Needs for the Pre-Production phase

(Polygon Pictures Inc. / Studio Phones)
We plan to add more content and make further revisions based on the situation of future seminars.
translated by PPI Translation Team


When planning a production phase as part of an actual production, it is of course ideal to examine how to do this at as low a cost as possible after estimating the costs and risks beforehand. Generally, pre-production is considered as a single large production phase (the “pre-pro phase”), but as pre-production is a phase which incorporates many creative aspects, as the story is developed as scripts are written, etc., and notes and memos for ideas from various parties begin to pile up, there is a tendency to keep this accessible from the pipeline in order to keep these on hand for urgent troubleshooting as the project proceeds into the actual production phases.
These include all the memos and notes from the planning stages to go along with the concept art, settings for the world and related visuals, character designs and look development, color script creation, pre-viz and animatics, story reel, etc., but in recent years there has been a move toward making the pre-production phase more effective and efficient, with more automation and trial-and-error iterations for the implementation of real-time processes.
In this document, in order to facilitate deeper discussions going forward, I would like to focus on covering the matters which are necessary for the pre-production phase as it is at present.

■Sharing ideas and keeping that process

In the pre-production phase, multiple staff members usually share ideas, with the Director as the focal point of these discussions. With the diversification of production formats in recent years, co-directors or directors for each department are often looped in, and pre-production has tended toward a more group-oriented process.
The purpose is not just the sharing of ideas, but also their rapid development (development of ideas and the plans utilizing the skills of staff in the studio) and combining multiple ideas in order to develop derivatives, and even more than simply having all staff members grasp the overall look or style of the project, the purpose is to focus on refinement of these ideas even as various ideas are being developed.
Therefore, it is necessary to leave a permanent record of which staff member proposed which idea, etc., collect this information into a database, and even after this ensure an environment in which the details of how these ideas evolve in the actual production can be grasped quickly (so we can see how the idea changes into something better through the involvement of many staff members).
Particularly in the design process, as there are many aspects which cannot be expressed clearly in words, we believe it will be necessary to establish a solution including archiving and search systems on the pre-production servers which can support the many types of design images and their related notes, among other data. This kind of fast share/check/review environment is of course desired by all sides in both pre-production and production phases, but in recent years with the developments in AI technology, I believe the creation of systems with this in mind will be an important topic moving forward.

Challenges of preliminary design and production management with concept work

■Quick trial and error with procedural processing

At present the various trial-and-error processes in the pre-production phase are largely composed of manual jobs being done by the artists. However, once the production phase begins there are often cases where further trial-and-error refinement needs to be done on things previously tested in the pre-production phase, so the procedure for such tasks would be recorded in order to replicate the results, which tends to be stored on the pre-production server. Naturally, effective reproducibility is desired, so by adopting a procedural approach to these tasks, we can anticipate effective reproducibility and improvement, and generation of derivative ideas.
In most cases, at studios which have looked into effective operation models there has been a tendency to begin preparing to switch to a system which supports real-time processes to allow rapid trial-and-error testing on the artist side, while batch processes are being performed within the server, in the move toward a more effective pre-production phase.

Combination of batch processing and real-time processing

Issues of real-time processing as seen from film production related servers

■Flexible asset management

While there is a tendency to simply search for various ideas which will bring us closer to an effective pre-production infrastructure, as it is natural that the number of ideas brought about through trial-and-error testing increases, an asset management system scaled up to be able to handle this also becomes necessary.
In particular, generation of enormous assets using procedural processes tends to be directly connected to this scaling up, but as this increases it is still necessary to maintain storage functionality, as each procedural process accumulates in a format which allows it to replicated again after the fact, it seems to be necessary to adopt approaches to infrastructure which make use of virtualization technology or containers, etc.
In recent years, while expansion has increased rapidly, this has been effectively impossible to implement in management systems based on manual operation such as those for traditional video production. These days, users want a system which allows for searching and viewing update histories across both pre-production and production phases. Also, the points required for asset management on this system tend to vary greatly between studios, and naturally each studio will want additional internal features based on their own needs.

