It takes a smooth pipeline to give film animals a voice

Western X uses Qube! from PipelineFX to manage the complex process of creating talking puppies, rats, and cats. 

Western X has become an expert at giving film animals a voice. (Source: PipelineFX)

Visual effect firm Western X has gained a reputation as a go-to company for talking animal content. The Vancouver company has developed a custom-designed workflow (or pipeline, in industry language) for making animals appear to speak naturally in real and CG (computer graphics) environments. While this process has proven visually effective over a series of films, it has also been costly in terms of rendering time and manual process. This changed with the installation of Qube! from PipelineFX for render production workflow management; Western X was able to mold their render farm into an efficient, semi-automated system.

Western X most recently put Qube! to work managing all graphics rendering on their latest film, “Santa Pups.”

“The greatest challenge we face on these films is the shot count-to-manpower ratio,” says James Tichenor, visual effects supervisor and producer at Western X. “We run a boutique studio with a relatively small render farm, so every render minute is precious, especially when twenty artists have to turn over upwards of 1100 shots during the course of a five-month post.”

Key Qube! features like the graphical Frame Time histogram, and detail columns that depict Avg and ETA statistics, helped the studio determine job length and progress. This “Smart Farming” intelligence allows Western X to manage the high volumes of visual effects renders their work requires, all without locking artists’ workstations to long-running tasks. And when they are in crunch time, the team leases additional licenses to expand the reach of their farm onto unused desktops that would otherwise go idle during the night.

Western X has produced hours of talking animal scenes for a variety of feature films. (Source: PipelineFX)

“Qube! does a brilliant job of managing our farm resource,” added Tichenor. “Its configurable load managing, prioritization, and CPU management features have made it possible to make informed decisions quickly about what needs to get sent to the farm and when.”

But to be successful, Qube! had to work seamlessly with the studio’s existing Shotgun/Python-driven pipeline. Western X wrote Python scripts to connect their existing pipeline with Qube!’s out-of-the-box solutions. The multi-platform support in Qube! made render management for Maya, Nuke, and Shake a non-issue, freeing Western X to develop other parts of their pipeline.