Meet the Studio: AAA Games

Image courtesy of EA Sports

Ubisoft, EA Sports, and Crystal Dynamics use ShotGrid (formerly Shotgun Software) to address crucial challenges in their studio pipelines and give artists and supervisors a more efficient and collaborative way of working. In a one-hour session at Game Developer Conference 2018, the leading game studios shared how they use ShotGrid to improve their production pipelines - from breaking down language and cultural barriers with visual cues on Madden, to faster iteration on South Park: The Fractured But Whole.





Ubisoft recently adopted ShotGrid to track assets through game development on South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Associate Producer Kimberly Weigend spoke about key considerations which drove their decision to implement ShotGrid. One of those was the ability to effectively collaborate across global studios. "We wanted to make sure that whatever we did for content creation, we had systems and programs in place that would help us work with teams around the world" said Weigend.


Everything in the media app really facilitates global game development and accelerates reviews


It was also important that they were able to iterate very quickly. The South Park TV series has been on the air for more than twenty years and their creative process has become so streamlined that they are able to deliver episodes in just six days. Ubisoft wanted to mirror that kind of fast iteration for the game as well.


With ShotGrid’s media app, Ubisoft artists can access images, videos, playlists, and other assets. If they need to put a specific character like Randy into a scene, they can access character animation libraries in the media app to find approved Randy assets – eliminating redundancies in both content creation and approvals. Producers also use the client review site to send out playlists to clients and external stakeholders with one click, making it easy for them to provide direct feedback and mark up images and assets as needed. “Everything in the media app really facilitates global game development and accelerates reviews, feedback, and the approval process with internal directors and external stakeholders” said Weigend.

Using the dashboards tool, producers can tailor information for different types of users. For instance, they can create custom visualizations to view where tech art vs. animation tasks are in the pipeline. This provides a high-level overview of how all tasks are divided up, allowing producers to reallocate resources efficiently.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole was released last fall, and Ubisoft continues to rely on ShotGrid to work on new downloadable content for the game.


Crystal Dynamics

Square Enix studio Crystal Dynamics is at the forefront of several major game franchises including Tomb Raider and Marvel’s Avengers. Their Art Outsourcing Producer, Lois Wang spoke about her unique role managing art asset pipelines and serving as the coordinator between internal artists and external service providers. Wang has been using ShotGrid to hit her goals for the last five years, taking it with her across four different studios and even more projects.


A tool that is able to visually communicate and track all the history of what is being commented on and what is being added to the asset creation process is really, really important


Wang shared how ShotGrid continually helps her reach five key production management goals across all projects: trends and planning, budgeting and time management, tracking progress, risk management, and communication. “A tool that is able to visually communicate and track all the history of what is being commented on and what is being added to the asset creation process is really, really important” said Wang.

As a producer communicating across multiple teams, ShotGrid eases planning and forecasting to effectively balance internal and external resources. For instance, after pre-production, she establishes a step-by-step template of how to create each asset, with rough estimates of how long each step takes and the artist workload required. This lets her map out how many artists are needed for certain tasks at various stages of production, providing a key asset for budgeting and determining how much internal teams can support and where external teams are needed. These templates also provide a working timeline with start and end points for milestones, helping to make sure all teams stay on track and hit deadlines throughout production. Wang relies on this tracking and the transparency provided by ShotGrid to regularly communicate with all stakeholders, sharing progress and catching potential problems early on.

EA Sports

Lastly, EA Sports’ longtime Art/Animation Director Tony Stanley spoke about how ShotGrid is used widely throughout the studio, particularly on franchises like Madden NFL and its new story mode, Longshot. Stanley relies on ShotGrid to track and review all assets for Madden, which includes literally hundreds of elements ranging from touchdown celebrations to first down reactions. “Our animations are viewed from all different angles. It’s not like in a movie where it’s just one camera angle,” said Stanley. “We have to be able to give feedback and see how it looks for many different scenarios.”

ShotGrid also manages their motion capture data pipeline, starting with the data from mocap shoots with The Capture Lab, into their custom 3D animation engine, then finally into their game engine. With teams dispersed across the U.S., Canada, and China, ShotGrid helps everyone stay up to date and essentially facilitates a 24-hour studio with continual notes and updates being passed around the world in real time.


Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be able to speak with you today if I wasn’t able to get my work done. I’m able to send ShotGrid notes from my hotel.


Madden has some very specific challenges that ShotGrid uniquely addresses. Stunt actors are not allowed to actually throw any footballs on the motion capture stage (those cameras are expensive!), so animators have no on-set reference for specific throwing motions or ball behaviors. Trying to communicate animation instructions to dispersed teams is a significant language challenge, compounded by the fact that American football has virtually no presence in China. However, ShotGrid provides powerful visual tools so Stanley can markup frames directly with detailed instructions. Using RV, he draws on each frame to clearly illustrate how the hand and wrist should rotate, how the football should spiral, and other small but key details that make the game lifelike. The ability to put different elements side by side, such as mocap reference and animation playback, helps add an extra layer of clarity.

“Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be able to speak with you today if I wasn’t able to get my work done,” joked Stanley. “I’m able to send ShotGrid notes from my hotel. It has been very effective for me.”


We really enjoyed learning how game developers are taking advantage of ShotGrid in different ways, and we hope that this session provides helpful insights that you can adopt too. Check out video of the full session at the link below.