Large-scale assets and cataloged

Points in constructing storage system for film production pipeline

■Flexible computing resources and diversification

As more reproducible procedural processes are incorporated into the pre-production phases, it will become necessary to create an environment where the computing processes needed by these processes are tallied up and rapidly deployed where needed. Therefore, it is foreseeable that studios will move to building their systems with middleware making use of orchestration such as virtualization or container technology, as represented by k8s; however in recent years, as we head for what some are calling the “turning point for Moore’s Law”, processors themselves are becoming more diversified which can lead to further complications as a system.
For example, during training for machine learning or deep learning the GPU is utilized, but for the inference model we start to look at FPGA for more efficient energy use, and so that the computing resources within the infrastructure can handle this flexibly, we need to start looking at various preparations to be made on the server side.
However, even more so than before this kind of system cannot be implemented without highly skilled IT infrastructure engineers, and even using cloud services staff with at least the requisite knowledge for planning and implementing this within the video production pipeline will be indispensable, so we can expect the infrastructure environment which each studio has settled on to be increasingly important going forward.
In other words, even if functionality can be successfully increased temporarily, if this requires intense specialization it may lead to instability in the operation of the production, and unless we look deeply into the direction which fits each studio’s infrastructure environment, problems on the personnel side may become more acute. The same could be said for all features developed for internal technologies, but taking a long-term view of infrastructure construction as a studio will likely be more and more important.

Recent processor situation as seen from film production infrastructure

Interest in the FPGA considered from film production

Film production pipeline and computing resources

■Asset for long term storage

Recently the number of assets from within a certain genre that can be reused seems to be increasing, regardless of whether the project is a long-term series or not. If using photorealistic buildings or furniture, some studios may store this data from the blueprint or CAD stages onward, but these kinds of assets are often used over long periods with very few changes being made. Of course, as these need to support CGI in different versions in 4K, 8K , etc., having to remake the assets in an effective manner is important, but in order to do this, that blueprint data (CAD, etc.) needs to be stored, and so the tendency has been to store these materials long-term from the pre-production phase.
For asset management in video production, in most cases objects are stored according to category, such as chairs or handrails, etc., then in operation these are referenced and only in rendering are they actually used – placed into the scene according to the layout instructions,; however in recent years procedural approaches have started to be adopted, and it will likely be increasingly necessary to abstract this system further, while retaining long-term storage and ease of adjusting or swapping in improvements.

Learning from CAD / BIM and issues of modeling

■Collaboration with partner and outsource studio

As more studios operate from multiple points across countries or territories, sharing and improving data smoothly from multiple locations, solutions are selected bearing storage and replication in mind, and a system which supports rapid sharing of data and long-term storage is needed. This is further complicated by the implementation of real-time processes and the various technologies used to support the pre-production phase, and how to ensure a sufficient work pace in testing and prototyping as the project heads into a production which is split between the different studios is another side aspect which is expected to become increasingly important.

Replication and real-time processing for storage of film production

Increase in outsourcing and its response

Expansion of check scope of infrastructure management

Difficulty of human resources and research and development

■Verification and prototyping for production

One of the main reasons for the pre-production phase to exist is to test a number of things relating to the production and the check flow within it: to establish whether certain production plans or feasible or not, determine how much leeway there may be from a schedule or cost perspective, if things will be possible within budgetary or cost constraints, and with regards to checks how much back-and-forth there may be and if so how this can be addressed promptly.
In particularly for contractor-style work, it is important to explain the project quality and production schedule to the client, while also drawing up plans to allow the project to run in that manner, and at each of the assessments from the client, to have the ability to follow up and address these as a studio.
In actuality, so that problems do not occur once the production phase begins, internally various checkpoints are established to prevent these issues before they occur, but in practice as productions are usually running within tight time constraints, plans and decisions made during pre-production are often simply used without any changes in production, and prototypes and tests end up needing to be repeated. Conversely, there is another aspect which pertains to maintaining creative freedom on the direction side throughout the prototyping and testing in the pre-production phase, and therefore by incorporating features making use of real-time processes, etc., to allow for various trial-and-error testing as a studio – more and more studios seem to be thinking in this manner.

Challenges of automatic test environment in film production infrastructure

Points of various services in intranet on the field of film production


In pre-production, in addition to being the phase where a stable production is planned out, it is also the phase with an extremely creative aspect, offering a lot of freedom on the direction side.
With this wish to retain creativity, but also provide a production environment which allows for smooth, repeated trial-and-error testing, it may be best to think of the goal as one large ecosystem which encompasses the ideas for all of the artists working in the studio.
The pre-production phase can be thought of as an area which the studio requires to be able to perform much trial-and-error testing, but the nature of this may not change drastically between different titles or genres of projects.
In other words, it is the belief of these moderators that it is the area in which the most is demanded in terms of establishing a system fitted to the individual studio’s needs, in that much of the day-to-day work reflects the studio’s culture in a deep manner, and this comes to be reflected in the pipeline and infrastructure construction in pre-production.
Also, regardless of the level of advancement of a particular studio’s technology, this can be thought of as an interesting area where that studio’s own culture or specialties can be further enriched, and that studio’s unique characteristics can be shown.

Motivation and studio culture

Continue to build in-house system

De-standardization to advance within the studio

Building internal infrastructure in studio not familiar with engineering

Interest to studio focused on artists