Monday, August 31, 2015

"Be Prepared for Dailies", Restored

Many moons ago, a valuable blog post by “Vizy Acky” was circulated in online visual effects communities, simply titled “Be Prepared For Dailies”. The post was a concise, laser-focused white paper on how visual effects artists should approach “dailies”, the morning ritual of visual effects artists, supervisors and producers sitting in a dark screening room and reviewing the previous day’s work. Every visual effects shop runs differently, and every visual effects and animation supervisor has his or her preferences as to how dailies should be run.

For example, sometimes animation and lighting have combined dailies. Others invite roto and paint artists. Some run dailies just with only top-level supervisors, and rely on coordinators to disseminate the notes. However, there exist certain universal commonalities of decorum, etiquette, and plain common sense when communicating in dailies.

Generally speaking, dailies should be run as efficiently as possible. No one wants dailies to run endlessly for hours and hours-- that’s valuable time wasted, which frustrates everyone in the pipeline. My personal pet peeve is dailies that never start on time… but I digress.

Unfortunately, the original source of the terrific blog post about dailies has vanished from the internet. I did some poking around on Internet Archive, and was able to resurrect the text. This is a lovely document which should continue to live on. The author was specifically commenting on ‘effects’ dailies, which involve particle effects and simulations (like water, dust, smoke, etc.), but the essay is applicable to nearly all types of animation and visual effects dailies.

I’m printing it below with some slight typo and clarification corrections, and occasional annotations. Enjoy.

(Plus, if you like this kind of thing, head over to Scott Squires’ blog, where he writes thoughtful posts like this one, “What Makes a Good Visual Effects Artist?”, which touches on the dailies process.)

Be Prepared for Dailies
from Vizy Acky Blog, Garman Visual Effects Academy
Resurrected from

Here are four things you should always be prepared to discuss during dailies.
1) what to look at and what not to look at
2) what changed from the previous version
3) what the artist thinks should be done to improve their shot
4) any questions or concerns about this shot

Visual effects iterations sent to dailies often look abstract and can be difficult to comment on. Dailies can become a huge waste of time and I’ve noticed when studios followed this kind of format often each shot can be covered in as little as 20-40 seconds. The submission might be a work in progress, a technical proof-of-concept test or a rough comp not refined by the final compositor.

Here are four questions I had asked my visual effects team to prepare for me each day for each shot.  These questions came out of my years of working at studios in Los Angeles, a composite of the things I learned from my supervisors about how to speed the dailies process. I started using these questions when dealing with a Chinese team in Beijing.  This gave time for the crew to write out their comments and allow time for the translator to prepare.

This method also works well for regular dailies where the artist is prepared beforehand.  This also helps the vfx supervisor to know what they are looking at and what to comment about.

Garman’s Four “Questions” for dailies.
Each of these four questions should be answered by the artist before dailies. The coordinator playing shots should state the shot name and the artists’ names, play the shot and ask the artists for their comments. The artist should be go through these “questions” as the shot is being looped, before any comments are expected.

Don’t wait in silence for the VFX Supervisor to guess what they are looking at. [Todd: This is super important. Don’t think the vfx supervisor is a mind-reader. Speak up!] Tell the supervisor what to look for.

1) What to look at and what not to look at.
-Tell what you need comments on and what to ignore.  This helps the vfx sup to not waste his time trying to figure out what he is looking at.
-An example would be, “Look at the speed of the particle motion but not the color or size.”

2) What changed from the previous version.
-Tell what  you changed or what you were asked to change.  If this is the first time the effect is show, state what you are trying to demonstrate.
-An example would be, “This motion is 2x faster than the previous version and the particles now live 1.2x longer.”

3) What the artist thinks should be done to improve their shot.
-Tell what you think you should do next.  This helps the vfx supervisor know if you are on the right track and perhaps they will say “fine, continue” and will avoid him having to think for you.
-An example would be, “In this version the particles would cover the hero in the background so I feel we should have the particles move a bit faster and have a shorter lifespan so we can see the actors.”

4) Any questions or concerns about this shot.
-Now is the time to ask for specific guidance.
-Examples would be, “Does the smoke linger in the following shot because this is a closeup of the hero and we should see smoke from that camera view but  it’s not assigned.”  Or, “I noticed a bump in the camera track where the smoke goes around the car.  Can we look into that.”

Getting Comments Back
Now we can get the comments from the VFX supervisor or others.   Since you already stated what you think should be done next, then it can make it easier to say, “OK to continue.”  Or to get more specific guidance.

Take Notes
I’ve always been a good note taker since I was in high school.  Perhaps because I was good at taking notes made it easier for me to study less after class.  Taking notes made me pay more attention to what was being said while it was being said. I’m always amazed to be in meetings where people are discussing actions which involve tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work, yet not many people are taking notes.   [Todd: I always take notes in dailies, then after I return to my desk, I immediately transcribe the notes with clearer language and specific frame numbers or screen coordinates (screen right fire on frame 1024 looks pinkish)]

Don’t depend on the coordinator to take notes for you.  They may be a professional note taker as part of their job but they don’t understand effects like you are supposed to and often don’t get it as accurate as you need it. Take notes about what you are supposed to do.  Then take notes about what others are talking about even if you don't understand it.  Use your notes to help you find out what you need to understand later.  If you want to be the VFX Supervisor someday, you’ll need to know a lot, and taking notes at dailies is a great way to start.

Take It Offline
Dailies is the time for quick review of work in progress.  It helps production know it is staying on schedule, and helps the supervisors see all the work being done each day. It’s supposed to be quick.  Most shots can be covered in 15-30 seconds.  [Todd: If you spend over two minutes on a single shot in dailies, something is wrong.] Dailies is not the time to determine deep technical solutions while wasting everyone else’s time.  Dailies is to help find problems and solve them later.

2012.01.07  Vancouver BC

Tuesday, August 25, 2015