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Decision Making in VFX Production: What is “correct”?

Recently I was part of an interesting discussion about doing things the “correct” way in a VFX production pipeline. Specifically, we were talking about scene scale and relative object scale. In general it is a good idea to build geometry to “correct” scale and to build scene environments to “correct” scale so that for any given situation, any arbitrary object will just drop into any arbitrary scene and fit without puzzling over math and doing research to check real scales and make adjustments. Also, since many VFX include dynamic FX, and those elements often rely on world scale, it is generally a best practice to make things to scale. It doesn’t take much additional effort to build to scale, however it does take significant additional effort to make adjustments if everything is built to whatever random scale the artist or TD felt like that day.

In this particular instance an artist was struggling with getting a match-moved scene scale exactly right and it was making properly scaled scene objects appear out of scale. So I instructed the artist to simply scale the model down to match scene scale and move on.

The decision was met with consternation. After all, things should be done “the correct way”, should they not? Isn’t that what we always strive toward? This got me thinking about what “correct” really is and why I instinctively felt this was the right decision. It reminded me of the many times I have seen assets and shots held up as people made sure to check off every “correctness” item from a list as though we were a bureaucracy…ensuring everything was done to the letter whether or not it had any effect on the final result. So much wasted time and effort.

So here’s my definition of “correct”: Correct is whatever you need to do in order to get the shot done as cost-effectively as possible.

In this particular case, the shot stood alone, so there was no effect on anybody else or any other shot. Furthermore, there were no dynamic effects in the shot.

If I was all anal about “correct” I could have instructed the artist to send the shot back to match-move to correct the scale. It could have iterated through match-move several times to get scale just right. We might have cracked the model open to ensure that scale was correct. This could take days or even weeks to confirm that everything was “correct”. Or, the artist could simply scale the scene object by half and be done with it in about ten seconds, saving the company thousands of dollars.

Some people I know would be horrified with this decision. As a commercial artist myself I think it was the most responsible decision I could possibly have made in a VFX production environment.

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