Vision and Balance

Just before, during, and after the holidays, with renewed energy, often we have time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re heading. It is a great time to refine our vision, where we are heading in the future. And consequently, we can think about how we balance our day-to-day short term focus with that longer term vision, especially as we prepare to get back to the grind of delivering shows. Note that I use grind in a more sport-oriented sense, in that it is a good thing to think of short term frequent deliverables to improve our game. We want consistent, leveled progress, preferring it over up and down swings. A grind increases daily focus, and continuous learning.


We can establish the what in our vision, by listing and refining where we are heading with a user/customer focus. Collaborate with the whole team to take advantage of that holiday energy renewal. Add some quantitative measurement, and keep it short, from 2 to 4 sentences, to give it punch. While refining, think of it like a lyric — its rhythm, it’s sound, it’s easy metaphoric meaning — and it can be motivational by merely repeating it out loud.

Listing out everything you want in the vision should be quite fast. The effort comes in refining it like a fine lyric, as mentioned above. Personally, I find in actual lyric editing in the midst of songwriting that it’s best to go with some gut thoughts at first writing them all down, and then sleep on it, refine and repeat. Don’t forget to record those brilliant thoughts you get in that morning shower right after awakening. So the refinement process could be scheduled over a couple of days, and enlist team members that are willing to grind on the refinement.


After refining what the vision is, we move onto the how, and this becomes an exercise in balance. Since a mission is often considered to be a statement of current purpose, while a vision is future looking, we might think of this as a balance of our mission and our vision. Another way to look at this is that the vision envelops the mission; it provides a guiding context for the mission and the roadmaps. In any case, in our daily grind we can think about how we might add tasks of continuous learning that balance our vision with our daily mission, which may be for example to put out the finest quality production work while delivering with consistent efficiency.

One of the ways to do this is to add specific vision related tasks, from brainstorming new workflow to improving technology in the pipeline. Schedule time for these sessions for each team, with the frequency dependent on amount of ambition in your vision. Once a week, every two weeks, or once a month. Perhaps split into categories and have separate meetings in each category once a month. Note that the energy these meetings typically provide more than offset the time taken away from immediate deliverables. In fact, the use of other parts of the brain may help with the problem solving activities that present themselves in the daily grind. It keeps the people happier and more fulfilled, and sparks collaboration in unanticipated ways.

Finally, share the team visions across departments to take these sparks into ignition of even brighter ideas through deeper collaboration. Fan those creative flames!

Healthy Production

Healthy Production Team Environment

A consistent, sustainable, frequent delivery production team is the goal. Even though productions may vary in length from months to years, the daily habits of the team affect flow efficiency, the progress of the deliverable results. A team driven by sugar will have swinging cycles of ups and downs that may look good temporarily at times during the upswings. But ultimately it can affect the stability of working with others in a group. And this group dynamic is the key to successful collaboration and true production effeciency.

Healthy Food

How many houses have you seen serving up big bowls of M&Ms to keep the junk-food starved production artists and TDs busy? Candy and other sugar-metabolizing junk foods detract from the health of team members over the course of a production. This can can be the real source of artist burnout, rather than the work and hours put into the work. I might even give it partial responsibility for crazy late-night production crunches. What time in the morning did the team start on that day? Were they tired from habitually bad eating habits?

Balance the diet with proteins and fats using fresh foods, and the ups and downs will lessen in their extremity. Furthermore, better nutrition makes for better sleep. Better sleep provides essential sleeping patterns that sustain productivity over the course of the production.

We know production team members may find more humor than glee in trying to adopt healthy habits, especially when it comes to food. Approach the nutritional change in an evolving, agile way, which may bring potentially distrustful, or recalcitrant team members along for the healthy ride. One snack, one meal, one healthy improvement of value at a time. Try chicken skewers or spring rolls for a late work snack. Leave raw nuts and seeds in place of the M&M jars. For more sustenance, try turkey and salmon jerky jars as well. Add raw crunch snacks with spicy flavors. Eliminate soda and replace with more natural electrolyte waters. In the morning, offer fresh-squeezed lemon, and minced ginger in hot water for a tea-equivalent cleanse before a breakfast with eggs. Bodies need protein to energize up for the day. Practice moderation and balance as these are gradually introduced.

