UTS Animal Logic Academy Uses Shotgun to Train Tomorrow’s VFX Pros

Australia’s UTS Animal Logic Academy (UTS ALA) is an award-winning and innovative educational program offering a Masters Degree in Animation and Visualization. By immersing students in a full-time simulated studio environment for one year, UTS ALA goes beyond many industry training programs, allowing students to gain meaningful production experience with traditional visual effects (VFX) studio pipelines and emerging technologies, using industry-standard workflows and practicing collaborative production firsthand.

Over the course of the year, students work in three semesters: first, a group project in a traditional VFX/animation pipeline; second, a smaller team project where each group devises new ways to apply emerging technology to CG content creation; and third, the whole group tackling the development and execution of one emerging technology project. The Academy was established in 2017 by Animal Logic and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to serve the global VFX and animation community and better prepare students for full time studio work. Graduates have gone on to work for Animal Logic, Flying Bark, Method Studios, Rotor Studios, StartVR, and others.

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Since Shotgun supports a range of DCC applications, it lets us leverage a variety of tools as projects demand, in a collaborative way that mirrors the experience our students will encounter in real-world production studios.

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When first building the basic pipeline for UTS ALA last year, faculty members Daniel Flood, technical lead, and Diego Garcia Huerta, pipeline consultant, opted to use Shotgun for production management because of its flexibility and reputation as a tool used by leading studios worldwide. Huerta explained: “Shotgun gave us an agile framework that our students could easily expand as needed without having to rebuild from scratch each year, or even with each project. Plus, since we have students in all traditional studio roles from modelers and animators to pipeline coders and producers, we were looking for something that would be functional for all departments. Since Shotgun supports a range of digital content creation (DCC) applications, it lets us leverage a variety of tools as projects demand, in a collaborative way that mirrors the experience our students will encounter in real-world production studios.”

UTS ALA students are encouraged to select the best creative tools for the project at hand, and Shotgun allows them to customize the pipeline to maximize efficiencies for a number of applications – just like in a professional VFX facility. Students have developed integrations for tools like Katana and Clarisse and use Shotgun Toolkit plugins for tools such as Autodesk Maya, and Houdini, to name a few. Students also use Shotgun’s review and asset management features to assign notes during dailies and track the status of each asset and shot as it progresses through the pipeline.

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I get a clear picture from Shotgun on what the students and I need to do, the status of each artist and their progress, and how each asset is moving along.

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This year, student Nicole Goh is serving in a production coordinator role and relies on Shotgun for these tasks in addition to overall production planning across multiple projects. “Shotgun is great for me because I work with the project leads and the artists on everything from scheduling to notes,” commented Goh. “At the beginning of each day, I get a clear picture from Shotgun on what the students and I need to do, the status of each artist and their progress, and how each asset is moving along. I can accurately plan out how much time is needed for each stage of production, and make sure artists working across multiple projects aren’t being overloaded. If a workload or a deadline needs to be altered, it’s easy to identify that within Shotgun and make updates that are reflected to the whole team instantly. It’s a really great resource for everyone in the program that allows us to stay organized and work in the same way that we would if we were working on shots within a VFX facility.”

This year at SIGGRAPH, UTS ALA was recognized with a Shotgun Pipeline Award for Turret, a tool they developed that connects Shotgun and Pixar’s universal screen description (USD) to solve asset versioning across applications. Turret has become the cornerstone of the studio’s USD-based scene descriptor system plugin and has transformed overall workflow to push out the latest data automatically rather than requiring manual data pulls. By assembling scenes using Pixar USD, and using Shotgun to handle file abstraction and versioning, the system allows students to rapidly author content and track it in Shotgun.

“It’s a great honor to be the first educational program to win a Shotgun Pipeline Award – and these are the only awards in the world that recognize pipeline achievements, so it’s a huge deal to get recognition like this from the wider community,” said Flood. “It validates our use of Shotgun as something that has practical value for students in their careers. We know that when they get into a professional setting, they not only have pipeline experience but also the skills to tailor it for even greater efficiency. Our goal with this program was to bridge the gap from classroom to studio, and this kind of recognition from Shotgun lets us know that we are on the right path.”

To learn more about UTS ALA and what its recent graduates are working on, visit: https://animallogicacademy.uts.edu.au/