CGI 101: Team Structure and Roles
Building any team from the ground up is a process. CGI teams have their own challenges as they’re often comprised of generalists who cross multiple disciplines, as well as those who specialize in one area.
Regardless of their size and shape, CGI teams are made up of practitioners who generally align under one of the following key categories:
Here, we’ll go over the jobs that live inside each category to give you some perspective as you’re building out your own team.
The following are considered art roles:
Modeling involves the creation of shapes often from photos, but equally often from CAD models or scan data. They usually prefer to work in zBrush if it is organic modeling (touched up usually in Maya) or 3DS Max/Maya/Blender if they are doing low poly modeling. If they are remodeling from CAD or scan data often they will use TopoGun or zBrush remeshing.
Often modeling involves creating UVs on the resulting meshes.
Texture & Material
These artists generally are great at Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Substance Designer/Paint and create textures that represent materials. These artists generally have very good photoshop skills or painting skills and they have a good understanding of what makes an object look great.
Rigging is the process of preparing a 3D element for animation. This involves creating joints, setting up skins as well as constraint systems and walking systems. This is highly technical and almost becomes coding. The quality of the rigging determines how easy it is to animate something. A simple rig would be a vehicle whose car doors open. A complex rig would be an animated dinosaur that has complex facial expressions.
Animators will take a rigged entity and then create the various animations required. Usually these animations are created as “clips”, such as a walking clip, a falling down clip, a jumping clip. These clips are then combined together to create more complex composite motions. Very high quality animation, such as that in a Disney feature animation, will involve custom animation for every frame of the movie, where as a game will involve mostly just the creation and playback of a limited series of clips.
Layout is the placement of objects within the scene to create a specific dramatic look. If one is making an interior furniture scene the layout needs to look like it was done by an interior designer if one wants a high quality look.
Layout also handles setting up the cameras as this drives how the rest of the elements in the frame are positioned.
Lighting & Rendering
Lighting involves placing lights in a scene to achieve a specific dramatic effect. This involves knowledge of professional lighting techniques and the ability to understand from a photo which lighting technique is used. Usually one is skilled in V-Ray or Arnold.
Those in charge of lighting are usually also responsible for rendering as they need to render the images in order to check the lighting.
A compositor uses a compositing tool, usually Nuke, to layer together images created in earlier steps in order to create the final results. This is required because the many elements that make up a final image are produced via different processes and need to be combined into a coherent whole.
The following are technical roles:
Technical Director (e.g. “TD”)
A technical director is usually a half artist/half coder. In many studios these are a very critical role for productivity. TDs usually write scripts within and between the various art tools in order to achieve automated workflows. These scripts are not incredibly polished but they are functional and written on demand. TDs fix issues in connecting tools together. They tend to not have great art skills but they understand what the artists are doing and support them.
This is a role focused on the low level.
For many complex effects usually one needs to turn to a shader artist. This is a technical artist who can create new shaders to meet specific needs. These shaders can be created via many different means. These ahder artists often can code.
Head of Pipeline
The pipeline refers to the process of moving results from modeling to animation to lighting to rendering and composition. In order to achieve good productivity the head of pipeline will choose the various technologies to use in each part of the pipeline, how the versions of the data are stored (often usually a tool called Shotgun), how artists report work is done, what are the stages where work is reviewed, how is rendering scheduled, and how final results are delivered. The head of pipeline knows what each department in the studio needs and fulfills those needs.
The head of pipeline is in essence responsible for the studios throughput via designing a software + social system.
CG Team Leads
Each department generally has a team lead who is responsible for the quality that is produced by their team. They are usually have the most experience in that specific subject matter and have the ability to take over a task from their team members if a project needs extra help.
They are usually referred to as:
- Lighting lead
- Animation lead
- Modeling lead
The CG supervisor is the main individual in charge of the quality of work at a production house. They work with the Producer in order to deliver the work.
In traditional Hollywood Visual Effects, CG supervisor is responsible to the external VFX Supervisor who is employed by the movie production company. The VFX supervisor would have been the individual who choose this CG supervisor and their company to deliver the specific visual effects results.
The producer, and they may be more than one in a hierarchy, is responsible for timelines, budget, and delivery of the work product. Artists generally do not manage each other on timelines but rather on quality. Producers are professional managers.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of roles within a CGI team, but it can give you a framework for thinking about yours. If you have questions about effective CGI team structures, contact Threekit today. We have plenty of experience to guide you.
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