Unorthodox animation production, part 1 - “Red Mine”

Red Mine is a free bug-tracking tool for software development. It’s used by programmers to log and track defects in software so - on first inspection - it should have no place in a production manager’s toolset, right? Well, bear with me because I’ve used Red Mine to manage 3D animation pipelines and it’s been brilliant. Here’s how…

Let’s skip over the details about what a bug actually is, instead just hold onto the idea that it’s a job ticket - a wee instruction to fix something. On software projects these tickets flow down development pipelines, typically visiting several programmers, testers and managers until the ticket has been fulfilled and the software can be shipped. Simply put, it’s an instruction flowing down a pipeline, passing through a team.

This concept has a direct analogy with animation. Imagine that the job ticket was not a description of a bug but a description of a character. Consider, too, that our pipeline isn’t a development one but an animation pipeline. Our tickets would not pass between developers and testers, but between modellers, riggers and surfacing artists.

Red Mine is a free system for creating and tracking these job tickets. I’ve used it (or similar issue-tracking software) on animation projects. With it I was able to assign jobs, track their progress and produce reports. I was able to define a custom pipeline, insert approval points and make sure that every stakeholder could see and comment on jobs.The tickets themselves held concept art, video reference, notes and feedback.

The beauty was that it is Ruby on Rails-based which meant we installed it on a web server and let everyone in the team access it through a browser. As you’d expect this meant that geography ceased to be an issue - my team could log in from anywhere.

Under the skin Red Mine is basically a huge database of job tickets. It’s true “production” power came from being able to create special searches and filters. Our director, for example, had a filter which showed her the assets awaiting approval. Our production manager - with one click - was able to see the progress of each ticket against a deadline. End of week progress reports were also produced from a single click.

Some of our past projects had suffered from poorly-managed notes. Reams of Word documents were sent in asymmetric email threads without any proper tracking. In using Red Mine we were able to decimate this “noise” by centralising the note-making process and making it visible to everyone.

In summary, Red Mine is a free, incredibly powerful and flexible project management application which fits well with pipeline-driven projects such as 3D graphics and animation. I’ve only given it the thinnest of recommendations here; it’s definitely worth a look.