By Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull
In a world where visual effects and post are being done at several locations simultaneously, the issue of project management becomes more complex and stressful. It means going through tons of client feedback and emails, spreadsheets of schedules, assets and resources — and doing all of that on multiple projects at once!
This is where Ftrack comes in to make the process of managing visual effects projects in-house or remotely easier, more efficient and affordable, so even small boutique studios could adopt it. But that doesn’t mean the big boys don’t use it as well. Ftrack currently lists studios such as The Mill and Cinesite as clients.
Obviously there are other tools out there, such as Shotgun, that do similar things to Ftrack but this review is not about comparing Ftrack with those other tools. Instead it offers a quick rundown of what exactly Ftrack is and how it works so well for projects of all sizes. This includes independent filmmakers and boutique studios, both of which are on the rise thanks to cloud-based workflows and the demand for visual effects work to be spread across several studios to meet the demanding schedules.
Easy & Fast Setup
It literally takes a few minutes to start putting your project together (or what VFX producers historically call the VFX Database) by creating project, sequences, shots and tasks. Ftrack allows VFX producers to also import from their Excel spreadsheet (the bid breakdown, for example) using the CSV formatting.
If you are a commercials post house or production company using Foundry tools you can integrate Ftrack with The Foundry’s Hiero to export your sequences and shots from a conformed edit, along with metadata such as camera info and shot length and handles, to generate the Ftrack project. This is one of the many ways Ftrack eliminates repetitive data entry when setting up projects.
Ftrack goes even further by giving you the functionality to generate your folder structures for your project directory directly from Ftrack with the use of the powerful “Actions” which remove the manual directory structure set-up usually required. See it demonstrated here: https://www.ftrack.com/2014/04/creating-folders-ftrack-actions.html.
From the VFX production side of things, Ftrack is a life saver when it comes to tracking things like resources, artist time, bid days on tasks and, most importantly, communication. This is partly because the system is maintained by the input of the team/artists logging hours as they do the tasks, which the producer can assess on the fly against the bid hours/days assigned.
In addition, all the messages, communication and notes for the tasks by artists, producers and supervisors are all via Ftrack — gone are the days trawling though emails looking for previous notes and feedback.
Supporting The Artists
We all know it’s often difficult to get artists to open a project management tool or Excel spreadsheet to update their status on a task, etc., and why should they? After all, they are being hired to be artists… to create not to manage. So Ftrack has integrated tools within Nuke and Maya to allow artists to still log their hours and make notes/view notes via panels inside Maya/Nuke working on their scenes.
Reaching Out To VFX Producers
I could write a huge article about how Ftrack makes the life of a VFX producer so much easier, but thankfully Ftrack has started to release a bunch of videos covering the typical day of a VFX producer using FTrack, and you can watch Part 1 here: https://www.ftrack.com/2014/04/the-life-of-vfx-production-timesheet.html
These short video blogs, along with tips offered on the Ftrack site, emphasizes that Ftrack doesn’t want to change the way you work; it’s designed to with the artist in mind. Ftrack believes its clients should be able to hit the ground running on projects. Since most VFX producers are not technical and do not want to be involved steep learning curves with new tools, Ftrack is designed as an out-of-the box solution. And, if you are technical? Feel free to extend it further via Python.
This reflects Ftrack’s origins as a tool developed within a VFX facility — Fido in Sweden — first, before being commercially available.
Dailies & Client Review Sessions
Scheduling, project management and reporting are all important aspects of Ftrack, but its key success, as mentioned earlier, is the ability to allow for seamless communication. Reducing the amount of emails and links for clients to review, etc.
This is done via the built-in Ftrack Review system, where artists upload their latest version of the shot and the VFX coordinator can create a playlist of latest or multiple versions for the VFX supervisor to review internally or externally.
Ftrack understands the need for clients to have that realtime experience of reviewing hands-on rather than writing long emails. So, coming soon as part of Ftrack is a feature called Client Portal.
This gives the VFX studio a friendly way to communicate with its clients but does not require them to have a license or to install anything. All they do is click the private link and begin to make comments, draw on frames, give approvals and provide other critical input on a project.
More info about client portal with a video showing how it works can be seen here: https://www.ftrack.com/2014/04/client-portals-review-simple-and-user-friendly-way-to-run-client-review-sessions.html
Future Of Collaborative Workflow
Ftrack recently announced its latest offering: Locations. This was developed with an initial focus on making it easier to share data across teams and time zones.
In future versions it would be great to have project financial control such as quoting and pricing for jobs or bidding on tasks with each artists day rate. This way producers truly would never leave Ftrack to jump into Excel or Farmers Wife, a bookings tool used often in post facilities. I’m sure it’s on its way as Ftrack still has a lot of development in the works to make it even more of a complete management system.
Their pricing model is based on monthly subscription per user, and there are several packs to choose from. You can try it out via free trial on their website.
Dulull is a freelance VFX producer as well as a movie director (his film Project Kronos is currently in development). He has been nominated for several VES awards for his VFX supervision. He is also principal at his own production company HaZ Film. He recently used Ftrack on his short film Iris where he was able to use teams across the world to provide components of visual effects for the shots.