Remote workflows for creative teams
In this article, we'll take a look at asset management for remote workflows. We will look at Google Drive, Notion, and Frame.io, as well as Anchorpoint, which is a media asset manager.
3D projects are complex. They involve thousands of files, hundreds of tasks and produce multiple Gigabytes of data. When delivering a project on a tight deadline, you want to keep an overview of what needs to be done and what is already finished. You don’t want to waste time on searching for files, scrolling through endless Slack conversations and bugging your teammates. A well organized workflow will make you more efficient. And that’s the essence of Asset Management. It's also a key element of a VFX pipeline.
What is an asset?
There are Wikipedia articles about that but you can simply imagine an asset like an element of your movie, game, graphic design project, whatever. Just imagine a component of a car. You need many different components (wheels, mirrors, engine) to build a car. Asset management is nothing more than the organization of these components. Your project (or 3D scene) is assembled out of assets. These can be a vehicle, a tree, a movieclip, a material etc. Production requires you to produce a lot of assets and import existing ones. Proper Asset Management will:
Save your time
You spend less time searching for files. If it takes you 1 minute to find a file, and you have to do this 15 times a day, you are wasting these 30 minutes per day. Multiply that by 8 weeks and by 5 people on the project, and you have 50 wasted hours.
Save your brain power
Effective asset management will keep you in the flow. Why? When you develop a structure and it becomes a habit for you to look for files and save them in a particular place, you don’t think about it. All these operations, about saving or looking for a file, happen in short term memory. They don’t distract you from animating, rendering or editing.
Your chaos might be logical for you, but it is not for your team members. Agreeing on structure and naming conventions will give your team a common language about how the project is organized. Do not interrupt them on Slack by asking them where they saved a file.
Manage your 3D projects
The components of managing 3D assets
Not a big deal, when you work alone. Working in a remote team means having a centralized storage system that everyone can access. A Google Drive or Dropbox will do the job but there are also cloud drives, that feel like a NAS for remote work. You also need a simple way to send the final version to the client without forcing them to install any software.
File and folder structure
You want to know where things are. Having a fixed folder structure will create a process for your workflow. Naming conventions will tell you where to put a file. Cinema 4D, After Effects and Anchorpoint can even automate that process using tokens.
This applies to assets, the same as for shots in an animation. You just want to know whether e.g. a model of a building is “Not started”, “In progress” or “Done”. This is what you typically do in a Kanban board. You could also extend that status with an “approval pending” and “approved” status when you work with a director.
You can also become more detailed and split your building asset into tasks. To finish a shot you need steps like "Layout", "Animation" and "Compositing". You can map something like this in a typical Excel spreadsheet.
Of course the fidelity of your tracking depends on the complexity of your project and the size of your team. Keep it as simple as you can. More options = more clicking. Think especially of naming conventions. In this case, shots are divided into episodes. Episode 1 and shot 1 means s01_shot0010.
Why leave a "0" at the end of a shot number?
During production, the director may want to insert a shot between existing shots. For example, a new shot is added between shot 3 and shot 4. We can't just rename the other because that would break all the file paths in Cinema 4D, Blender and Nuke. Therefore a shot 3.5 is created. In our naming convention, that would be s01_shot0035, which is between s01_shot0030 and s01_shot0040.
Assets evolve over time. A first version of a building can be a simple cube and a later version results in a high poly model. When you do multiple iterations on an asset, you are saving them as versions. You can also roll back to a previous state if something breaks. Version control gives you better ways to manage iterative workflows.
Back in the days when we all sat in a single room, your director could watch over your shoulders and tell you what to do. In the area of remote work, this is done using a review tool, where he can give you feedback on an image, video or 3D model. Having that information, you as an artist know what to change in the next version.
How to manage a remote workflow using Google Drive, Notion and Frame.io
You can start very simple with the tools you already have. They will cover all the aspects of an organized remote workflow.
