Company Cinesite Studios
Location London, Montreal, Munich, Vancouver
Over the course of 18 months, Cinesite’s Head office in London saw over 150 artists putting together their best work on Robin Hood for inclusion in the finished product. And all along the way, as with many projects before, the team utilised ftrack to enable smooth project management throughout.
A noble beginning
Cinesite has been active in the world of digital effects for movies and TV shows since its inception in 1991, with the London-headquartered studio having worked on the likes of the entire Harry Potter film franchise, Band of Brothers, Avengers: Infinity War, and many more.
Michele Sciolette, Cinesite’s Chief Technical Officer, is in a role where he supports studios in Vancouver, Montreal, London and Germany helping to drive technological innovation across the board for Cinesite. Part of that innovation involves Cinesite’s committed use of ftrack, the robust project management solution which the company has been using for five years.
Gareth Pearce is a VFX Coordinator, he supports the production and supervision teams, across high-end VFX feature film projects like Robin Hood. Through the project Gareth was responsible for ensuring Cinesite’s artists understood their schedule of work, relaying information back to the production and supervision team and coordinating the flow of information and elements between artists and departments.
“ftrack made the team’s stellar work on the project possible. The key factor here is having this ultimate source of data that everyone in production refers to.”
Chief Technical Officer at Cinesite
“Really the key thing here,” Pearce said, “Is that ftrack allowed us to keep pace with Otto’s imagination! Being able to track each asset through each stage to the final comp gave us the ability to fine-tune each shot until we had exactly what he wanted to see, while still having subtly different variations in our back pocket.”
He continued: “ftrack was there at every stage of the production: from organising client reference to tracking assets through note-taking and bundle-tracking. And what it doesn’t do out of the box, we added ourselves. The API gave us the flexibility to create our own tools and seamlessly integrate them with the pipeline.”
Shaping a pipeline
With ftrack firmly established as the glue that holds Cinesite’s workflow together – in Sciolette’s words – ftrack made the team’s stellar work on the project possible. “The key factor here is having this ultimate source of data that everyone in production refers to,” Sciolette explained, “Whether you want to know what has been done or not, which one is the approved version of an asset or anything else, the place where you find that information is ftrack.”
Cinesite implemented ftrack at the very core of its pipeline during production on Robin Hood, as it does for all of its projects, and was used by everyone across the firm: “From our producers and line producers managing the show,” Sciolette said, “To coordinators preparing reviews, deliveries, adding notes and assigning tasks to all our artists – whose workflow and tools heavily depend on ftrack.”
One element of Cinesite’s relationship to ftrack that proves unique is the timescale involved – the VFX studio has been using ftrack since 2013 before it was officially released. The confidence shown in the product, and those behind it, shines through, with Sciolette saying: “I don’t think we ever questioned the usefulness of the solution. There was an element of uncertainty with choosing ftrack before its commercial release, but we trusted the team and felt that it was the right solution for Cinesite.”
Adapting to change
There’s a mix of the perfectly designed, so nothing needs to change, mixed in with a robustness that allows tweaks and alterations to be made depending on a project’s needs that proves positive for ftrack’s use in projects. And with Cinesite’s extended use of the platform, it has become something of an expert on – and a crafty veteran in – usage of ftrack.
“A few areas have barely changed since Cinesite started using ftrack in 2013,” Sciolette explained, “The way we break down our shows and the very core of our asset version workflow has been fairly stable – at least in the general approach – for a long time. The number of Asset Types and the number of applications we support has greatly increased over time. We now integrate ftrack with a wide variety of applications in our workflow.”
“Really the key thing here,” Pearse said, “Is that ftrack allowed us to keep pace with Otto’s imagination! Being able to track each asset through each stage to the final comp gave us the ability to fine-tune each shot until we had exactly what he wanted to see, while still having subtly different variations in our back pocket.”
Supporting all the major digital content creation applications such as Maya, Nuke, Mari, and 3DEqualizer, Cinesite is also a keen supporter of the ever-improving game engine tools studios are paying close attention to, with their ability to render at high quality in real-time. Unity and Unreal Engine are supported at Cinesite, as Sciolette pointed out. Additionally, Cinesite utilises Gaffer – the procedural lookdev and lighting tool developed by Image Engine (the Vancouver studio the company acquired in 2015).
With a veteran production attitude to use of ftrack, Pearse was full of advice for those looking at the platform: “First off, ftrack is only as complicated as you need it to be,” he said, “If you only want it to track versions and assign tasks, that’s all available on the surface, with very little training required. By the same token, if you need a bid versus actual breakdown per asset report across the whole show, you can have that report created and generated with only a few clicks.
“And the customisation options available means that the system works as you need it to, not as it wants you too. Don’t be afraid to get in there and make it suit your needs!”
The use of ftrack at Cinesite is currently ongoing at the Montreal and London offices, as well as in the recent addition to the group Trixter, headquartered in Munich, Germany. The scope for increased use of the tool is there, though, and Cinesite is open to new approaches, as Sciolette explained: “How we approach having multiple studios has changed. For our VFX work, we rely on one ftrack server based in our London studio, but we are currently actively exploring a more distributed system with multiple databases replicated in each studio.”
Following its impressive work on Robin Hood, Cinesite is involved in production on a number of high profile projects, from the likes of Paramount’s Rocketman, through Marvel Studios’ Avengers End Game, and The Witcher, an upcoming fantasy drama TV series created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich for Netflix.
In the world of feature animation, Cinesite is also working on MGM’s adaptation of the Addams Family and HB Wink/China Lion’s Extinct, as well as a number of other projects in various stages of development. Each and every project does – or will – utilise ftrack throughout its production, with Cinesite relying on the assured quality such a fully featured project management solution provides.