February 29, 2012

Wrangling on the Farm

By Andrew at 8:55 AM


I am a Render Wrangler.  Now, I sometimes forget to consider the humorous connotations that these two words exhibit when taken individually, but I have been told by people such as my mother that she thinks of cowboys when I talk about my position.  Sorry, I am in the West, but no cattle drives!  In short, a Render Wrangler is someone who manages renders.  That is why my official title is “Technical Resource Administrator,” since we administer, or wrangle, technical resources (computers).

As wranglers, we have the role of managing the computers that process all of the information involved with rendering.  A fairly inauspicious role, to be sure, but one that I have found that I enjoy nonetheless.  There is just something about being able to help the artists in their craft by herding their finished artwork through massive systems of interconnected computers and obtaining such beautiful artwork at the end of the process.  It is almost like we are painting the scenes by the artist-supplied numbers, but instead of using brushes, we use computers.  And millions of colors of paint.

One common misunderstanding about wranglers is what we actually are involved with in making a movie.  I myself do not make the characters move, I do not draw them out, I do not even build the systems that actually do the rendering work.  My role is to identify, first of all, a video that an artist needs to have rendered, send it off to the farm which performs the work, monitor the segment to ensure that it does not “break” itself or the computers throughout the process, and finally to check on the final results.  The job consists mainly of technical tasks such as typing out commands, but it also includes many opportunities for other problem-solving skills including sometimes high-pressure, time-sensitive diagnostic skills.  Just like anything else in a studio (or workplace) environment, our role as part of the team is leveraging our skills and connections with others on the team to complete our assignments as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In addition to wrangling, my specific role has included several other interesting tasks.  At night, we handle help-desk calls, and on the weekends, we sometimes assist with technical maintenance.  I have created several scripts to help streamline my own personal workflow, especially valuable efficiency mechanisms in my day-to-day tasks.  In addition to wrangling duties, we respond to calls around the clock from artists regarding their pending renders, as well as continuously sifting through hundreds of e-mails daily to keep a close watch on the pulse of the farm.

In addition to these responsibilities, however, we have many fringe benefits.  Our workspace is very collaborative, with all the wranglers in the same area so we can discuss and distribute tasks as we encounter them.  Also, there is never a lack of food at the studio.  Snacks, cereal, and pop machines are always available to us, not to mention breakfast and lunch each day.  We also are able to attend various artist workshops and movie screenings that make up a great part of the social culture of our workplace environment. Needless to say, it is an exciting and fun place to work!

I really enjoy my job, especially the opportunities that I have to learn more about the operations of the movie industry.  Sometimes the wrangling shifts can be tough, but I am still very thankful for the many opportunities I have been given for a job and invaluable industry experience.

Now to make it through crunch time!

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