Boulder Media transforms its pipeline with ftrack Studio
Boulder Media adopted ftrack Studio to launch production on two of its biggest 2D productions yet. We spoke to the studio pipeline leads Chris Lynch and Claire Meehan to learn why ftrack Studio was the right choice and how they worked to implement it at the studio.
Founded in 2000, Dublin’s Boulder Media has spent the last number of years cultivating a reputation as Ireland’s leading high-end animated entertainment studio.
The studio’s projects are diverse. Recent 2D productions include Danger Mouse and El Tigre, while 3D projects have tackled work for brands like Go Jetters and Transformers. And it’s all delivered for an impressive list of world-leading clients, which includes names like Nickelodeon, Disney, and the BBC.
It’s no wonder that Hasbro acquired Boulder in 2017. The toymaker quickly expanded the company into two Dublin studios: one for 2D animation and a second focused on feature film production, which recently commenced work on Ireland’s first-ever CGI animated feature film.
Boulder recently adopted ftrack Studio to optimize production on two new projects: Transformers: Rescue Bots Academy and the My Little Pony Rainbow Roadtrip one-off TV special. We caught up with the team to learn about this journey and how ftrack Studio’s influence led to a streamlined production approach.
A rolling stone gathers no moss
“Boulder Media values the importance of a respectful and creative production setting for our staff,” begins Claire Meehan, Pipeline Operations Manager. “We believe in creating content that aligns with these values within a strong collaborative work environment. ftrack Studio certainly has its role to play in achieving that.”
ftrack Studio’s capability came to the fore on Transformers: Rescue Bots Academy and My Little Pony Rainbow Roadtrip. Both projects were significant for Boulder, given the IPs’ renown and the adoration of their fanbases.
For Transformers, Boulder needed to reimagine the world-famous series for a younger audience, while retaining its decades-old lore.
Similarly, My Little Pony Rainbow Roadtrip required new locations and characters alongside the animation of the much-loved Mane Six. Furthermore, as an hour-long special packed with musical numbers, rather than an 11-minute episode, Boulder had its work cut out.
ftrack Studio was crucial in undertaking this new workload. By streamlining production admin, ftrack Studio enabled Boulder to focus on creating experiences that fans both new and old would love.
Introducing ftrack Studio
“ftrack Studio’s immediate, out-of-the-box user-friendliness was an immediate advantage over other solutions,” says Chris Lynch, Pipeline Manager, of adopting ftrack Studio.
“Having viewed and assessed a range of project management and tracking software, we felt that ftrack Studio was the easiest for staff to take on. Not least, ftrack Studio enabled our pipeline team to create builds reflective of our previous tracking solution. That meant structures wouldn’t feel alien to staff.”
Boulder’s pipeline team undertook an extensive training program. They ran individual and group training sessions with over 250 new users. It was an enormous, coordinated undertaking. Ultimately, all staff were on board and ready to tackle the new studio projects.
While ftrack Studio’s tracking and scheduling features were important to Boulder, the platform’s key selling point was version history and management. These tools proved to be a massive benefit when it came to referencing previous notes.
“ftrack Studio’s version management opened up our projects to the creative teams,” says Meehan.
“In the past, our team needed to search through large folder systems and spreadsheets to find information. This system was particularly clunky, as it depended on users to actively check for updates. There was no automatic functionality that would highlight when a task was ready for the next person to jump on.”
The complex, impassive nature of spreadsheets caused several production inefficiencies at Boulder. “Moving the studio’s sheer volume of assets around different folder systems was causing our vigilant production staff and supervisors so much lost time,” continues Meehan. “Also, as we didn’t have easy access to a history of projects, we weren’t able to perform proper statistical analysis of our work.”
Implementing ftrack Studio caused a sea change in Boulder’s post-production approach. “With ftrackStudio, reference was instantly available to everyone,” says Lynch. “ftrack Studio freed up a significant amount of time and streamlined production tasks by introducing actions to carry out monotonous tasks.”
“This is particularly thanks to its live task status updates,” he continues. “In ftrack Studio, all task history, activities, and assigned notes assigned are all stored and trackable within an asset or shot task. ftrack Studio also informs users about changes in process, status, deadline, and priority, which we didn’t have before. There’s clear direction on what needs to happen next; this was impossible before the implementation of ftrack Studio!”
ftrack Studio’s client-side review capability further bolstered this communicative approach.
“We use ftrack Studio’s web review functionality across all departments to approve assets. It had an immediate and positive impact on our productions,” says Lynch. “Media review in ftrack Studio makes it easy for directors to check and transfer notes on old versions against new renders and artwork, rather than tracking it through email and folder systems. That’s a far more beneficial way of working (it also allowed staff to work remotely or in transit! Offsite staff now have access to projects without having to transfer folders and files).”
Sculpting the perfect pipeline
The time-consuming nature of spreadsheets was not the only issue that Boulder needed to overcome. Those spreadsheets also kept the production data they contained one step removed from the creative process.
As a 2D studio, Boulder uses a mix of tools. These include Adobe Creative Suite tools, Toon Boom Harmony, and Storyboard Pro, alongside a small blend of 3D tools for specific productions. “It wasn’t possible to integrate spreadsheets with this software. That made things that much more difficult,” says Meehan.
ftrack Studio changed things; especially its out-of-the-box integration with Photoshop. ftrack Studio’s Photoshop integration enabled Boulder’s artists to upload assets directly to ftrack Studio or open other uploaded files for reference via a native ftrack panel. “This allows for ftrack Studio asset management directly within the software along with the benefit of gathering pipeline tools under a single interface,” says Meehan. “It removes that gap between creative and production.”
Beyond that, Boulder got creative. “ftrack’s ability to create bespoke tools is excellent,” says Lynch. “Using the ftrack API, we built custom tools and pipelines that further bridged Boulder’s creative and production departments, such as custom integrations with Toon Boom Harmony via ftrack’s Actions platform.
“We also built custom tools for our departments using Adobe and Autodesk software. Artists can view assets from multiple departments used in a shot in a central location,” he continues. “We also linked many tasks and created custom status changes and dependencies for tasks through the API. This work has massively benefited our productions.”
These custom integrations, and the efficiencies introduced by asset management, have proven pivotal. With production less of a concern, Boulder could apply full focus to the creative on Transformers: Rescue Bots and My Little Pony Rainbow Roadtrip. And the results are there to see in the final work.
“Now that the team is comfortable with ftrack Studio we cannot overstate its long-term benefits,” says Lynch. “The tracking and asset control functionality is crucial. But the ability to customize and adapt for each unique production’s needs is the considerable advantage ftrack Studio presents over unwieldy spreadsheets”.
“Moving to ftrack Studio was a big transition for Boulder, but it was worth it. I would 100% recommend the platform to any studio seeking greater transparency across their productions.”
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