LA-based Mammal Studio is a full-service VFX house providing CG and 2D visual effects for feature film, television, commercials and music video. They opened their doors in the summer of 2013 and have some pretty high-profile work on their resume, including the films The Shallows, The 5th Wave, Concussion, Joy and Hardcore Henry.
Let’s find out more from Mammal’s partner/VFX supervisor Gregory Liegey.
What types of projects do you work on?
We mainly work on feature films, which is our team’s most extensive experience base. Nonetheless, with the freedom we have as a small independent house, we’re taking opportunities to fit in some smaller projects for TV, music video and commercial clients. Early on in our history, we did a few sequences for Eminem’s Rap God video, which was especially exciting because it was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award.
We also find TV and commercial work refreshing in the sense that they allow a greater contribution of creative input. Not everything is as extensively planned out and previously discussed as it is for features. The opportunity to help shape the look and ideas of the work is a welcome experience for us — allowing our senior team to draw upon their experience working directly for productions.
But studio features still occupy the bulk of our schedule. In the fourth quarter of 2015, we expanded our team and infrastructure to work on an independent feature set to release this year, and two studio-based Christmas releases: Concussion for Peter Landesman at Sony Pictures and Joy for David O. Russell at Fox.
What is your typical workflow?
More and more of our projects start these days with pre-production meetings about concept and design. From there, one of our senior supervisors will attend the shoot to work with the director and other department heads. When the edits are roughed together, we’ll start to get plates. We ingest the plates into our servers and publish them to Shotgun using a custom tool written by our in-house developer Janice Collier.
Once everything is loaded into Shotgun, the supervisors and leads create the list of tasks needed for each shot and start assigning those jobs out to our artists. The artists use the Shotgun Pipeline Toolkit to run Maya, Mari, Nuke, etc. Shotgun’s Toolkit, with a bunch of custom modifications, helps us keep track of the assets and outputs from all the artists.
Our supervisors use Screening Room to review the artists’ work and enter notes into Shotgun for reference. This is a streamlined and efficient process for getting the artists the feedback they need. Thanks to Screening Room’s tight integration into Shotgun’s database of previous versions, cut sequences, concept artwork and original scans the supervisors deliver much-higher-quality direction. The supervisor notes are prioritized so the artist need only concentrate on the task at hand without worrying about larger issues of scheduling and workload — those issues are managed by the production team.
Once the artists’ work is approved for client review, we go back to the Shotgun Toolkit to process and export the shots as deliverable QuickTimes. A proprietary process uses Shotgun shot data to grab the per-shot color corrections needed to match Editorial sequence color and sends a Nuke job to our Deadline queue to render an Avid QuickTime in the client-requested framing and format.
What about delivery?
We deliver the client QTs (or 2Ks) using Shotgun’s Delivery request system, which keeps a record of what has been sent and where. Then we wait for client feedback.
You mentioned working on Joy. What was your workflow like on that film?
We ended up working on over 200 shots concurrent with another active show. Shotgun helped us keep track of the many editorial changes made during the run of the show. The artists would learn instantly of changes to the footage of their shots and could turn around those new versions quickly. That ability to accurately track editorial changes gave the production confidence that we could take on more and more work.
In addition the tools you mentioned earlier, what else do you call on?
We also use Modo, the Adobe Suite, Phoenix and Krakatoa for FX, and a few different Maya plug-ins for specialized tasks. Deadline is our render queue.
The VFX industry has been in a weird place over the last few years. How are you guys succeeding in such a tough marketplace?
In strategic terms, we have what boils down to a two point plan: we aim to exceed the clients’ expectations and we work efficiently. Luckily, by being efficient, we give directors more options to choose from and more time to polish the work despite the shorter schedules and leaner budgets. So, point number two helps us consistently achieve point number one. Directors are happy to have more creative choices. Producers are happy to have competitive bids from a company who can be relied upon to deliver.
Of course, all of the above would be impossible without a crew of dedicated artists and technical support staff. Their teamwork and creativity are the essential ingredients in all of our projects.