Version control for the creative industry

The benefits of using version control as a cornerstone of your creation process

By Matthäus Niedoba
Jan 16 - 4 min read

If you would have had a version control system in this situation, your life would have been much simpler. Not sure why? Here are five reasons:

1. There is a clean project folder

You only see the latest version of your file in the project folder. Everything else is stored in a "checkpoint-like" history, so you can easily access it. Each point in this history is explicitly saved by you and contains a comment, rather than just an auto-generated timestamp. Furthermore you can filter what will be uploaded in your project repository so you can leave out huge files or caches.

2. The entire design process is transparent

You have a timeline or a flow which shows what your teammates have done at what time. You can easily follow up on their work without calling them and interrupting them in their focus time. It will save you hundreds of emails and slack messages. Furthermore you can see who is working on which file in realtime. This will save you the pain of accidentally overwriting someone's work.

A version control application shows the process of the project
3. Your files are grouped in a logical chunk

You'll never have to ask: Which file created that render? Which texture version belongs to that lighting scene? When you commit all your changed document and export files at once, they will be attached together. This saves you the pain of strict file naming conventions.

4. Increased level of security

Because you commit changes not only on a single file basis, but on the whole project, you can easily go the same step back. If you needed to, you could also revert your whole movie to the state from a week ago. Furthermore, you are working locally and only submitting changes to the central project repository. You will not damage someone's work accidentally.

5. Onboarding freelancers during project

When someone new needs to jump in on your project, they would be able to easily understand the process, because every change is submitted with a comment. The timeline of changes provides transparency through the whole project.

What are the challenges in adapting a version control system to your workflow?

1. Shift the order of execution

Usually you create a new project version by duplicating a file and increasing the version count before you start working. In a commit-based version control system you submit—e.g., a published work—your changes after you have done your work. This is a little change in habit.

2. Trust the system

Like any new system, this is unknown territory. It can feel a little bit weird not to see the previous file versions on your hard drive. Always keep in mind that a version control application like GitHub Desktop, Sourcetree from Atlassian or Anchorpoint are based on an open source system called Git, which is the de facto standard in software development and has been there for over 15 years. This is also the backbone of platforms such as GitHub.

Even in a case where one of these applications would crash, you can access your whole version history including all your previous file versions with any desktop application like the ones mentioned before.

In conclusion

For all the benefits you get, it is worth to change the habit. At it's core, a version control system, improves productivity and in turn, contributes to more efficient and happier creative teams. Most importantly, it provides more room for what we really enjoy: being creative.

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