Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Wayne's 15 step guide to working in Post Production

As I'm flying home in a  couple of days after my stint of over half a year working as 3D Supervisor on the film Last days On Mars, I thought it may be useful to  post my guide for those new to working in post production. Or indeed those hoping to break into the field here are a few of my guidelines that hopefully contain some sound advice.  Although mainly aimed at 3D artists, its safe to say most of it is easily applicable to anyone.

1 - The truth will set you free!

We're all taught by our parents that lying is bad, however as we grow up we realize that 'white lies' can be useful to either stop peoples feelings getting hurt or to get us out of a tight spot and buy a bit of time.  In post production lies can be costly, even something as simply as telling a sup or production assistant that an asset or shot will be ready to hand over to comp 'tomorrow at 3pm'.  (When knowing there is more chance of little elves arriving and finishing the shot for you than it actually getting finished on time!)  It may get them off your back for a day or so and maybe even give you more time to try and get your shot or asset closer to finished, but its false economy.  No one person in post production is an island, its a team effort and if a match mover is late handing over, then as a result 3d will be late getting it and as a result of that comp will be late getting it…  thats all man hours (and 'woman hours' as lets not be sexist lol) that are being paid for.  If one person is sitting waiting on an asset before they can start that is costing money, if everyone is waiting on an asset then its a massive pile of money that you may as well set fire to.  So although the truth can be painful, its often less painful than everyone losing their job.  It also means production can then schedule around it so no one is waiting on one person who is late.

2 - Flag problems early

The people working in production live for scheduling stuff…seriously I've came to conclusion that they love that shit! If you see a potential problem that may occur, flag it as early as you can through the proper channels.  If that problem does indeed occur and no one has listened then they may well be more inclined to take your view seriously next time.  Try to be as detailed as you can without decending into a load go jargon as people in production may not know what the heck you are b;athering on about,  So when your going on about 'flipped normals' or 'topology issues', they just her "blah blah,…problem…blah blah… deadline no worky!" and are less inclined to take it seriously.

3 - Don't be a Dick

This is rather an obvious one, although it still amazes me how many times Ive seen it occur.  As I've mentioned above, post production is not a one man band.  No matter how crucial you think you are to the show and how much you believe you are a special little snowflake to be nurtured and cared for… attitude is everything.  Everyone wants to work with a person that is easy to get along with, not overbearing, doesn't scream at people lower in the food chain than them and treats everyone with respect.  No one however wants to work with a complete dick that makes everyone want to either jump out of a window, or preferably throw them out of a bloody window just to avoid being in the same dept as them.  Talent does not give you the right to behave like everyone else is shit on your shoe.  Everyone deserves respect…. yes even supervisors :)

4 - Leave your ego at the door

we all have an ego of some description.. its part of human nature.  The trick is to leave it at the door when you go to work.  I'm not talking about pride in your work or speaking out if you feel something is incorrect or a bad idea.  I'm on about behaving as if nothing would be possible without you, that you talent makes others look like insignificant specks or that next to you da vinci was a 2 bit hack.  I've seen all those ego problems and worse.  Post production is not a youtube comments section, so if you are unable to leave your ego or bad attitude behind and realize that no matter how high profile or well received a show is that you have worked on , that it wasn't just down to you.  Other people did rather a lot as we'll that you may not even realize.

5 - Don't get defensive, be open to criticism

This is often the hardest part of working in post for people new to it.  3d and 2d artists are particularly prone to it.  maybe as we learn to always put our soul into our work and do the very best we can.  If you invest too much of 'yourself' into a shot, asset or anything and someone comes along and says 'make it not suck as much', it can be hard to take.  Yes always put as much effort into doing the very best job you can on something even if its a subject or shot for something you detest (your a professional dammit..no one said it would be all star wars,orcs and blowing shit up…. )  So give as much attention to detail to the hair for a cheap 'my little pony' animation as you would on gollum's nasal hair for a hero shot.  but also learn that it is disposable.  You have to be able to let an idea or shot go and be outside of your control.  We are all creative people and as a result all have a different idea of what 'we would do'.  But bottom line is we 99.99% of the time do not have that call to make or that say.  That lies with others and it is their vision you are helping to make a reality..not yours.

6 - This isn't your own personal demo reel!

Do what you are required to for the shot or asset as requested and if possible exceed expectations.  Do not do it only a certain way or use a certain bit of software as 'it'll look good on my reel'.  Funnily enough a show isn't about you and your next job.  If you have to cheat to get a shot out…. cheat with the best, (post is full of cheats that have to occur to get a shot out in time to hit the big screen…  we do some epic cheats every day at work.) Anyone who later complains to you that 'but that was cheating' has obviously not worked in post on a tight deadline.  If you know a way to make a shot easier to get out, flag it and let your sup make that call, (there could be good reasons outside your pay grade why it can't be, or yet again you could save a weeks work and be a hero for a day at work.) Use whatever the best software or method is to get the shot out on time and with the best results.

