Shotgun Pipeline Toolkit Review [for CGSociety]
By: Tony Barbieri, Head of Pipeline at Psyop (NY office)
I oversee pipeline development and management at Psyop, and make sure projects flow smoothly across co-located and distributed teams working in our LA and NY studios. Since most of our clients are in commercials, we’re usually up against tight project deadlines so our pipeline has to run smoothly, be completely reliable and up-and-running 24/7. In February 2012, I began overhauling Psyop’s pipeline and started looking at Shotgun Software’s production management platform. A few months later, we were invited to beta test the Shotgun Pipeline Toolkit and currently have roughly 80 - 120 users across our two facilities relying on Shotgun on a daily basis.
Shotgun and Pipeline Toolkit Simplified
Shotgun acts as a data and communication hub for managing project metadata. The Pipeline Toolkit, which they launched at Siggraph earlier this year, provides various asset management Apps that integrate Shotgun with artist tools like Maya and Nuke. The Pipeline Toolkit framework includes launchers, loaders, and publishers, and also supports development tools and an API that allows you to share custom Apps and best practices with others in the production community.
By tapping into the functionality that Shotgun provides off the shelf, we’re able to focus on refining and expanding the provided toolset on supporting the workflow nuances here at Psyop rather than having to build the entire system from scratch. Shotgun replaced proprietary tools that weren’t quite as evolved and required several on-going updates that had been a drain on internal resources. We were able to seamlessly swap out our former proprietary toolset for tracking metadata, baking tools and an older project management database, quickly delivering artist tools from Shotgun that help them do their jobs faster.
Shotgun’s Python API is really powerful and user-friendly. The general software framework lets us develop our own workflow by building tools on top of it and allows code reuse. Shotgun handles a lot of tedious administrative tasks that you might not want to deal with, like managing a database or figuring out how to get Python running in Photoshop. We were able to quickly add features to our workflow that we always wanted but never had the time to implement.
Since rolling out Pipeline Toolkit, we’ve gained considerable efficiencies. Internal operations are a lot more consistent now that artists can launch their apps in a pipeline friendly way, and they are finally publishing assets – something they’ve never been able to do before. By configuring hooks in Shotgun’s publish app, we’re able to run sanity checks and scan assets for simple errors before they even make it into the system.
Artists start their day by opening Shotgun to see what tasks are available. They can then launch into an application either right from Shotgun or by using a context aware launcher app on their desktop. If the file system needs to be updated with the folders required to start work, that happens automatically. Once inside the DCC Application, they can use an app to visually browse previous work files without having to drill into the file system. They can load work from other artists using a loader app and when they're ready to publish, they can click a button, add a comment and the app has hooks that knows how to save the file with the right name in the right place, and other hooks that do all sorts of automation the pipeline needs automatically. Before this toolset, these functions all took way more time for the artists, and required that they remember lots of rules. Now they can just focus on creating and Shotgun keeps things organized.
Pipeline Toolkit is great for folder creation, which is increasingly more difficult to handle yourself if you have a complicated folder structure in place. The fact that it takes care of folders is a huge win for us. We actually reconfigured our file system at the same time we rolled out the system, and setting up the new schema was simple and straightforward.
Shotgun also helped us quickly implement and deploy a clean and quick review process, which speeds up a good portion of our day. It’s extremely beneficial to have a home for notes that artists can always reference to make sure that they’ve incorporated all the feedback from the previous edit. Any tool that streamlines communication is definitely appreciated and Shotgun Pipeline Toolkit does that and more.
Adoption of Shotgun Pipeline Toolkit brought us into the Shotgun community, where we’ve been able to share best practices, pipeline workarounds and general industry knowledge with like-minded pipeline developers and companies in the industry.
Given the size of our studio and development team, we have to be smart about how and what we develop. Being able to observe and leverage tools and techniques that other studios are using is a tremendous advantage; there’s just too much ground to cover otherwise.
Tools that come with Pipeline Toolkit are known as Apps. We use some of the Apps quite extensively and have added some as well. When we first started using Pipeline Toolkit, it supported The Foundry’s NUKE and Autodesk Maya but not Autodesk Softimage – a program that we use a lot, especially in our New York office. We wrote integration for Softimage and shared that code with Shotgun to officially support, so that other users could benefit from it.
On the receiving end, we also plan to use the Shotgun integration with The Foundry’s HIERO that was initially written by Cluster Studios and likewise officially supported now by the Shotgun team.
We have written a collection of custom tools and have integrated many parts of our pipeline with Shotgun. We have tools to manage the application versions the artists use, scripting tools that make it easy to talk to applications with having to launch them, a render path-setting tool, and lots of other tools that save artists time and keep things organized. As we move forward, we plan to replace many of our custom tools with official Shotgun apps to reduce the cost of maintenance and to ensure we can rely on Shotgun for updates and support.
We’ve collaborated really closely with the Shotgun team over the last year and really value the pipeline community they are creating.
Shotgun is a great project management tool and the Pipeline Toolkit helps you set up, configure and deploy an advanced pipeline quickly, saving you and your artists time. As more studios join the Pipeline Toolkit community and contribute new Apps, it becomes an amazing resource for learning how other facilities operate. In talking with the community, you get to see Apps and workflows that you’ve never thought of before, which can directly benefit your studio.
Shotgun Software seems to be a company headed in the right direction, and I can see a lot of potential in the technology. Their team is passionate and their support is great. I would urge you to check it out.