Half-Blood Prince Process Optimization

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The package of work awarded to Rising Sun Pictures for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince presented the challenge of unprecedented scale and variety.  In true Australian spirit, we had to find anything and everything that would allow us to work more optimally and guarantee our desired level of quality.


Process Modeling and Analysis

A lot of participants from various different studios were coming together to create the visual effects for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  It was important to align on the workflow required to make a film of this magnitude, and we accomplished this in 2 distinct phases.  1) map out the workflow as we know it, socialize it, and recognize areas that could use improvement  2) map out the target process, this is not expected to be perfect, but we established an MVP and adapted as needed.

Knowledge Mapping

After having mapped out the target process, this reveals activities that did not map naturally to the existing resources.  This provides an opportunity to understand the implicit and explicit knowledge required for all activities, and mapping that to our resources which reveals gaps in coverage.  This gave us a strategy for hiring to meet those gaps, while diverting resources and energy from activities that were more than sufficiently covered.

Workflow Optimization

One of the traps when tackling creative challenges with a strong technological component is that we place too much emphasis on the difficult tasks and not enough on the easy ones.  In that sense we decided to make the easy work simple and easy to tackle and get it out of the way to make room for the difficult stuff.  Efficacy of communication became key, allowing for client feedback to be immediately visible to the entire team who could action on it.  Additionally, I wanted an efficient way to review iterations with the artists and an opportunistic way to harvest approved versions for client delivery.


Adoption of Maya Across Offices

Initially, both XSI and Maya were used at the studio for the same stages of the workflow. Since I started I took small steps starting with The Seeker to move us towards a unified workflow under Maya for modeling, rigging, animation, and lighting. This effort was culminated on HP6 using Houdini for FX and Maya for everything else in the 3D workflow. This greatly eased the support burden placed on the pipeline support team.

Houdini FX Migration

Promoted the use of Houdini and the advancement of the fx pipeline at RSP. In particular, started holding weekly Houdini meetings with demos and created a repository for any examples discussed. This repository was also used to store techniques used on shows like HP6. In addition to all this, I worked closely with SideFX in order to find an ideal candidate who had the Houdini expertise and also the right qualities to help train others at RSP, this worked out great.

Look Development Formalization

Helped to formalize workflow for look development at RSP which lead to the creation of a series of tools to help support this workflow. These workflows are already starting to be used on different productions company wide. This formalization was also critical in allowing RSP to work with The Monk who did a lot of the cg asset development for the room transformation sequence in Hp6.

Improved Color Grading Workflow

Made headway in establishing a workflow to provide a consistent way to preview graded footage at all levels of the pipeline ranging from animation, lighting and compositing. An essential requirement in this way of working was to use a stable color grade and avoid the associated impact from fluctuating client grades, particularly in 3D lighting.

Formalization of Data I/O Department

Starting with The Seeker, we created a role to help remove explicit tasks such as plate turnover and image conversions from the hands of our compositors, it worked great then and we continue to use it today. The formalization of this role has allowed us to identify areas for turnover/delivery automation which has also helped standardize the workflow on different shows. This has certainly led to a more optimized turnover process but it also has the side benefit of freeing up compositors to work on compositing.

Flexible Client Deliveries

We abstracted a new stage in the pipeline of a shot specific to ʻdeliveryʼ. This prevented the artists, especially the compositors, from being forced to deal with delivery nuances such as file naming, frame renumbering (e.g. shifting everything to start at 1), as well as image conversions and grading application. Instead, these tasks were facilitated by the ʻdata i/oʼ team.

Facilitating Communication

Introduced jabber IM with a default company-wide roster group, this has helped quite a bit for cross-office communication as well — the IM setup that existed before required a slightly complex signup process so it was used by very few people. We also streamlined production emails to create more focused mailing lists in order to clear way for more crucial communications.

Renderfarm Optimizations

Insisted on a mechanism to allow artist boxes to join the renderfarm after an idle period. Previously, the artist boxes had to be manually taken off/put on the farm which led to the artist box being unavailable to the farm during the day.

Formalized Reference Library

Established per show reference library to help store concept artwork developed internally and by the client, as well as reference imagery (client/internal), cinesync markups, and production data such as blueprints. This helped to expose all available reference in a manner that was easy to browse and navigate. The categorization of the media within the showʼs reference library has a lot of thought behind it as well. One example of this categorization is the clear separation between internal material developed at RSP vs. material received from the client. We have top level categories such as Concept Art, Client Reference, Cinesync Markups, Internal Reference, Data Reference, Storyboards.

Improving Knowledge Base

Established department/task specific repositories for documentation and information under the wiki for the project. This helps to start building a knowledge base around specific tasks to provide new artists (and new shows) a base of reference.

Improved Schedule Visibility

Simple method for conveying the schedule of internal and external milestones on 2 week chunks. This was started by the production team on The Seeker (RobM, MartinW and myself) and it worked great, so Iʼve made it part of new productions.

Streamlined Production Meeting and Dailies

Formalized a daily production and supervisor touch base at 8:30am every morning. Crew wide dailies starting at 9am (sharp, everyday!) to show schedule and playing the latest round of shots, followed by smaller group sessions with only the people relevant to that sequence. The crew dailies create a forum for communicating crucial information to the entire team and also provides visibility of all the ongoing work, but it does not monopolize the team for very long since comments are only given in the smaller group sessions.