Minding the P’s and Q’s of Production Tracking

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Sam Clark has been involved with several global, post-production houses in a range of capacities and roles — from production coordinator to Visual Effects (VFX) Data Manager. He shared, with JHI, insights into the production management process for VFX.

You have worked with both proprietary production tracking tools and off-the-shelf software, such as, Shotgun. Could you share some of the pro’s and con’s of each?

I really enjoy working with proprietary tracking tools when there are developers and engineers on site developing the tools because I like the troubleshooting process and working with the developers to figure out new ways to improve efficiency. However, this can be time consuming and there’s a point in every production where we no longer have much time to deal with troubleshooting and development. Shotgun has an API that developers can use to build tools that interface directly with the database, so it is great as an off-the-shelf solution that can be built upon to integrate into the studio where it is being used. Since it is so commonly used, Shotgun requires less training of new employees compared to a proprietary-tracking system that is exclusive to a studio.

With ever-evolving UHD and feature film formats, how has it impacted the Digital Intermediate (DI) delivery process? Has it been a constant process of upgrading software and hardware to meet the demands of the new formats?

Working in UHD or 4K is awesome. It looks great but it costs a lot more. It requires four times the amount of disk space to store the same amount of frames and your artists and review-playback systems will require the latest graphics cards and hardware to maintain the same efficiency you get when working with 2K.  When delivering visual effects shots to DI, UHD is going to take longer to upload, which is another expense that needs to be factored in if the DI is charging by the hour for download time. I prefer the efficiency of delivering shots to DI over the internet (using a secure transfer system such as Aspera), but shipping physical hard drives can be more cost-effective than uploading using the internet if the drive has a high speed interface that is quicker than the DI’s download speed.

How did you find your first break into the entertainment industry and which skill sets were you immediately able to translate from your B.A. in Communication Studies to the workplace?

Networking is extremely important. I got my first job as a production assistant for a commercial by mentioning to a classmate that I was interested in working in film and television but had no idea how to get into it. The classmate happened to have a friend who worked in the business and invited me to a party specifically to meet this person. Getting a B.A. in Communication Studies involved learning a lot of philosophical concepts, which, I suppose, have generally helped me in my career, but most of my training for visual effects had to happen on the job.  Having an idea of some general film and video concepts from classes I took in college was helpful to start out, but most of my skills came from on-the-job experiences.