7 - Personal Backup's

I'm a big believer in not just relying on the usual backup procedures in place for the servers to keep a safe copy of my assets I'm working on.  I also maintain a local backup on a external drive as back ups may only be done every 2 days , or every night and thats still a lot of work you can lose.  Now I should also point out that my use of such a drive is cleared by production as I am usually working on hideously large files, there is an element of trust on that before you may be allowed to do that… or even not at all in some companies.  I should also point out that keeping all your files soully locally is also a very bad idea…. Its like putting your genitals in the hands of a man with chainsaw…usually a very bad idea that will end up in blood being spilled.

8 - Its called "non disclosure" for a bloody reason!

an N.D.A or non disclosure agreement is a standard in post the world over.  There are many different types from the standard 'don't say a thing until we tell you to' to ones that may contain lifetime restrictions on ever mentioning the project, what you've done on it or sometimes even who it was for.  It probably goes without saying that you should not blab all over twitter, Facebook or in your local pub what you're working on.  But ya know what? I'm going to say it anyway as it can never be hammered in too much.  Like us you may unwind on a friday night in a pub to sort of empty your head of all the post stuff before the weekend.  We have a pub we go to, have some crazy names for stuff and never discuss anything that we wouldn't be afraid to do in front of a newspaper reporter (who would think we were a bunch of lunatics going on about stuff that sounds nonsensical anyway).  Often people default to a sort of 'internal shorthand' for things anyway. But bottom line…don't blab.

9 - Its ok to hate your boss / sup/ director / art director

Its sort of a tradition to occasionally feel like throwing someone above you out of a damn window for what you feel maybe a stupid decision.  Its human nature and helps keep you sane working in post.  The director whose project I'm currently working on knows there have been 4 times I could have happily thrown him out of the 4th story window…. but also he knows that its not malicious or meant with any intent.  Its simply a way to let off steam.  So its healthy to feel like homicide from time to time…but yet again maybe thats just me….. its not just me right???….right??? :-)

10 - Leave your problems at the door

I have a rule in my dept.  if anyone has a problem or a major falling out with someone at work, they should be able to leave it at the door and still buy them a drink on a friday after work.  Don't hold a grudge and don't let it fester.  Post can be a hot house and when you get a lot of 'artistic' people together there is always going to be the occasional blow out or conflict of personalties over something.  The trick is to keep in mind that its only a job and not the end of the world.  Post production is part of your life…not your entire life.

11 - Its nothing personal

Never take it personally if you have to be let go for the good of a project or because someone above you thinks your work is not up to par or in s style that suits the project.  Yes you may have a good reason, your dog may have died, your wife kidnapped by aliens….but non of that matters.  They have the good of the show to think of.  By extension if you have to make that call on someone, don't beat yourself up about it.  Again… you are being paid to do a job not to win a popularity contest.  I never believe in snap decisions or calls personally and will always give someone enough chances before the time comes where they are history.

12 - Time is Relative

There has never been a shot ever in history where you can say "Woah! I have way too much time here to get this done, how can I possible need that long?"  Time will always been short, deadlines hard to impossible without breaking the laws of physics and you will never have enough time to do something to the standard you personally want to most times.   Post production is like a race run by a man with a watch that seemingly only runs backwards, deadlines are always too short.  After a while you get used to the insane deadlines and simply cope and end up doing things in a time that on paper simply isn't possible.   This is where the team as a whole pulls together…or pulls itself apart.  A good team will help each other, a bad one will tear apart under the slightest strain.

13 - 'Fix it in comp' is not an option!

ok if your a 3d guy this ones just for you and a personal bugbear of mine.  Do not think that everything can be fixed in comp.  Do not expect to give them a shot that is lit badly or rendered with missing passes and expect them to make it look amazing, like you they must have the tools to do their job and that means giving them what is needed.  They are compositors …not magicians!  I also advise 3d guys to get to know the compositors well as those guys and guy-esses can make something good look amazing or something ropey look acceptable.  So next time you moan about how your work was only on screen for 1/2 second remember that their art is a hidden one that the man in the street never realizes is there.  As such its probably a good idea to be nice to them… they can make you look real bad, real fast if they chose to.

14 -  Dont let your personal life intrude

This is a hard one for some people, We all like to blow off steam from time to time and let our hair down.  Maybe you like to go out and get hammered on a friday night or take enough drugs to make Keith Richards have an overdose, thats your business, not mine, I personally couldn't care less what you do to relax, thats your bag.  However.... do not let it affect your work.  Yes from time to time the occasional hangover or being a little late is acceptable, but not turning up till 4pm and having a raging hangover every day is not.

So keep an eye on your partying, and dont let it become a millstone around your career.  Remember your being paid to do your job to the best of your ability within the given constraints of the project, not to go out and as a result be unable to work properly on a monday.   But yes we all need some down time and to be able to let our hair down.  Its important, especially so when your working on  long project as it also helps keep a team glued together when its raining shots upon your head and the only way to do them is to invent a time machine.

15 - Remember to Enjoy it!

The chances are you do this because you are good at it and find it more fun than working in a factory.  So when shit is stressing you out and you feel like throwing in the towel, remember why you do this and overall remember to have fun while doing it.  Let work be part of your life, not all of your life.

So there you go, my 15 step guide to surviving post production.  Feel free to disagree as I'm not the all seeing eye and I'm not infallible.  but I'd like to think that the above makes a lot of sense and helps avoid some of the common pitfalls.