Milk VFX Performs Good Effects Housekeeping
June 3, 2015

Milk VFX Performs Good Effects Housekeeping

“Thunderbirds Are Go” is a new animated episodic reboot of the 1960’s cult hit “Thunderbirds” series. With a number of vendors serving up content, continuity was important.

To that end, ITV Studios brought Milk VFX onto the project to serve as the visual effects production hub, compositing and finishing all the elements coming through the various vendors working on the show, including New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures and Weta Workshop, which produced the live-action miniatures. Milk VFX was tasked with creating and applying the signature finished 3D look using 2D effects, as well as ensuring the series’ iconic look and maintaining that look consistently across 26 episodes. 

The Milk team was led by VFX Supervisor Sara Bennett and 2D Supervisors Ellie Sutton and Matt McDougal, working closely with Director David Scott to bring a filmic feel with heavy grain and shallow depth of field, giving the illusion that the CG is indistinguishable from the live action. Milk developed and created key environments integral to the story, including underwater and storm sequences, communication holograms, set enhancements , and skies. 


Managing “Thunderbirds Are Go” VFX

In order to manage so many moving parts – over 1,000 shots per each three-episode block – Milk VFX needed a tool that would allow them to easily plan and track the requirements for each shot, and turned to software from Shotgun. Building out the show in Shotgun from the earliest planning stages allowed Milk to quickly track and generate status reports throughout the project on everything from artist allocations to task and feedback status, approvals, and delivery. In editorial, Shotgun allowed both production and artists to easily track their progress when processing scans to place online and to create directory structures on their main SAN.

Milk VFX head of pipeline, Benoit Leveau, built a scan processing system that works with Shotgun by analyzing shot names, versions, and frame ranges, and automatically transferring them to the correct directory structures once folders are created. Shotgun is then auto-updated with all of the vital information (path to files, file names, version, frame range, user, time , and date) that artists need to work. The process made it much easier for production to filter prepared shots and assign them to artists. With this process in place, any margin for error due to miscommunication is dramatically reduced across all departments working on the show.

Keeping Communication Open

In production, more often than not a case of the “right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing” across departments can lead to lost time and resources. In the case of Thunderbirds, Milk VFX avoided this by having both production and editorial tap Shotgun to see up-to-date details of all shots published between each department. 

Once an artist published his or her shots to Shotgun, production created a playlist within Shotgun. This was then passed on to editorial to use as a check list to ingest shots into Digital Vision’s Nucoda for dailies review, prior to delivering shots to the client. 

The playlist also enables editorial to submit approved shots to the QuickTime renderfarm via a Nuke script that generates the file in the codec required by the client. All these processes are tracked in Shotgun so that versions sent to the client can easily be identified. 


Streamlining Review with Playlists

Having a more organized pipeline allows artists to iterate many more versions of each shot, thus yielding better results. For the massive numbers of versions that artists produce each day, Milk VFX uses Shotgun playlists to easily pick up on the latest submissions and assemble lists throughout the day for the compositing supervisor to review. Any approved shots get passed on to the VFX supervisor for feedback, final approval, and , ultimately , into a delivery playlist for the editorial I/O department.

“Having this review process in place allows us to track every version of every shot and ensures that artists get feedback in a timely fashion—basically taking what could be a mammoth multi-person daily task into a one-man, straightforward , manageable procedure , ensuring that everything is accounted for—brilliant!” said Liam Tully, VFX line producer at Milk VFX. 

Custom Tailoring

Milk VFX uses plenty of off-the-shelf tools in its pipeline, including The Foundry’s Nuke, Adobe’s Photoshop, Autodesk’s Maya, and Shotgun, but also develops in-house tools tailored to its working methodology. One customization for Shotgun that was put into place for this project includes a thumbnail extractor that automatically generates a thumbnail from each shot within an .mov file and uploads them to Shotgun, replacing what used to be a time-consuming manual task.

Milk VFX also created tools to customize the way that Nuke and Maya integrate with Shotgun, extending what was already available in Shotgun’s Pipeline Toolkit. For instance, once editorial populates the database with resolutions, frame rates, ranges, and more, an artist can select the allocated task to launch in whatever application is being used for the shot, and it will open up into the correct workspace environment.

Finally, the pipeline team has also set up ingest tools to run with Shotgun, enabling artists to easily bring material online from external sources, including QuickTime generation from published playlists, and scan ingest publishing form 3D to 2D. Details are updated in Shotgun, cutting down on the hours required to manually enter all the related workflow data to keep everything on track.

Ultimately Shotgun’s robust tracking tools, flexibility, and integration with other workflow tools enabled Milk VFX to manage an incredible number of shots and assets throughout production on “Thunderbirds.” Milk VFX continues to put pipeline front and center to optimize their artists’ experience and deliver client projects on time and budget.