Every production relies on a schedule. It’s something you can’t avoid and that will follow you during all the production lifetime. So, it’s better to be confident about what you put into it! The good news is that in this post, we are going to share with you the best practices to build it properly.
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This is the second article of our series about the production setup:
- Part 1: The contracts
- Part 2: The Schedule
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Scheduling is difficult and requires all the team onboard
Prior to doing the estimation and setting deadlines, remember that you should rely on your supervisors to evaluate the amount of work for the team. You don’t have to be alone in the dark to achieve this task.
You will notice too that supervisors will be glad to help you. They would rather spend time with you to build a coherent planning than fighting a non-sense schedule during the production! Even better, engaging them in the process will make them more motivated and will make future conflicts solving easier.
NB: Keep in mind that preparing a good planning requires experience. To estimate tasks, it’s simpler if you have already tracked CG artist progress in a previous production. So, if you are a young production manager, don’t be scared to make mistakes. It will require some trial and errors, it’s part of the learning process.
How to estimate the length of a task
However, to be able to start a discussion with someone, you need to have an idea of your estimations, even if you are not sure about them. So, decide about rough estimations before iterating on them with your supervisors.
To begin, list all the tasks to do before the next known milestone. If you are not sure about your milestones, look for it in your contracts. Once everything is clear, warm up your calculator!
Any kind of production, a TV show, a feature film or a short, comes with a script. From it, you can do a breakdown which will give you the number of assets and sequences to build. That’s enough information to do simple math and set rough deadlines.
Let say you have 10 characters to do in 5 days with a team of 8 CG artist. First, you need to identify which ones are more important; for example, you have four main characters and six secondary characters. Now we can calculate how much time have CG artists to reach their deadline:
- The first step is to bring back everything at the same level. Let’s consider that building a simple character is our unit of measure. The main characters are 3 times more detailed than the secondary characters are. Let’s say a secondary character costs 1. Therefore, four main characters will be almost the same than creating 4 x 3 secondary characters, for an overall cost of 12.
- The second step is to establish how much time a CG Artist can spend on a simple character. You now have 12 + 6 = 18 characters to do in 5 days, with a team of 8 CG Artists. It means your team must be able to 18 / 5 = 3.6 characters a day. Each artist must ship the equivalent of 3.6 / 8 = 0.45 simple characters a day.
Now we have the right information, we are able to build a schedule for our Character team and dispatch the work to them.
By the way, it already helps you to anticipate problems. A thing you can notice from our example is that a CG artist cannot handle by himself the building of a main character (it requires 6 days and we only have five). For that kind of situation, we have three solutions:
- Lower down your quality expectation by using five days instead of six to create a main character.
- Split the main character work on two CG Artists (give the facial to one and the body to another).
- Rely on a senior CG artist for the main characters.
This arithmetic is a way to establish a first timeline to discuss with your supervisors. They will help you refine it and find the right dispatching. With more experience, you will achieve more accurate estimation and the iteration with your supervisors will go faster.
The right schedule for the right person
Your schedule will serve different purposes and be used by different people. So you need to decline it in several shapes depending on his reader:
- A rough schedule (per month and per steps) that helps you to adjust your budget and to discuss with all stakeholders. It gives too an overview of the production major steps to everyone.
- A detailed schedule for each department that helps your supervisors to keep in sync with the global view of the production, to manage their team more accurately and to be more aware of the dependencies with the previous and the next steps.
- A day to day calendar that serves as the to-do list for your team.
Planning representation (Bar Chart)
We covered how to decide the length of the schedule, what kind of schedule we need, now let’s talk about the visual representation of the schedule. For that let’s make thing simple and use the most common representation, the Gantt chart (bar chart). It has many advantages and a few flaws. Let’s review them.
- You never lose the overview of your production
- You can check easily the links between the tasks
- Each line can represent a person or a team, so you can keep an eye on your manpower
- You can highlight time margins, bank holidays and vacations
- You can easily move around a task and still see the dependencies with the previous and the next ones
- It works for small and big projects
- It’s not easily printable on a long production, you may need 2 or 3 A3 paper sheets!
- You need to update it by hand if (like most of the people) you are doing the schedule with a spreadsheet
Add time margins to your schedule
Now we have properly set up the schedule, we are going to deal with the fact that your schedule will change over time. It’s a fairy-tale to think everything will go according to the plan. Do you really think no one will have even a day of delay?
Adding safeties to your schedule is mandatory! Yeah, it’s an option to take more people when deadlines become closer. But life will teach you that it’s better to prevent it. Trust me, managing delay by having time between each episode and each step is always the right decision.
Add some extra time after each storyboard before the start of a new one. And apply it to the very first steps of the production too. It’s almost mandatory for the storyboard Artists to have at least one week of delay. Especially if you don’t have a storyboard Supervisor. In that case, the Director has to do everything by himself. He won’t have the time to properly brief the storyboard artists and you will have to expect many retakes.
Keep in mind all the bank holidays and the school breaks. People will take vacations, and hiring someone else in the meantime may not be as effective as it sounds. The new CG Artist will not be acclimated to the show as the rest of your team. It will require time for him to be effective.
Once you fill comfortable with your schedule, show it to your Director and your supervisors. If everybody feels at ease with it, then you will have more chance they will promote it rather than fighting against it.
Share Your Schedule
When everything is set, print your schedule and hang it everywhere! The CG Artists need to know where they are going. Consider too that they are very sensitive to stress. The more information you can give to them, the more comfortable they will be with their work. Don’t keep them in the dark for their own protection, it makes won’t lead to good things.
Update your schedule but don’t overwrite it.
Your schedule needs to always be up-to-date. It must reflect the reality of the production. Otherwise, you won’t be able to report or to warn of any future delay. You also need to have a true, clear view of the progress of an episode or the whole production.
But don’t overwrite your main schedule with the updates. Your main schedule is on every contract and on your direction’s offices. If you constantly update the schedule but don’t keep track of the changes, you won’t realize as much delay you have compared to the main schedule. And if you redo your schedule and postpone frequently several tasks, you could think that everything is ok and blindly ignore delays.
So, do your best to keep somewhere the main revisions of your schedule. It will help a lot to fulfill what you promised and to understand the situation.
To sum up
Having a good planning implies a lot of work and responsibilities. It must always be up to date and properly shared with all the team. And remember that you don’t have to do it alone! All the stakeholders can give you information and will be glad to participate.
Don’t forget that a schedule must match an audience too. When you need to share an official schedule with someone, always ask yourself what will they do with it? Do they need the global picture or a detailed schedule? For example, at a meeting with your producer, bring your updated rough schedule, not a day-to-day calendar!
The schedule will organize the production and the life of everybody involved (you included!) It’s a double-edged sword. If you mess it up, your production can become a nightmare. If you do it well, everything will run smoothly and you will achieve an amazing project!
This blog is dedicated to CG Production Management and CG Pipeline. We have a Slack channel where you can discuss about your own problems/solutions and learn from others. Our vibrant community of TDs and Production Managers will be super happy to welcome you!