Production Practices

Once we have established an agile and lean mindset, and the principles driving the practices, what are the practices we can apply to production?

System turnaround

What is the equivalent in production of a system that could be compiled and tested? The releasable product is a finished piece of digital media that can be viewed, heard, or interactively tested.

How do we watch a movie before it is actually finished? From animation production management, we have the concept of a workbook as an animatic of the story boards. The completion and approval of the workbook actually signals the beginning of production, the transition from pre-production to production. We could build on this concept to be a continuous representation of the whole piece through production. It could be the whole system equivalent, which we could use to continually improve.

A 3D workbook could be created by taking these storyboards into 3D form, with loosely fleshed out characters. At first we avoid too much detail, as in avoiding animation, using very rough blocking if at all, with the traditional workbook. So we could start with a textureless ambient occlusion gray-scale rendering of the primary objects and backgrounds represented in the storyboards.

Each improvement to each shot or sequence can be viewed in the context of the overall movie, or by itself. Perhaps the parallel for this in software development would be unit test vs. system test, where the individual shot viewing would be the equivalent of the unit test, while the shot plugged into the viewing of the evolving 3D workbook would be the system test.

So for fast turnaround, the management working as a service to the team continues to improve the speed of plugging improved shots into the 3D workbook for reviewing. That would be the equivalent of increasing the speed of compiling a whole software product.

We used to have to wait for film to be developed to see our dailies. Now in the digital age we could increase the turnaround for feedback. So we may also think of new ways to get feedback to teams up and down the approval chain, in a way to increase delivery speed.

Fast, frequent deliverables

In order to increase the delivery speed, we may also consider the software development practices of minimizing each deliverable. This provides for a more agile path through production. In software development, we have the terms Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and Minimum Viable Experiment (MVE), where we try to make a minimal amount something of value for the customer (MVP) or of value to the team (MVE) when several unknowns need to be explored for the target of an MVP.

In software development, the product owner (PO) works with the customer to develop stories describing that MVP or MVE. In production, the product owner might be the CG supervisor providing the vision. The key is to break a vision down into smaller, leaner parts, that could be inserted into the workbook by shot improvement. So perhaps it is a lead, who works closely with the supervisor, who actually breaks it down into viable pieces. In software development, often the goal is to create stories for MVPs or MVEs that, when addressed by the whole team at once, could be done in one day.

Shot efficiency vs. resource efficiency

Not everything might be able to done in one day, but having such a goal would improve flow efficiency as it is named in software development. This may be in opposition to a culture of traditional optimization of resource efficiency. Because software development depends on teamwork so much, it turns out that focusing on flow efficiency improves software development better than resource efficiency.

So the equivalent in production could be called shot efficiency. And we could most likely come to the agreement that it is better to get shots through faster, than it is to keep busy any given specialist, be they an animator, lighter, compositor.

Team works collaboratively

When a team works collaboratively on a shot, all focused on the same goal, no multi-tasking, shots flow through faster. It is the collaboration that actually makes shot efficiency better than resource efficiency for getting shots through the system. Even if you ask a specialist to help in an area in which they are not necessarily a specialist. Especially, when cross-fertilizing talent like this, the production reduces mistakes and improves solutions which may not be obvious.

Measuring for feedback

Agile practices provide for continual improvement of the process. Feedback for process improvement is accomplished by measuring. For example, one could measure the rate of shot stories accomplished. One could measure the number of shot stories unfinished, unfinished work. Shorter stories can reduce unfinished work. Thereby, shorter stories increase a production’s agility, its adaptability to change. Feedback provides for change, and measurement quantifies how well it is going for more concrete discussion of process, which could otherwise be more subjective and abstract.

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