A Day In The Life at Aardman VFX

Here's a sample day to show what I presently do at Aardman as the editor in the VFX department on Pirates. My job has evolved a lot since I first started and basically loaded and exported shots, and after 6 months I gained an assistant of my own - which helped a great deal.

Of course, there's no such thing as a typical day in a job like this. Some days are packed full to bursting, others more relaxed. On some days nothing breaks, on others.... well, yes. It changes around a lot. And of course it's all much less segregated than this.


0830 - arrive at work. Switch computers on, and head to the canteen with my cafetiere mug for the first hit of the day.

0835 - load floor plates from the previous day onto the Baselight in the Black Hole. The Black Hole is our windowless room with all surfaces painted black. Some say that all sense of time and space can disappear in there. Our VFX supervisor lives there, and checks outputs from the VFX department for technical issues and flaws - and briefs the artists or supervisors on the necessary changes.

0900 - sit down at my desk, check emails for any urgent tasks and requests, flag the non-urgent ones to follow up later. I use post-its for my To Do list, as they can be easily re-organised as the day progresses and priorities change. As a non-linear editor, it's the only way that really makes sense.

0930 - my assistant arrives, as do other non-floor personnel. The working day begins. My assistant begins negotiations with the floor to make sure that VFX get our 10am time in the viewing theatre for our shot approvals. I update some spreadsheets on the network to reflect the shots which I loaded into the Baselight earlier, with any notes which came through from the floor at the time they were published about take choices (sometimes they film options to decide on at a later date, sometimes two versions are needed for international purposes, action can be split across several plates on greenscreen - there are many possibilities).

1015 - shot approval session in the Viewing Theatre. I used to run this, now my assistant takes care of it owing to the haggling required to get the time and the setup logistical requirements. Our VFX supervisor views the shots which have been submitted for approval, and gives notes on the shots which need further work or fixing. Two 2D passes are made for each stereoscopic eye, and then they are all viewed in stereo to check for issues.

1030 - receive a previz timeline from edit department from yesterday's director review session. This needs to be compared to the previous timeline which we sent to them so that we can tell what the changes are and which slates need to be re-worked to account for timing changes - or where a previous version of a slate has been used instead of the most recent. After conforming, several of the old track layers are added to a copy of the new timeline, to give us easy access to the versions during director reviews. If a slate has been reframed or retimed then it needs to be exported and published (via a linux script) for the artist to use in Maya so that they can match the new version.

1050 - enquiry from VFX coordinator about an edit change previously notified. I check it against the cutting copy timeline and verify/ expand on the note.

1100 - the previz artist is briefed by the VFX Producer on which changes need to be worked up as a result of the editorial director review session. My notes are added to these notes, and the artist who is working on that section of the sequence goes away to make their amendments.

1130 - import shots recently exported by previz/ anim, and place on the timeline. Our VFX anim timelines are for sequences which have been already approved in previz, and are kept separate. If the change is minor or technical in nature, the previous version is pasted over. If there are major changes in positioning, camera angle, or other elements then the new version is added on a higher track. Sometimes alternative (alt) versions are output - either at a director request or because it's something that the artist wanted to try out, so yet another video track (or more) is added for the alts in a sequence.

1230 - pop through to the edit department for a quick catch-up/ chat/ situation report on how they're doing with our requests and vice versa. Email the relevant people in VFX to make sure they are aware of current or forthcoming changes discussed.

1245 - lunch. We have a canteen in the building for the crew to use (at staggered intervals, since there are quite a lot of us now), there are options in the Aztec West business park where we're based, people bring food from home, and there's the option of heading out further afield to the nearby shopping centre to get some chores done at the same time.

1345 - load some more previz/ anim shots into my timelines for the review

1400 - director review. We'll go through a sequence (or part of one) and discuss the things which aren't quite working and how to fix them. Often we'll look at previous versions to see if the suggested change has already been worked up (and possibly rejected because of the surrounding slates at the time), and if not then I'll do some quick tweaking in the Avid to reframe or retime the slate to give everyone an idea of what it may look like when worked up. In certain circumstances the floor will want to shoot a certain shot before the previz is approved, so we'll bung in that shot for the directors and/or HoDs where applicable to view and make any last minute changes in context with the surrounding shots, and then send it off for techviz to translate the Maya scene into technical information for the floor to use and programme into their MoCo rigs to shoot.

1500 - tea break. An absolutely vital part of the day. We have some rather nice cakes available in the canteen from time to time.

1515 - sorting through the emails which have accumulated during the review and responding to them/ relaying information. Most of it tends to be VFX or anim asking for information about the floor plates or current edit, or edit passing on changes which may affect VFX - every shot in the film has VFX, but certain types of shots (e.g. those containing VFX-generated fluids) will be affected more by the types of changes that edit can make than others. I add all of these requests to a list on the network, and make a note of the EDL and reference versions output.

1530 - checking through the recent VFX outputs for shots which should be sent to edit as work-in-progress. There are various stages at which edit are interested in receiving updated versions from VFX for reasons of workflow or aesthetic, and of course once a shot's approved. I cross-reference the cutting copy and a still frame of the latest output to see if the update is worth sending across, and compile a list for my assistant to deal with. There are also several shots which I'll import into my own Avid project - if I need to check that an output's corrected a change requested by edit, or if it's a rendered update of a shot which anim are still working on, which may be requested for reference during an anim review. If the correction looks good, I'll tick it off my edit request list.

1615 - a request for further information from one of the VFX houses we're outsourcing some of our work to. Often this requires cross-referencing cutting copies, notes, EDLs, and several other sources of information to be sure that the answer is as thorough as necessary. It took a while to get used to the linguistic differences between VFX and edity people, and even longer to get precise terms across the boundary - and communicating some requests or requirements without being able to point at a screen and draw squiggly lines underneath certain numbers which link to other squiggly lines... but it's something of a necessity when they're based in other cities.

1645 - a director or HoD comes in to sit with a previz artist and work up a difficult shot. This often requires reference to floor shots and other versions of previz - sometimes a shot from an entirely different sequence can be loaded to help visualise the characters on the real set rather than the previz sets. Our previz sets and characters are significantly more detailed than you may expect, but there can be some discrepancies when dealing with the beautifully intricate Aardman sets which can affect a read on distances and timing.

1730 - gather the last previz outputs for anything which is going to edit. On a duplicated timeline I then condense all of the previz tracks that we keep for options onto one track to make it easier for the editor to use. I drag the sequence into our !!FROM PREVIZ bin which will be picked up by edit across the Unity.

1800 - collect info on what's been shot over the day to load into the Baselight first thing the following morning. Check for any emails which haven't been dealt with or forwarded on to someone better placed to respond. Tidy the Avid bins up a bit.

1830 - end of day. Unless there's a nearby deadline or too many shots have come through or there's an ongoing crisis... you get the idea.


Genuinely though, we do usually leave at a reasonable hour. Part of that seems to be the Aardman way - it's out of London, and there are a lot of employees who have young families who they want to get back to. Plus, the floor stop shooting at 6 and we do like to keep things fair....


I'd love to see others in the post community do posts of this nature and help us all get an insight into the type of work everyone's currently in... but this has also been a good exercise in writing down some of my main tasks to help explain what I've been doing when I'm next looking for work.