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The Three Rules of VFX Dailies

These rules are for crew submitting to VFX dailies, not for the people running them. The people running dailies already know better and don’t need a lecture about it. Unfortunately junior artists are almost never given a talk about how/what/when/where to submit work to dailies and it takes them years to figure out on their own. This is not only sad, but expensive.

For those of you who don’t know what dailies are, here’s a primer. During production, crew members gather in the screening room each day, usually at an appointed time, to review all the renders that are ready for feedback. In other words, artists and TDs all over the building (or buildings or world) have done enough work on something that they are ready for notes from the lead/supervisor/client, depending on what kind of dailies session it is. It might be a client dailies with the client in attendance, or it might be internal dailies for your crew only, or it might be a departmental dailies with only your department in attendance. Either way, once things really get rolling, dailies can quickly become clogged and bogged down by renders that are not really ready for review yet. This is not merely annoying or boring, it is expensive. With today’s smaller profit margins, the team needs to do everything it can to control and reduce cost and Dailies is the low-hanging fruit. In other words, dailies can cost a lot more than it should and it’s also easy to fix. Please remember that if you take up 5 extra minutes with unnecessary reviews and there are, say 40 people in the room, that’s almost 3.5 hours of wasted time, and every second of it costs money. A LOT of money. Now imagine each of the 40 people had an unnecessary item in dailies and each one wasted, oh let’s say 2 minutes of time. That is over 53 lost hours of work in one dailies session!! Ouch! Many dailies sessions run slowly with lots of noodling and thinking and considering, discussions, ideas and approaches. But dailies is not the place for development, that should take place in a different session with only a couple of people. Don’t let your crew fall asleep in the dark while you puzzle over the precise hue of the tree shadow. If it takes more than a few seconds, spike it for later and move on.

During one particular movie I worked on as a departmental supervisor, dailies was so long that it became laughingly known as “all-day-lies”, although we didn’t laugh about it very much at the time. It was common to hear snoring during a lull in conversation. Did I mention how much producers love paying artists to sleep in the theatre? But even the most difficult situations aren’t all bad. Crunch times like this provide us the opportunity (force us) to think about and develop more efficient ways of doing things. Over many years, my team and I developed a simple set of rules that, for the most part, ensures dailies will be productive and as short as possible.

Now I know that many experienced folks reading this will balk at some of the suggestions as they fly directly in the face of such philosophies as “whatever you have done by the end of the day, send it to dailies” which is fine during preproduction when things are slower. But that kind of submission really sucks up the time when things get hopping busy. So here goes. And, by the way, all the rules have exceptions. I’ll do my best to cover the primary exception types.

DAILIES RULE #1

Before submitting to dailies, do ALL of your notes. You have received a set of instructions about what your team leaders expect you to do on a particular shot or asset. Theoretically, once you do all your notes, the shot or asset will be final. Get it there! There is little point in taking up precious dailies time unless your notes are done. Some supervisors/clients will be confused and/or annoyed by having to give the same note multiple times. They will start wondering if you are paying attention in dailies and will assign a coordinator to start following up with you all the time, which is kind of like a Mommy tying a 20-year-old’s shoes. This will probably bug you. So have everything done before submitting. Furthermore, each time your shot/asset has to be reviewed costs the time of the review multiplied by the number of attendees. Be aware of how much your dailies review time costs.

Exceptions:
  • If you have specifically been asked to submit even if your notes are not complete then do it. On the other hand, that’s actually a note, isn’t it?
  • You really feel you need feedback on something even though other notes are not done. It is important to be proactive about going out and getting feedback/clarification on notes if you need it. You can make this go smoothly in dailies by speaking up as soon as your shot comes up. “I submitted this for review of (this or that), but I haven’t done (this or that) yet. What do you think so far?” or “I just want to be sure we’re on the same page”. Or you can go to your lead before submitting, tell them your deal and let them decide whether or not it needs to go to dailies. That way, if a producer freaks out, it’s not your fault.
  • Your project is complete mayhem and nobody has rules for anything anyway so what the hell.
DAILIES RULE #2

Do ONLY your notes. Sometimes a team member will do their notes and then think “you know what would be cool? I could just add a flash of lightning there on the left”. So they add that to the shot before submitting it. Or they’ll hear someone else given a note to make the tree shadow more blue, so they’ll make their tree shadows more blue even though it’s not a specific note on their shot. This is a very, very bad idea. Your sup/client will be confused/annoyed. Your producer will be staring at you with red eyes asking you who paid you to add/change things that the client didn’t ask for. You see the whole purpose of assigning tasks and giving notes is so that every action you take will move the shot toward final, not sideways and certainly not away from final. By adding the lightning bolt or changing the shadow colour, you may have ruined the client vision. Remember, you only have a few pieces of information about your shot. Others have the big picture. Please, just do the notes you have been given or at the very least go discuss any changes with someone and get the thumbs-up before doing it. That way, if the client hates it and the producer freaks out (and believe me, some producers freak out), it won’t be your fault.

Exceptions:
  • Your idea is actually really cool and will only take a couple of minutes. Definitely not longer than 20 minutes. So you submit the original WITHOUT YOUR COOL IDEA and also submit a “b” version with the cool idea. Show them the shot they expect, then say “and I had this cool idea, it only took a few minutes and I thought you might like to consider it.” Sometimes they’ll cringe. Sometimes they’ll chuckle. And once in a while, you’ll blow them away and be hero for a day.
  • You have already shown or discussed your “b” version to your supervisor and have instructions to show it in dailies. (recommended)
DAILIES RULE #3

When you have finished your notes and submitted your shot, STOP WORKING ON IT! You wouldn’t believe how many times shots have been “finalled by the client only to hear the artist say “Oh, but I have a new version coming I have been working on all day that is better.” This will undoubtedly buy you the ire of your producer who just saw a little chunk of his/her budget go up in flames because (a) if the shot remains final then she/he paid you for wasted work (b) if the shot now gets “un-final-ed” and gets more notes she/he has to keep paying you for something that should have been final. (c) it could open a can of worms on a shot that should have been final and she/he might have to continue paying you for a shot that should have been final for an indeterminate length of time. Unless you had absolutely nothing else to do, you should stop working on the submitted shot and work on something else. And furthermore, you should discuss it with someone first. At least that way, when the producer freaks out, it won’t be your fault. (Not all producers freak out. Some are very nice indeed and pleasant to work with. But I wouldn’t blame them for freaking out on this occasion.)

Exceptions:
  • See “b” version scenario in rule #2. If you have permission to work on a “b” version, you can continue to work after submitting.
  • There are no other exceptions. If you blow my budget by continuing to work on shots that might be final, I will probably kill you.