Roles and team management in the CG Industry

There are many crucial roles (Supervisor/ Lead/ Artist/ Client/ Director etc.) in the VFX industry where I observed in different environments how each effect everybody.

How should a team be like?

The best managed place should have a friendly and trustworthy team environment with sound communication. I am not an expert in this field, never had to manage a group of people in VFX. I am just sharing my observations based on my education and past experiences as a VFX Artist and a former bank employee. So what I imagine a perfect team should be like, may be difficult to create and maintain but with some good management I think should be achievable. I also know and saw examples of well managed firms both in and out of the visual effects industry. I came to realize that sometimes the roles blended together in the CG industry and also they tend to change from place to place. I believe the best way to describe how the team and the roles should be, can be done with examples. (This free ebook summarizes the specific definition of the roles of different artists as well as production and supervisory teams and some fundamental information about the industry: https://discover.therookies.co/beginners-guide-to-visual-effects-free-ebook/)

Firstly, whoever is going to initially approve and send the shots to the producer or supervisors -which often is either the production assistant or the coordinator- shouldn’t be a control freak. In my opinion, the artists need more time and space from time to time because what I usually encountered was artists under heavy pressure. And that happens because sometimes the artists are seen as regular laborers who doesn’t have anything to do with art. An artists job usually requires inspiration. Of course that doesn’t mean that artists should be left completely free because that also leads to lingering and distracted people. I saw some departments buying beer and celebrating something by themselves even though everyone else was hard at work. These kind of celebrations must be done all together with the whole team and the best time would be when a movie or a big job is about to be finished or finalized. This will bind everyone together and will relieve the stress of the hard work everyone did. There should be strict and thorough monitoring but the lead at least shouldn’t ask for time consuming stuff when the production department go home at night or demand overtimes from the artists when the job doesn’t go as planned. And of course if the distribution of tasks and planning has been done correctly, there wouldn’t be the need to call someone at night or at the weekend.

In addition, even though I have never seen one in Turkey (both at the banks and the studios), I would say training is crucial, each week or a few times a month especially juniors should attend some training sessions. And even the seniors should get training (maybe even by the help of the newer guys), the reason behind it is I came across many seniors who are stuck in older methods which are slow/inefficient and didn’t have or care to improve themselves. I am sure training will be seen as a waste of time and money for the managers but I imagine in the long run things will go smoother and much faster which will also in time make the beginners share the load rapidly. This will also make the newcomers devote themselves to the firm that trained them and the employer to focus their attention on something else instead of keeping the team or finding new people constantly.

Again, I never saw this but every morning or at least every week, a short meeting should be held to make all the artists aware of the situation of the progress and learn who is doing what. So that someone who has a problem with their issue can go and ask the right person about it and not waste his and the wrong persons time.

If there are people/teams outside the studio that are working together with the in-house team, like freelancers or another production house, the artists should know about what they do and how to communicate/get in touch with them. Otherwise you are going to waste your time trying to fix stuff you don’t know how to or try to track that person down whereas you could be spending your valuable time on your shots. And that is why I saw some post production houses that never ever accepted any freelancers which sounds logical but might have some downsides.

Also I have been in places where people didn’t have a clue what the other guys were doing so everyone ended up working alone and nobody helped or even talked to each other. Therefore no teamwork, no synergy and a super difficult environment to work. Also believe it or not, more than a few times, I saw a few production houses where two different people worked on the same scene and didn’t know it, because the guy managing the team and the shots couldn’t communicate so screwed up.

When we look at this from the freelancers side whichever role he/she is in, he should be in the loop, communicating with the in-house people and other freelancers if there are any. Most of the time the freelancers on production and post production, are left with just the lead to communicate. So if the freelancer is adding something to the layout artists scene, then he has to go talk to the lead where the lead asks the layout artist and gets the answer back to the freelancer, this takes time and has potential difficulties as well as risks. To overcome that apps like Slack, Google Hangouts or Fleep are used widely but managing that part, adding the people there, introducing them should be done without a hitch.

Examples

In one of the production houses that I worked, the director of the movie and the CG supervisor of the production team was the same person. That might not sound wrong at first but if that director does not have enough knowledge to fulfill the requirements of a supervisor then that creates a big issue. He/She doesn’t know when to get VFX results or how they should look before finalization or how to film the movie for the 2d/3d part of things to work. (Like filming a forest scene with a green background surely won’t help the team much) And this is basically done to save money by hiring one guy to do both tasks.

I came upon places where there was a lead but not a supervisor. The lead artist without desire became a generalist, in addition in time to make things work and finish projects, he/she even became a supervisor. Again the CEO, boss, owner whatever you want to call him/her never said anything about this situation because this was a way to cut costs. However, as you can imagine that generalist burned out and left the firm.

I even saw studios that didn’t have any supervisors or leads, just artists ranging from new graduates to seniors. That is also problematic since the director decided if the shots were approved. That slowed down things because the director was rarely around and wanted to make an awesome movie but the producer always tried to save money and time so artist got demotivated and confused.

Another version of it which mostly can be seen in smaller studios was the owner/boss/supervisor/lead being the same person. That actually makes things quite fast because you can get answers and solutions to your questions instantly. However, that puts a lot on that persons plate again making him/her unable to perform well. In addition a conflict rises in that situation because the supervisor wants things to go smooth and fast, but the boss/owner desires the lowest possible costs. And as an artist working with that kind of a person makes it extremely hard.

Wrapping it up

So basically it seems to me that, management is extremely important in this industry, even more than the artistic side of things. Because every person is different and each person does something different. The roles in the industry seem like they melded together but they still require inspiration, art, experience, emotion, desires, executive skills, time management, communication, leadership, planning and these can change from people to people and from time to time. Each role is crucial even the new graduates responsibilities are of utmost importance. There should always be the plan and forethought/prediction to what to do if someone gets sick or somehow can not finish his work. If things got out of the hands of the team manager then all the project can and surely will go south, creating a huge catastrophe and chaos which leads to extreme overtime works and people getting angry. The technical 3D or 2D part of things will be done someway or another but if the management fails, you can’t fix things by sleepless nights or by force. I always think the person that is the boss or the lead or the supervisor should have management education, at least training, especially if they have an art background and the artists should manage their times and plan their shots ahead and communicate with each other to create synergy.

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Berk Erdag

Berk Erdag

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VFX artist writing about mostly the business side and a bit about the artistic side and some technical experiments of the VFX and CG Sector.