Healthy Seating

Its not great to spend hours at a time in front of a computer. We have to move our bodies, adjust our seating. At the same time, we want focus we can sustain for bursts of productivity. Collaborative working can help remind us to bring our bodies along with the changes. For example, if using paired programming, the switch of the driver at the keyboard and the navigator can be accompanied with something that helps the body move, like a short walk around the office. Perhaps the navigator has a higher seat, or the driver has an adjustable seat for different leg and back positioning.

Healthy Movement

At or beyond your seat, we can do things to keep the body moving and aligned for health. Let’s examine a few.

  1. Scapular push up. Computer users often need work on their upper backs, neck and shoulders, after hours at the keyboard. Pinching and expanding the shoulder blades (scapula) can be done in many positions. Beginners can start positioning hands on a wall. Then progress to knee push-up position, finally to regular push-up position, where just the shoulder blade areas are worked. After getting familiar with this movement, one can also do it right in front of the desk placing hands on the edge of a desk and using the seat back to stabilize the back as you run through the shoulder blade motion.
  2. Cat, camel stretch. This is done with minimal space on the floor on all fours. In-hale while stretching your belly toward the floor finishing with a look forward, then exhale while letting the head drop and slowly reversing from the neck down to the pelvis as you imagine reaching your belly button through your body toward the ceiling. Once familiar with the movement, again this can be modified to be done somewhat from a seated position in restrictive office situations.
  3. Hip strengthening and stretches. If you sit for a large part of your day, chances are your hips are tightening, and if you don’t move your legs much, they are also weakening over time. Hip flexor stretches can be done standing up, or lying down on your back. Strengthening can be done by holding the knee higher than the waist in a variety of movements. I like a hip rotation move from standing position, where you lift your knee up and open it wide as your toe starts in a forward pointing direction and rotates to pointing out to the side as you rotate your hip and then place it down on the ground. Then reverse from the side to the front again. Repeat on each side of your body. You could also incorporate this into somewhat of a froggy walk forward or backwards.
  4. Lat, arm and shoulder stretches. Again from the upper back and neck, tightness can spread to your upper arm and shoulder muscles. Hug yourself across to the other side, then wrap your other arm around it. Then squeeze. Another arm stretch focusing on the latissimus dorsi (lats) is to put your hand behind your head, pointing your elbow up, then grab that elbow with the other hand from behind your head, and gently pull it across. You will feel the stretch in your upper arm, lat, and shoulder area.
  5. Head and neck rolls. Focusing on the neck can be a relaxing movement. You can do it right at your desk. Try tilting your head forward, then to the side, then back, then to the other side. Then gradually try to connect those positions with a head roll. When tilting your head to the left, think about lifting your chin to the right, and vice versa tilting it to the right.
  6. Dance and music-inspired movement sessions. Consider team bonding experiences while listening to music and doing some of these moves in sync with the rhythms. Add chest and hip isolations, rocking and stepping side to side in beat, and to inspire with some fun; try incorporating turns, and jumping and locking poses. Locking is sneaky good work on one’s core as a good lock requires quick strong stomach contractions. Note that creative problem-solving can also be increased when passion and endorphins are released from the movement and the music!

Agile Production

Agile Production

Announcing a new sister website dedicated to Agile Production, especially for visual effects and feature animation!

To start, it contains a series of blog posts suggesting how to apply “agile and lean” methodology to high tech film-making. It leverages many experiences which collect into an agile mindset, from self-improvement thinking, information-age corporate culture, and other experiences from performing to coaching.

We start with a defining summary, followed with posts on establishing mindset, culture, and then finally lay out potential practices.

In true agile form, this is being released well before it might be considered complete, but still worthwhile, as it may return value to the community immediately. It will continue to evolve.

The direct link to the Agile VFX Blog is here.