14th Jul 2021 | Press
One of the technical targets of the Sprite Fright project is to research, develop and share a fully open source CG production pipeline. This is the set of tools and processes built around and within Blender to support the film creation process.
Over the years, the Open Movie teams have developed and shared countless tools for with this purpose, and this project aims at better documenting, organizing and expanding them. Sprite Fright also presents some unique challenges:
In an upcoming series of blogposts, the team will describe challenges and share the solutions developed for processes like task management, render reviews, caching, shot building, etc.
I would like to start the series focusing on production tracking and task management. Here is a bit of backstory. In 2012, during the Tears of Steel project, I developed Attract.
Attract was a simple and accessible tool for artists and producers to manage their tasks, as well as giving some insights on the state of the production (how many seconds of animation are left, how many frames have been rendered final, etc).
The tool was helpful and artists enjoyed using it, as you can see from this video (skip to 33:33).
After Tears of Steel, I worked on a new iteration of Attract, moving from a simple PHP script to using the Code Igniter framework and tested it while helping out on the Wires for Empathy project. This was a great exercise to better understand the conceptual models of a production tracker (assets, tasks, reviews, statuses, etc.).
Finding the right balance between abstraction and practicality is one of the most challenging and fun aspects of software design and development, and the best ways to strike such balance is to actually use the software in production.
In 2014, while working on Cosmos Laundromat, I developed a new version of Attract, based on a non-relational database, with the goal of later making it available as SaaS (Software as as Service) on Blender Cloud. With the help of Sybren Stüvel and Inês Almeida we developed the first Blender-Attract integration, staying close to the “single source of truth” concept.
For Attract, the most fundamental source of information is the edit of the film. The vast majority of tasks and processes are derived from the edit, and the editorial department performs the actual addition, removal and alteration of each shot in the film. For this reason a tight (and unidirectional) integration with the actual edit is highly desirable.
All Blender Studio short film projects since Cosmos Laundromat have been produced using Attract, Flamenco and the SVN manager. In 2017, Attract and Flamenco became available as Software as as Service for Blender Cloud subscribers to use in their own productions.
While there is a degree of integration between these tools, they are still relatively standalone and the long-term vision is to enable a more seamless availability of information across computing, task management, reviews, and tracking, storage and assets management, and of course, Blender.
In 2020, together with Pablo Vazquez we started prototyping this concept, with a software called Lineup, a “production hub” offering tight integration across task management, rendering and storage.
This production hub would also take into account the feedback provided by Andy in his Spring post-mortem pipeline presentation and be the starting point for a portable software.
One of the inspirations for Lineup was the seamless integration of tools and workflows offered by software development platforms like GitHub.
The initial focus of the prototype was to re-imagine how Attract would work, by providing integrated review, better asset and task status visualization and laying better foundations for integrating with version control systems, object storage and distributed computing.
Due to our busy schedule and the looming production start of Sprite Fright, we were only able to dedicate a few weeks designing and prototyping Lineup, before deciding to take a more practical approach and simply replace Attract with Kitsu.
Over the years I have been in touch with Frank Rousseau, the author of Kitsu, a free and open source production tracking software. Frank has been relentlessly working on this project and he fostered a growing community of TDs and developers around it.
Since last year, we have been using Kitsu in production, getting involved in the design and development process and also helping with funding the development of the project. Kitsu has helped the Sprite Fright team to create content in a collaborative and accessible way.
While Kitsu greatly improved the production tracking experience at Blender Studio, we are still very much focused on working on the following topics:
All these topics are aligned with Blender’s mission of providing tools that allow the freedom to create.
I look forward to sharing the next steps in this journey!