Magnetic Dreams talks organization and productivity

This VFX/animation boutique calls on Shotgun software to keep them on track.

By Don Culwell

Magnetic Dreams is a boutique Nashville-based VFX and animation studio with an underdog spirit. Overseeing a staff of about 30 artists working on everything from commercials with a one-day turnaround to long-term feature projects, I value tools that can help our workflow thrive while keeping things simple at the same time.

For the past three years, Magnetic Dreams has been using Shotgun for our production management, and it has given us a huge advantage in terms of organization and productivity.

Being a small shop is a double-edged sword. One thing our clients like about working with Magnetic Dreams is that we offer flexibility — without as many moving parts as a large facility, we’re able to react more quickly to sudden changes in scheduling or creative vision. In that way we can be very accommodating.

Don Culwell

Don Culwell

On the other hand, fewer moving parts also means we don’t have the same depth of resources as a larger facility — we have a smaller infrastructure, fewer producers, fewer project managers and artists often wear multiple hats across creative and administrative departments.

At one point that was a real challenge in terms of efficiency, but Shotgun has changed all that. Shotgun essentially takes the place of some administrative personnel that we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. It’s database-driven, so you input your information and then everyone in the studio has access to it on their desktop, laptop or even phone. Its template works equally well with both large and small jobs, letting us create projects and tasks quickly to serve as the central information hub for our team. It is so beneficial for everyone to have access to that realtime log of notes and updates for each shot. It helps everyone stay up-to-date and avoid mistakes or miscommunications.

Frequent Updates
Another benefit of Shotgun for a small shop like ours is that Shotgun is always evolving its tools, which eases the burden on our limited pipeline development resources. One of our favorite tools is Screening Room — we have postscripts that push our renders to Shotgun and handily label everything so that we can view and swap out different iterations in the screening room in realtime.

Another more recent development that I love is the Shotgun Review app for my iPhone. I can be at my son’s wrestling match in the middle of nowhere, with only one bar of service, and I can still pull up animations and review them. The new pan and zoom functionality in Shotgun V.5.4 is also very helpful for our artists. And as we transition to a Maya-based pipeline, Shotgun’s Pipeline Toolkit and the features it offers for Maya integration are a key area of focus for us as we decide what exactly that final pipeline will look like.

Shotgun has been crucial for our administrative development and efficiency, allowing us to document progress and implement a uniform set of methods and best practices regardless of a project’s size or length. Consolidating all of our production information into one place that everyone has up-to-date access to has transformed the way we work for the better, and it helps us stay competitive as deadlines keep getting tighter and budgets keep shrinking.

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Yellow Day
The screen grabs in this piece showing Shotgun’s UI were from a project we did called Yellow Day. Providence Film Partners’ Yellow Day is a feature-length production (pictured above) about a young man searching for his lost love. The story crosscuts live-action footage with full CG animation. We delivered roughly 25 minutes of animation, around 100 shots, and the project proved to be one of our most rewarding. Shotgun was used throughout. They used Softimage to model, rig and animate. It was rendered in RedShift. Blackmagic’s Fusion was called on for compositing. Check out scenes from the film here.

Don Culwell is partner/executive VP at Nashville-based Magnetic Dreams.


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