Spring PPJ #10- Cali Chesterman

This sprint has mostly been about babysitting renders, making sure there is enough space on the

server, and editing everything together. I did some last minute changes on comps, with color corrects and rotos in other people’s shots, while also trying to keep the coloring in mine consistent.

It’s been a busy week, but we’re almost there. We’re meeting with our sound guy tonight at 8 and everything should be ready for delivery.

A wonderful thing that happened is that we got to do a Senior Sendoff event, one of the best Drexel-sponsored senior events so far. It was so nice to sit and relax a bit in the middle of the day. Oh, and Aviva won a TV. Her first TV. 😀 We also got a really heartfelt talking from one of our faculty members and it’s really what I needed to hear after weeks of pessimism. Maybe a glimmer of hope? We’ll see what the future has in store. 

It’s just Senior Show to look forward to now. Practicing our lines. We’re going to make cookies for the showcase and try our best to get our freebies ready to go.  

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Senior Sendoff . Aviva won a TV.
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Spring Week 9 – Cali Chesterman Postmortem

It’s been a rocky road.

4 Good —– TLDR: 
(1) I love our characters
(2) I learned a lot about computers and rigging
(3) We overcame our challenges
(4) I didn’t turn in deliverables late

  • I loved the designs of our characters and the world. We have established a fun color palette and cartoony characters. We stayed true to keeping purples in our project and bringing a feminine touch to the senior year.
  • When I came to college, computers were strange, magical machines to me. I am not and have never really been great with tech, but I surprised myself with how much I knew how to troubleshoot issues. I developed an appreciation for rigging, which works a lot like how computers do, or at least my understanding of them – upper and lowercase letters make  a difference, moving a file will break the data, and the project needs to be pre-organized with a logical workflow. I learned a lot about computers on a personal level.
  • Two of our biggest challenges were working with / animating a quadruped and learning/working with Renderman. I think we’ve overcome these challenges as a team, although it was a learning process. I made a lot of mistakes along the way that I won’t make again.
  • I wasn’t a TERRIBLE project manager, but I wasn’t great. Maybe I’m being a little harsh on myself, but at least I never turned in deliverables late… except first term. We were all trying to get into the swing of senior project and made a few mistakes.

3 Bad —– TLDR:
(1) I sucked as a project manager and was too accommodating
(2) Too many cooks / opinions diluted our project, I got worn thin
(3) Our advisor was too fickle

  • This was my first time managing a 9-month project, and I have done a terrible job. I feel I let my team down repeatedly, making dumb mistakes, and getting berated for it, but not really knowing how to fix the problems. There are situations I thought were non-issues until they became issues, like establishing a naming convention for files, or finding a more professional way to communicate and store files besides Facebook and Google Drive. It was also bad for me to assume that everyone knew how to do the basics, because everyone was taught differently – this caused a LOT of problems. It is easy for me to manage myself and my pipeline, but difficult when everyone has an established personal workflow, and trying to be accommodating of them. I was too accommodating — but I also didn’t know if my way was the right way, so I didn’t enforce a way to do things. Now I know.
  • There was a lot for me to juggle between listening to my teammates, listening to our advisor, listening to the head of senior project, listening to the outside faculty, worrying about resources like server space, and available lab space to physically work in, all while trying to work, take classes, do personal upkeep, and figure out my life after graduation. My apartment also got robbed and I lost some important tech. It was wayyyyyy too much to handle and took a heavy toll on me. It was also stressful to deal with teammates waiting until the last minute or flat missing deadlines (myself included), not using the project management software, and having different working schedules early on. A lot didn’t line up, but also sometimes people didn’t meet me halfway when I went out of my way to make sure their work/school/life schedules were accommodated for. It was very, very stressful trying to be the person that each person needed me to be and I wore myself too thin taking care of everyone but myself.
  • Our advisor has been scary hot-and-cold about his feedback. One week he would tell us how great we’re doing and to keep up the good work and approve a lot of ideas/storyboards/workload. After an all-faculty presentation, he would completely 180 on all of his feedback and be seemingly irate at us and himself for not seeing all the glaring holes. Months later, he would approve the same exact thing he told us to change in the past. It was a headache trying to appease him because his needs would change constantly, and one day he would approve of something and disapprove of it the week later. I’m not just a dumb student that has a problem with taking criticism. I’m a frazzled senior project manager that is trying to juggle the fickle needs of her advisor and the requirements of the senior project

4 Learned —– TLDR:
(1) 9-5 jobs are a privilege. I know I can crunch when I need to, but not for months at a time.
(2) Have a support network outside of school/work, and don’t bring personal life into workplace.
(3) I need project management / leadership training.
(4) I need social interaction in my workplace, not strictly solo computer work.

