December 20, 2016

Render Wrangling of Yesteryear

By Andrew at 8:38 AM

From October 2011 through January 2015 I worked as a render wrangler at PDI/DreamWorks Animation, at which point PDI was shut down. My time at PDI was a great learning experience, my first introduction into the world of animated film production and film technology.

As a wrangler I helped manage the render farm and render resources, oftentimes during the night shift, keeping tabs on render and storage resources. Toward the end of my time in that role I gravitated toward developing a few scripts and web-based tools to help improve our day to day workflows, from reporting to job tracking. In the process I learned quite a bit about Python and more about JavaScript.
However, even at this stage I was interested in moving more toward Production Management. I began taking all the production courses I was able to attend, specifically Excel and production tracking software classes. Several coordinators were kind enough to let me sit in on dailies and see a bit of what all is involved in a production role.
Eventually I had the opportunity to help out with production-like tasks within my own team. At team meetings I began taking and distributing notes. I created an HTML form to help automate the formatting of reports that we created throughout the day, saving significant time and unifying the format. We also had several weekly charts that were manually created from manually collected stats. I volunteered to streamline these reports so that stats could be pasted into one place, rather than the three locations they previously were placed, and which would automatically update the related charts for multiple projects to include stats for the current week. This saved a couple of hours per week for the supervisors in gathering and formatting data for these reports.
I also came to the realization that I had kind of sequestered myself into the wrangler and technology area without getting to know many other people throughout the rest of the studio. While I was on the night shift I made more of a point to come in during the day for classes, lectures, and screenings. On the occasions I was working during the day I made more effort to join people for lunch in the cafeteria and get to know different aspects of the studio better. I was also able to help out from time to time with setting up and tearing down company-wide special events. We even had a team that put together a trivia night, to which I contributed and helped vet questions. I also participated in a monthly trip to a local food bank to help sort canned goods through which I met several technical directors, a couple of whom I work with at my current job.
Even though I was not directly involved in production I was grateful for the exposure to others in the industry. And while I did not actually make it into the production department at PDI I did gain valuable insight into the production process. While this experience prepared me for production, it was what happened next that helped me take the next steps in my career.

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