VFX Pros Say It's a Top-Notch Tool for Cloud-Based Production Management

I'm not a pro filmmaker. I have no clue if Shotgun is any good or not.

But I have friends and family who do make movies and do use Shotgun, so I asked around. And because my research didn't dig up any really bad stuff about Shotgun, here's my disclaimer: I do not now or have I ever taken any money to write a positive blog post or article. I am not affiliated with Shotgun in any way. I don't even like writing an article where I can’t do at least a little criticizing. But, what is … is. If you have had problems with Shotgun, please feel free to elucidate in the comments section and let them know directly.

What is Shotgun?
If you're in this business, you have most likely heard about it. IMHO, Shotgun is the industry standard in cloud-based production management of remote artists and facilities. It is remarkably inexpensive to incorporate, while providing essential tools. This is my list of the nine things Shotgun does well. If you know more, please add your two cents in the comments:

  1. Production Management. Tracks shots and assets that are being created by the production, from statuses to detailed schedules and notes.
  2. Review and Approval. Tracks all the work iterations created by artists for review, with a suite of tools that helps leads securely view the work, annotate frames, and send notes back to artists. Includes tools allowing production to quickly take notes during review sessions, and is integrated with both cineSync and RV for fast, efficient operation with remote artists.
  3. Automatic File Management. It comes with tools that automatically create management folders on your system. It names and organizes files from within each artist's application in a highly adaptable way.
  4. Python API. Access all the production and file-based data via a single Python API. That means accessible syntax allows your programmers rapid setup.
  5. Smart Web-Based Interface with App Launchers, File Loaders and Publishers. Includes tools for launching artist applications from the Shotgun interface, browsing and loading files, and one-click-saving files to share with both local and remote team members.
  6. Modular Apps. Shotgun comes with a bunch of what Shotgun calls “small independent pieces of functionality that can be mixed and matched.” I'd call these pipeline building blocks.
  7. Integration. Shotgun plays well with others. Its CineSync app, which I discussed last week along with its plug-in for Tweak Software's RV to the Shotgun Screening Room, provides a highly efficient, GPU-enhanced, cloud-based production management system that ties directly into your existing pipeline.
  8. Collaborative Studio/House Workflow. Shotgun provides a platform for houses to share assets and resources across facilities. The Shotgun Pipeline Toolkit Python source code is available to their clients on Github, facilitating collaboration with the Shotgun team and/or other studios.
  9. Modular and Portable. Shotgun provides a consistent, reasonably intuitive interface based on Python and PySide, allowing VFX and animation houses to write a single app that integrates multiple artist tools like Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Audition, Autodesk Maya, Pixologic Zbrush, and The Foundry Mari and Nuke.

Don Parker

Shotgun's Company Mission
I spoke with Don Parker, Shotgun's CEO and co-founder. He told me their mission is to develop off-the-shelf solutions to eliminate redundancies in the VFX industry. Many millions have been spent over the last decade, with individual VFX houses developing their own proprietary in-house software systems to manage production. That time would be better spent developing software that will give them a leg up in the industry, not just pulling them even. It is clear to me that Shotgun intends to provide systems to handle the redundant workflow that every House has to deal with. In his own words, "There are several next-step phases of growth we have in the works for Shotgun. There are a lot of parts of the pipeline that everyone in the industry is building on their own: loaders, launchers, publishers, folder creation, etc. We're working to productize those things to encourage best practices and eliminate duplicated efforts."

I think Shotgun sees themselves as a pipeline connection company. They develop tools that link things together across applications and pipelines and across distance.They really want to help filmmakers be more efficient and productive. They also seem to have a soft spot for beginning filmmakers, especially students. Don told me, “We support student filmmaking teams just starting out where we can. They feed the industry, and it's tough getting started.”

The company appears to be very client-focused. For example, late last year Shotgun released a set of off-the-shelf pipeline tools especially designed for visual effects, animation and game development houses. It lets you set up your pipeline in an efficient way to track all of your assets, artists, applications, providing all the necessary information in a well-organized way. Here's the cool part: they didn't charge customers for it!

Customers seem to love Shotgun and working with the Shotgun team. Here is what people are saying.

According to Kevin Baillie, co-founder of Atomic Fiction:“Shotgun is simply the best off-the-shelf production management solution available. It’s web-based, and we use the cloud quite heavily, and it made sense to use from a recruiting standpoint as nearly everyone is familiar with the system. You can really tell there was a lot of thought put into the way Shotgun functions, and anyone who produces content can benefit from that without having to invest hours and hours of proprietary R&D—which is what would have been required to have this level of built-in production management without access to Shotgun,”

According to a VFX supervisor friend of mine at one of the top five VFX studios, who asked to remain anonymous, “They're not just good, they're great. Don Parker is a really good guy to work with, and our studio has been working with Shotgun integrated into our pipeline for some time now. We couldn't be more happy.”

Tony Barbieri of animation and VFX studio Psyop says, “To continue developing projects across facilities, we need a strong, cohesive pipeline in place, which is why we’ve turned to Shotgun. With Shotgun at the core of our pipeline, we have a multi-location advantage. Artists across any of our studios will be able to access and review the same information — an invaluable asset.”

There were many more. In fact, everyone I spoke to, even potential competitors, had nothing but positive things to say about Shotgun and its people. This may be unique in my experience.

Perhaps the best part may be that Shotgun is well maintained by people you're likely to get along with. CEO Don Parker and I had a long chat and I left thinking, "This is a good guy." The company is driven by more than profit, which is rare these days. They are driven to provide a service to the community. Seriously. They help film students out. They work hard to keep their clients happy. They like what they do, and they are justifiably proud of their product.

The Future
What's next? Don Parker gave me his view. "We are also enhancing aspects of the review process to make it faster and easier for distributed teams to collaborate in a 24/7 feedback loop, developing new features that will help our clients link up to each other more easily on multi-studio projects, and tailoring Shotgun for use at the studio level."

I did ask him to be more specific, which was a bit unfair. Of course, they have to keep some things under wraps.

Later on I'll be looking at Joust from The Creative-Cartel, the brainchild of Jenny Fuele. It, too, is a different, more comprehensive cross-facility film asset management system that is more elaborate to set up but keeps track of every conceivable detail. It's being tested on feature films by more than one major studio as I write this.

I'll also be looking at a new film cooperative in New York and a centralized VFX-and-animation jobs and artist information pool system that will make finding your next freelance or permanent position much easier. It is already making it easier for houses to find the exact people they are looking for. There are lots of interesting things in my pipeline, so watch this space.