  • In the past few months I have been in the labs every day for 40-70 hour weeks. It has taken a terrible toll on my mental health, my immune system has been destroyed (I got sick 4 times, and got two bad infections, when I rarely ever get sick), personal life, and relationships, as I’ve had to repeatedly prioritize school work over family and social life. I’ve been absolutely miserable and on edge as my laundry piled up, my significant other being constantly disappointed (but understanding) of having to cancel plans, leftovers molding in the back of my fridge, and general neglect of my home and myself as a person. I had to take a leave of absence from my job, which has been hurting me financially. I’ve learned that having nights, weekends, holidays off, even a 9-5 job are all privileges. I can survive crazy hour weeks in crunch, but I might accidentally kill myself from personal neglect if I don’t make time for myself.
  • Work is stressful enough without having to be at the blunt end of other peoples’ personal problems. It has been imperative having friends outside of my “workplace”. Our work environment got toxic for a number of reasons, both the people and the conditions of the labs, and the only people that never wanted to talk about work were people who didn’t even go to my school. I value the hell out of those people. There was a point where the criticisms and beratement stopped being about the project and came directed at me as a person. As much as my teammates are/were my friends, there is a certain level of professionalism I wish was maintained. Halfway through, I learned it’s important to keep my mouth shut about my personal life in a work environment.
  • If I am ever going to lead another project, I need formal training. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing half the time, and it was difficult for me to be assertive without feeling personally guilty about it. To some extent, this project is “our” project, but I don’t know how/where to draw a line between creative freedom and meeting deadlines.
  • We would spend all day together in the labs and not talk much, and often the only talking would be crits or needs for the project. That’s harsh, after not socializing all day. I’d go home and be mentally exhausted from not talking and moving much, but physically awake and shaky. I need to have social interactions – I don’t think I can sit in front of the computer all day like this. There has to be something to look forward to… I really have liked my jobs with customer interaction … I need people.

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Spring PPJ #8 – Cali Chesterman

I spent this sprint scatterbrained and feeling very counterproductive, even though I made a lot of animation progress for our March 21 animation lock. I’ve been neglecting two semi-serious infections that I thought would go away on their own, that landed me at the doctor, and almost the hospital had I waited any longer… Personal health has not been my priority. I’ve tried helping on shots from my teammates, and ended up getting two shots with walk cycles. I realized my shots don’t have the man walking on a flat surface. I suck making it look right with our characters’ proportions, so I had to give them back :/ On the other hand, I got two shots with focus on the dog and facial expressions, and that worked out a lot better. I think I’m growing an interest in facial animations and quadruped animations.

My animations are ok, but definitely not great. I’ve spent the week rendering everything I had in the state it was, so at least there is a version of rendered animation that exists. I plan to re-render the new animations once everyone has a version of their animation existing. My primary concern is still rendering and resources – I want everything to get done on time. I’ve gotten a lot of backlash from my team and advisor for having this mindset, so I’ve taken a step back and kept quieter. Now that animation lock has happened, I hope everyone is now in the “THIS NEEDS TO BE RENDERED OMG” mindset.

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Sometimes the man loads without hair. It’s a strange bug we get from time to time. Ohhhhhh well.

The Good ~ I’m happy Will used my nostril flare rig in his animation. I’m happy that our animation is locked. We looked over some old playblasts and versions of our animation, and boy, have we made a lot of progress. After animating so much, I realize how much I like FK arm controllers. I wish I had done a lot of things a little differently, but now I know for next time.

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This is one of the animations I took for Search. I like working with facial animations a lot

The Bad ~ I have a lot of anxiety about rendering and making sure frames come out properly. I have to go in and adjust the lighting for some of my shots (gross). I hope the antibiotics clear up my infection so I don’t get hospitalized. People keep telling me congratulations on graduating, but it hasn’t happened yet – such a tease.