We will use Google Drive for file distribution. Google Drive can run in two different modes. “Mirror files” or “Steam files”. We definitely want to stream files, because that will create a network drive which feels similar to a NAS. This should be the place for all our files. We don’t want to create an additional folder for our project files on your local computer and copy the end result to Google Drive. It’s totally fine to work directly from it. Google Drive will download files on demand and cache them locally, so we work at the speed of an internal drive.
Windows Explorer/ MacOS Finder
We will use it to build our file and folder structure. Unless you have a sophisticated pipeline tool, which stores all the file locations in a database, files have to be uniquely identified by their filename. So a filename for the building asset could be:
[projectname]_[assetname]_[version] → bellyfant_yellowBuilding_v023.blend
This implies also that version control will be handled via the filename by adding a _v023 appendix.
To avoid time-consuming file browsing, keep it as flat as possible. This is how a simple folder structure for an animation project could look like:
You can also use Trello, Asana or whatever task management tool you would like. We will use Notion for status/production tracking. We will create an asset and a shotlist that shows the status of each task. Remember, you split up your assets and shots into tasks when you work with a bigger team which has more specialists.
On each asset and shot, we
- Create properties, as single choice tags to define tasks
- Add a description
- Add a member, who is assigned to that asset
It’s also worth adding the folder path, so artists know where to find the corresponding files on Google Drive to a description field as well as a link field for Frame.io which we will use for our reviews.
We will use Frame.io for our review process. Artists will upload dailies (e.g. a playblast, a proxy rendering, basically something that shows what you have done on a particular day) to Frame.io, so that a director can look at them and provide feedback.
Make sure that the naming convention of the files you upload is the same as the scene file on your Google Drive.
How remote workflows work in Anchorpoint
The workflow described above can work, but it has many difficulties. You are using 4 applications to manage your workflow. Plus, these tools don’t really talk to each other. Manually syncing Notion, Frame.io and your file system can lead to a lot of human errors and make you incredibly inefficient. Plus, these tools can't help you deal with your files. You still have to browse a lot. That’s why media asset managers or pipeline tools exist. They can quickly show everything on one page. Anchorpoint is one of them. It focuses on 3D projects for motion graphics, VFX, animation and game development.
In this case you can stick to Google Drive, when you feel more comfortable with it. Anchorpoint is compatible with it. If you want a less expensive solution, you can use the inbuilt Anchorpoint cloud drive mount with Wasabi cloud storage.
File and folder structure
In Anchorpoint you can use your existing folder structure, that you normally use on a project and make a template out of it. With that template, you can also apply naming conventions so that you never need to rename a file again.
The status of an asset will be applied directly to the folder. With that, you don’t need to wrangle between multiple tools and have everything in one place. We will use Single Choice Tag Attributes, which are similar to properties in Notion to set the status on an asset. We can also assign members directly in Anchorpoint and notify them via a push notification, when the status has changed.
The benefit of using a media asset manager like Anchorpoint, is that it comes with a set of utilities, that help you in your daily workflow. Here is a set of examples
- Convert image sequences to video Often you need to send your daily rendering to a client or director. Instead of launching After Effects, creating a Composition, importing the files and setting the render output, you can do that with one click in Anchorpoint
- Folder and file templates A feature that saves you a lot of time. This is not only when setting up the project folder, but also when you want to create your asset or shot folders. It can create folder structures and rename folders automatically based on your project name, client name or shotnumber.0
- Drive mapping Especially when using Google Drive or Dropbox, you want everyone in your team to mount them to the same drive letter. This will avoid issues with file paths. Drive mapping creates a drive that points to a folder.
Effective asset management makes you more efficient in your daily work. The key components are file distribution, folder structures, production tracking, version control and reviews. It’s not difficult to master all of them, it’s a matter of forming proper habits.
Media asset managers for 3D projects like Anchorpoint help teams reduce stress, save time, and prevent errors. For single users they provide reasonable value and for teams they are a must have.
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