automatically using Toolkit alleviates a lot of unwanted stress and late nights! We’re a relatively small team, many of us with families who don’t want us to be at work until 2AM—and having Shotgun helps us stay organized and allocate resources accordingly to avoid crazy hours.
Anne: As lead animator, I love how easy it is to draw on top of frames and get animation reviews out really fast. The task dependencies are great; tasks automatically move along in the chain as things progress or are approved. The naming conventions are automated, and updated as shots are revised which makes it really easy to find the latest version of any shot, and eliminates human error in naming files.
It’s also really cool to see your notes within Maya while working on a shot, without having to switch between Shotgun in your browser and Maya.
What’s the secret to Sequence’s staying power?
Ian: Probably diversity of mediums, and really caring about our work and putting everything into it. Everyone here really wants to be here, and because we’re small, artists take ownership of their work and are proud of what they produce.
What is your favorite thing about working in Vancouver?
Anne: Biking. We get to go mountain biking after work.
Ian: Biking and skiing and the ocean!
What led you to visual effects?
Ian: I’ve been wanting to work in visual effects since I was 12. I’ve always loved art and computers, and later on making art on computers and figuring out how to capture reality and the problem solving that goes along with that.
Anne: I started out as a product designer and realized that I wanted my daily job to be about making the coolest things possible on a computer, which led me to animation. You can do anything you want on a computer and that’s really cool!
What is the biggest challenge in running a studio today?
Ian: Maintaining the happy balance between meeting the client’s budget, doing the best possible work and staying competitive in an industry that has very little standardization.