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We still get occasional render errors. The sims in Takeoff explode sometimes.

We’re almost there. I can taste it. (Wait, no, that’s just bile again).

Spring PPJ#7

This sprint has been draining. Our advisor is giving us environment and lighting crits and expects to see these changes. I’ve been implementing new environment iterations into a lot of shots, and re-animating them as well. We had an environment lock over a month ago, but I don’t seem to have much a choice. Our animations aren’t perfect, but things that have had no feedback in the past are now getting heavily critted, forcing a lot of things we thought were okay, to be re-rendered. The labs are always full, every functional computer has been in use, and underclassmen are struggling to find spaces to do their own work. Resources are competitive right now, and this has been my biggest fear as we neared the end of the term. We had been allocated some wrong information, so there actually IS a cap on the number of Renderman licenses we can use on the farm. This further limits our resources. We have three weeks left and I’m worried we’re not going to make it to the finish line. It’s even more exhausting that many of my friends and loved ones are graduating from colleges right now, and it’s straining seeing so many people celebrate their proudest moment while I’m going through a really low point in my life. I can barely scrape up the energy to be a supportive friend or even a good team lead right now. Am I doing anything right?
The Good ~ I’ve still been making good progress with animation. My step-dad got his bachelor’s degree this weekend. Spending time with my family to celebrate — I’ve felt more like myself than I have in a while. I’m so so so happy no one asked me about school.

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Doing som e

The Bad ~ Just me.

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We got our first piece of fan art from an outsider.
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Still getting some fun rendering errors. We call this one, where it throws up rainbows, the gotye pattern.

Spring PPJ # 6 – Cali Chesterman

 

29 days until the senior show deliverables are due.

My priorities this week have been to maximize render efficiency on the farm through archiving, finalize polish on all of my shots to send to the renderfarm (so I can take up the animations of my teammates, who are still not close to polish), and calculate resources the team has and does not have.The team needs to be scathingly aware of how little time left we actually have to work, and are underestimating the time it will take to render their shots. The resources I am referring to are people’s weekly hour output vs. quality output, renderfarm reliability, rendering resources as two other animation teams are rendering, server space (1 second of our animation with passes takes 4-6 GB of space… for a 4:36 runtime…), and physical workspace as underclassmen creep into finals, and my teammates are dealing with other classes on top of graduation and post-graduation prep.

 

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Backdrop for our Senior Showcase Deck, Draft 01

With these things in mind, and a reminder from our program coordinator that there “is no late” for senior project, I have had to make some difficult decisions about deadlines. With the goal of being able to walk on stage and present our project at senior show, these decisions are:
* May 11 — last solo day for teammates to work on their scene, and reallocate shots to teammates further along. This has been met with mixed responses

* May 21 — animation lock. Teammates need time to render and re-render as necessary. From the username logs on the renderfarm, I know some teammates have not been outputting render sequences to see how their scenes interact with the farm, which I know will cause difficulties later. Setting these deadline allows us to address these issues, not as pressed up against the clock.

The Good ~ I’ve still been working long hours and getting a lot accomplished in terms of my animation, archiving, and rendering, as well as the other administrative tasks that comes with being the project manager. I am confident that I can pick up other people’s workloads so the overall quality of the project can be increased and we can be prepared to tackle senior project with flying colors.

The Bad ~ I’m being met with a lot of resistance about deadlines, but the fact is, with the hours that people put in and the quality of work that comes out, the one thing I cannot grant is more time. There is no time left for possessiveness and perfectionism. June 6th – we have the project done or we do not. I’m not budging.

 

Spring PPJ#5 – Cali Chesterman

Another productive sprint with a 40 hour week. My lower back is sore and my wrist’s nerves are pinching. My goal is to get all my animations done by Thursday.

