A personal experience with ftrack


How do people actually use ftrack day to day?

ftrack is in the news – it just acquired the maker of cineSync, Cospective. It’s also a tool that more and more VFX studios are using for production management, tracking and review.

Cinesite, for example, relies on ftrack in a big way, and I wanted to find out what it was like to use on a daily basis.

So I asked Sonia Spes, who is currently a 2D co-ordinator on The Witcher and was a data co-ordinator and matchmove co-ordinator on the two most recent Avengers films, what her experience with ftrack has been like.

b&a: If I had to ask you what ftrack is used for in an overall sense at Cinesite, what would that be?

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Sonia Spes: To me, it’s a great tool to bring order into a bit of chaos. When you’re working with a huge amount of shots and so many departments, it just gives you an amazing overview. You can always see what is happening in which departments. You can track shot versions and all the feedback so you know when things are coming into the next department, or whether there is a problem somewhere which will cause a delay and you need to pause working on shots. It helps with overall scheduling, essentially, because you can actually track everything in real-time.

Cinesite's Sonia Spes.
Cinesite’s Sonia Spes.

b&a: What are the typical things you can look up in ftrack about a particular project?

Sonia Spes: It really depends on what area of production you’re working in or what department you’re in. As a 2D co-ordinator now, for me personally, I focus on Compositing. As it is the last stage of a shot you often have to back-track and see where things are at all times. The bigger the team, the more shots, the more versions and data there is to track.

b&a: What would be the things from a compositor’s point of view that they have to do in terms of marking things up in ftrack or inputting data or generally interacting with ftrack?

Sonia Spes: We try to keep artists as free as possible so they can just focus on their work. So, the co-ordinators do most of the work in ftrack. Except for actual publishing, we try to take over everything else. Whatever is needed, the co-ordinator is always there to help you.

Shot tracker in ftrack.
Shot tracker in ftrack.

b&a: What, as a co-ordinator, do you then have to input into ftrack as shots go through?

Sonia Spes: Once an element is marked ready for comp and if, for example, it was coming from CG it would most likely be coming from the lighting department, I would make sure to check with the Lighting co-ordinator that all the components were in fact ready for comp to pick up.

If the version was marked as WIP (work in progress) I would find out how significant the next changes to come would be and then let the comp’er know how much time they should spend on it. If it was very early stages and the next iteration would have significant changes then we prefer not to get the artists really started past the set-up stage because that would waste their time.

b&a: What things are perhaps unique to Cinesite with ftrack?

Sonia Spes: I think ftrack is very customizable. Every co-ordinator can adapt it to what they need. I can definitely tell the difference between when I used it for data co-ordination and now when I use it for 2D – there are different pieces of information I use.

A great thing about ftrack is that you can set up your own views. You can share it with artists or other co-ordinators or whoever needs the information. That’s very helpful because I can set up specific individual views per artist, so that’s it easy for them to find and they can see all their shots and all their schedules clearly. It helps them manage their own time as well, for example when the next version is due, when the deadlines are or when the start date to pick up a new shot is.

b&a: If you didn’t use ftrack, how do you think you might manage the process?

Sonia Spes: If we didn’t use ftrack, well, at the start of a project, everyone would start with their own spreadsheet and try to organize their thoughts and a few weeks in, everyone would give up! Because without ftrack you would have so many different spreadsheets and lists and cross-checking that just makes your life way more difficult.

It would actually take much longer to find the information you need. ftrack is updated constantly, so you don’t really rely on yourself only for the input of information. Everyone is doing their part and everything is live. You can immediately see the difference in ftrack. I can’t really imagine not working in it, to be honest.

b&a: What was your experience like getting up to speed in ftrack when you first touched it?

Sonia Spes: It was a little scary at first because even when I started using ftrack I wasn’t aware of how much you can do. I was relying on the default setting. I was very lucky because I had an amazing mentor and she showed me so many amazing things it can do in terms of customizing and little tricks. I do remember working with ftrack in a default setting. I think I would struggle these days if I tried to do that now. The more time you spend with ftrack, the more little perks you find. It’s very straightforward – it didn’t take too long to get into it. I think it’s very simple and clean.

Shot task view in ftrack.
Shot task view in ftrack.

b&a: What’s one feature or shortcut you’ve developed working with ftrack?

Sonia Spes: I do like creating my own lists and compiling only the information that I need in my personal view. There is a little thing where you can customize the attributes. That is really helpful because you can organize your list in whatever way you want, in whatever order you want to show. You can set your own priorities. That is all very handy because if you have dailies with a large amount of shots and you know which are the most important shots to lead with based on deadlines, or where the artist is going to get feedback on specific things, you can just organize it in a way that you need it, rather than going by default settings.

There is also one little thing that is huge for me and it took me a little while to find out it existed. You can schedule your shots and artists and then there is something called the ‘Team Planner.’ Once you go to that tab, it shows you the calendar and it highlights all the days and the artist’s name is right next to it. So it essentially creates a virtual schedule for you based on just the date that you input in and it’s amazing. You can see suddenly clearly that there are little gaps in the schedules, or if someone is going to be freed up for some extra work. I think that is an amazing thing and I can’t believe it took me this long to find out about it.

'Avengers: Endgame.'
A Cinesite shot from ‘Avengers: Endgame.’

b&a: Where can you view ftrack – do you mainly look up things at your desk or is it via phone or tablet?

Sonia Spes: I have ftrack on my Mac laptop that I have with me every minute of the day. You have to be on a secure network to actually see the images, so that I can do only at my desk. When I have my laptop, I can still use ftrack but I can’t see the images or shots, (but that is a company security policy not an ftrack feature).

b&a: Did anything funny or unusual happen on a recent project with ftrack that made you laugh?

Sonia Spes: ftrack is very reliable and it’s very standard and unusual things don’t really happen. What made me laugh was, though, there was an update quite recently with ftrack and it changed from green to purple and people got really confused. We were all laughing about it because suddenly it lit up in a different colour and we thought we broke something!

You see, everything used to be green. If something is green, it means it’s approved and suddenly it turned into purple, so we thought ‘Uh oh, maybe we’re offline, what’s going on?’ But it was just a little change. It’s something you look at every day, every hour, every minute, and this little subtle change made everyone notice.

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