I’ve arrived at work, make myself a cup of tea, and I’ve just settled down at my desk. The working day begins with the email check. Although this sounds like the way most people with desk jobs would start their day, working closely with the software teams in our international offices means that this is also the time to interact and connect with the team members in Vancouver, New York and Los Angeles. Due to time zone differences, Vancouver and LA are well into their working day and have responded to the questions I sent them yesterday afternoon.
I read through my emails and messages, reviewing what has happened during the night, what problems the international offices have found and/or fixed. Last night, there were a few code changes released. This brings me up to speed and ensures I know about the current workflow in the pipeline.
It appears that one of the code reviews I submitted for a bug fix in a Maya tool yesterday afternoon has been approved, which means it is ready to merge and release. I inform the users of the tool that the fix has been released and ask the department lead to test it and confirm that it is working as they expect. Another pull request I submitted yesterday has a few comments and suggestions from team members, so I’ll spend the time making a few changes and addressing the comments made by the team before re-submitting the pull request.
Every fortnight, we hold a Method software meeting, where the software developers and TDs from all offices meet up via video call. These meetings allow us, as an international team, to clear and organise backlogs, ask questions in relation to the pipeline and processes, and check the progress of large software projects. Today, they are talking about a topic which is of interest to me, and will help me with a particular task I’m working on, so I decide to attend the meeting. It is a great opportunity to discuss as a whole, international team.
I settle back at my desk. My team works with a ticket-based system. Artists create a ‘ticket’ explaining their problem, and then I am able to read through these tickets and assign some to myself to complete. I read through the new tickets and begin work on one of them. I begin by contacting the artist who reported the problem, asking them questions to better understand what they are hoping to achieve. Once I have a greater understanding of what the artist is expecting, I can start investigating to find a solution.
The Method Studios Sydney Software team is 8 people. It consists of our Lead, the Coordinator, 4 Software Developers and 2 ATDs. Every morning we hold a Standup Meeting. We meet in the centre of our room and discuss what we worked on yesterday, what we plan for the day ahead, and any blockages we are having which are preventing us from moving forward. It is a quick meeting just to inform the team to increase transparency.
I continue working on my assigned tickets. An artist enters the software room and announces that one of his particular farm jobs keeps failing. He mentions that it is quite crucial, so I take a look at the job log to help uncover why the job is failing. It is protocol for the artist to lodge a ticket, so I ask the artist to create one while I continue investigating.
Today for lunch, I managed to score the table on the balcony, which is a lovely way to get some fresh air. Lunch is a great opportunity to spark discussion with members from other departments - lighting, compositing, layout etc. It is always really interesting and insightful to hear what people are up to and how they are progressing in their work for the final films.
Back at the desk, I continue working on my assisted tickets. I have found the problem with the farm job, and remember that during our standup yesterday, one of the software developers mentioned they had released a new version of a package and I believe the problem is related to the new release. I discuss this with that software developer and conclude that the shot this artist is trying to render is a unique case and the new release is, indeed, causing it to fail. I communicate the problem to the artist and ask them to use the old version in the meantime, while I work on the fix.
The team coordinator notices that a showstopper ticket has been submitted by one of the artists. This means that a critical, priority software or process is blocking the creative team from progressing, and requires all hands on deck from my team to work together to generate a solution to unblock the pipeline and ensure work can continue to flow. These do not happen very often, or they are not usually as serious as the artist originally thought, but my team has always been able to quickly find an alternative workaround to keep the artists working. The first step is to diagnose, find the root of the blockage. We talk to the artist who submitted the ticket and try to understand why it has suddenly stopped working. This typically takes 10-30 minutes.
A workaround solution has been found, so the ticket priority is downgraded to ‘critical’ and a long-term/permanent solution can be discussed. The ticket has been assigned to me, and I begin to implement a solution to ensure the problem is fixed for the artists and they can continue their usual processes.
I have completed the fix for the showstopper ticket, so I complete my final tests and prepare it for a code review.
Towards to end of the project, production will hold sequence reviews. Although this doesn't happen on a daily basis, it is an exciting and satisfying part of the job, seeing our work come to life. Today happens to be the viewing of the scenes for one of our current shows. It is very exciting to see how the tools I build and maintain are used to create beautiful and amazing visuals on the screen.
At the end of the day, I note down my progress on my unfinished tickets, close everything down and farewell my team as I leave for the day. I know I’ve contributed a lot to the team and helped many artists. Every day is different, and I can never predict what kind of work will turn up.
A TD needs to be adaptive, but also know how to juggle different tasks as they are needed. I have been an ATD in the industry for 4 months and have enjoyed every moment of it. I look forward to seeing how I progress in this role and especially how the final film will look once the project is completed. The work requires a lot of focus and you are constantly having to learn new tools and processes, but it is all worth it knowing that your work will eventually lead to the magic that is VFX.