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Visual Effects Pipelines | TD Meetup 03

Visual Effects Pipelines are an essential part of any production. They're the blood and veins that connect each department with each other to make them work as one. Yet most of us don't really understand how visual effects pipelines work, how to help improve them, or even how to build one. Let's change that!

In the day-to-day of a production there are many moments of uncreative work. Things that need to be done, sometimes without us even realizing it. Over the years, we have become accustomed to the way we do certain tasks: Be it be modeling, animation or compositing. We open certain menus, navigate to certain folders, run command chains, or wait for them to complete. Processes are important to us, they give us security in our daily work or in the realization of our creative ideas.

Every year we are move further away from the basic processes of a production and are forced to integrate smaller pieces into larger chains in order to meet more demands in less time. This movement is countered by pipelines that try to bring order to chaos - not without quickly becoming chaos themselves.


The word pipeline is a combination of the words "pipe" and "line" and describes a straightforward process in which something goes in one end and comes out the other in a processed form. Pipeline has become an established term in the Visual Effects, Animation and Games industry, although the synonym workflow is just as good. Pipelines can exist for anything from the render pipeline of a 3D software that uses ray tracing to display the projection of a three-dimensional object in two dimensions, to a production pipeline that controls the workflow and data output at each stage.

A pipeline consists of 4 elements:

Folder Structure

The folder structure defines the folder names, their hierarchy, and what goes in each folder. Depending on your project and studio, this can change to meet your needs. It can generally be broken down into the following categories:

Folder structure for a single projects.

Naming Convention

How do you name a texture file, a task, an asset or a node in the scene? These are all questions answered by the naming convention with its general rules (English, underscores only, ...) and special rules for certain types and stages of projects:

Naming is essential for clarity and the script pipeline.

Software Pipeline

The software pipeline defines the software, its versions, the extensions stored, and how it connects to other departments.

Manages the overall connections between different states and tasks of a production.

Script Pipeline

The script pipeline automates the previous steps to make them as smooth as possible. Even the best folder structure, naming convention, and software pipeline can be ignored or accumulate manual errors that cost a production over time.

The key is to automate this 3 elements:

  • Software setup

  • Save & Load

  • Export & Import

Launching the right software with the necessary plug-ins, settings, and scripts ensures that everyone on the team is working in the same environment. Save, load, export and import enforce the pipeline structure while simplifying the process of working and publishing to other departments.

On the other hand, we tend to see certain automations as the only way to get things done, without realizing that we can achieve the same results with a little preparation. Studios are plagued by the same problems, but they remedy themselves with pipeline systems that automate as much of that "idle time" as possible to make artists more productive.

Script pipeline with the most important modules.


Pipelines are a key element of any Visual Effects, Animation or Game production. A good pipeline guides the artist through the complexities of a multi-step project and can mean the difference between meeting or missing a deadline. A bad one adds complexity, confusion and unnecessary steps that stifle creativity, teamwork and progress.

To build a great pipeline, it's important to have clarity about the project and experience from previous projects to pre-plan a workflow that helps guide everyone from the script to the final edit. However, it's not all about automation and scripts, as a smart and clear workflow can achieve similar results without over-reliance on programming.

To learn more about pipelines check out my Open Source Pipeline Plex.


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