Project management has been my personal hell. I am constantly being hit by the blunt end of my teammates stress sticks and told how unsympathetic I’m being. In this type of environment, where our “personal” lives are so intertwined with our “working” lives, team members have a REALLY hard time separating them. The reality is that, as of this post, we have 36 days to complete senior project. Two teammates and myself are at render stages. As I polish my shots, they go straight to render. At least half of the frames fail. The teammates who are behind are not being realistic about the resources we have and the hours needed to put into polish. One teammate is being overburdened, but refuses to share shots. I am confident that this teammate can complete their work and make it look good, but we’re OUT OF TIME for possessiveness. Another teammate hasn’t been using the project management system, reporting hours, or checking off tasks, and it looks like little to no animation progress every week. What is this mess?

I can’t even bring these horses to the water’s edge. They sure as hell ain’t drinking.

The Bad ~ My teammates are stressing me out and are behind. I can’t understand the logic of “I have too much work, but I vehemently refuse help”. I also can’t understand needing more structure, but refusing to even log-in to the structure that exists. I keep getting berated for being bad at communicating deadlines, although, the deadline of senior project was no surprise and everyone knew it was coming. I try not to micro-manage people and their timelines, but now this is getting ridiculous.

The Good~ I am still in a good spot with my animations and should be done by Thursday. Then I can take on Aidan/Aviva shots.

Spring PPJ#3 – Cali Chesterman

I spent a lot of this sprint playing with environment instances and bettering my and Aviva’s lighting setups. We share the same environment, so it was necessary we weren’t working on the same things at the same time. On the project management end, I’ve been trying to organize the Gantt chart and teamwork task boards better, but they’re still half being ignored.

The Good ~ Environments are locked. There will be a tweak here and there, but it’s something we don’t have to worry about anymore. Animation from here, on.

The Bad ~ I was sick all week and wasn’t as productive as I could have been. I’ve also been waiting to hear back from my advisor for feedback (on anything) on my lighting set-up, but haven’t heard anything. I guess it’s ok? Silence is frustrating, especially when we’re asking for help. 

I want to get back to animating.

Spring PPJ#2: Team

4 out of 5 of us are down for the count and have been hit with some nasty sickness that has dehabilitated us to bedridden fury. The inability to even lift our limbs, not to mention our heads, has caused a major halt in productivity. This week we were tasked by our advisor to do, yet again, another iteration of lighting, with a restriction that nothing on the animation end is allowed to be touched. Team members have been working on different iterations of moving matte paintings, but our advisor decided that still images are better so those are getting cut as well. Textures for the man, dog, and environment have been punched up to better reflect the painterly look we’ve been going for.

The Good: We’ve had success polishing textures and matte paintings for final comp. Lighting is stronger this term than it was last term. On the project management side, some team members had requested a dope sheet to work on the timing of their animations, and to have a visual aid with the crits they’ve received on certain shots, so that has been provided.

The Bad: Our advisor is requiring daily check-ins, with the expectation that people will work every day. This has had varying effects on different team members, which you can read about in individual PPJs. We’ve also been restricted from doing animations until the lighting is done, which has frustrated team members who just want to go back to animating. Although the intent is to be well-rounded, everyone doesn’t want to be well-rounded and we’re lacking some direction. The other obvious “bad” is the sickness, which has forced teammates to not leave their homes or be productive.

Spring PPJ #2 : Cali Chesterman

This week has been about organization of files to keep other team members on task and polishing up some textures. I updated textures on the man, dog, and all the plants so that we can see their brushstrokes in the lights. Part of the faculty feedback was that our pastel colored environment is boring and makes it feel unfinished, and stepping back from the project helped me understand what they meant. The pastel that we were going for got lost the lights, so it was a matter of pumping up saturation and highlighting the variation of colors. I also set up dope sheets for team members so they can look at the most crucial scenes for editing, which included group crits. We’ve been tasked with updating our scenes with new lighting set-ups again, so we’re trying to get through that. Got done some weight-painting for the man, who was negllected and spent a lot of time clearing out old caches, renders, and files so we have space on the server (Our project file has gone from 800GB to 8 GB… that feels great). Also deleted a lot of old, outdated files because naming conventions have not been consistent, and people have been getting confused.

The Good: The primary foci have been lighting, organization, and cleaning server space so we can work more efficiently and start the term with a fresh start.

The Bad: 4 out of 5 of us got sick this past week. People have been less productive. Anna is just barely dodging the bullet. And our advisor doesn’t want us to work on animation, but I really want to work on animation.

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This is how Anna sees us, because we are all sick.