Link to Home Moments in Software-Production Interaction

JP Lewis
names omitted to protect the guilty

(an earlier version of this document appeared in the
Siggraph01 R&D into Production course notes)

A facility had a software help phone number, to which each programmer was assigned on a rotating basis. Programmers shared offices. When one particular programmer answered the phone, we would usually hear
(silence for a while as the artist explains the issue)
"Why would you want to do that?"

A software TD was working with a program that had a large number of parameters controlling appearance, and there were a number of objects; in total perhaps a hundred parameters were involved. The program was introduced to a supervisor, who responded by calling an urgent meeting. In the meeting he said there should only be THREE PARAMETERS: color, size, and one other. The software TD removed all the remaining parameters. A few weeks later the supervisor called the programmer into another urgent meeting, because there was too little control over the look.

"I never had any problem finding the soft dev person on our show. At the end of the day I'd always run into him when I was walking out the door."

In the early stages of the particle software for our show, we'd get together with our soft dev person to see the progress. He'd show us a bunch of vectors moving around and ask "What do you think?" We would ask in reply "Are you making fun of us?"

"All I wanted was a plug-in for our tracking software. What I got was a two year plan for writing our own tracking software."

A particular show was using custom software to produce its signature effect. The show and its effect were recognized at an industry conference, and an effects supervisor gave presentations showcasing the work. At an internal meeting he said that he never wanted to use custom software again.

A programmer was working literally every possible waking hour to produce the signature software for a show, staying at a nearby hotel rather than at home to avoid commuting, etc. On his birthday his colleagues arranged a surprise party for him because he had been working so hard, but he was told that he could not leave to go to the party.

``You guys get away with murder.'' -- A visual effects supervisor, speaking of the software team.

A software company sent around an announcement saying that their new feature would be shown at Siggraph, but it wasn't. Two years later, they told us that their new feature would be ready in time for Siggraph...

A particular program was requiring massive resources, both time and memory. Speeding the program up had been on the production's to-do list for months. The particular program ran on shared memory multiprocessor machines. A consultant with experience in the esoteric cache/processor interactions on these machines was called in, and he quickly wrote a simulation program that showed some simple reorganization could speed the program up by a dramatic factor (like 10,000), since it was spending most of its time waiting to lock down memory in order to write. Production was asked whether they wanted to have the consultant spend several days making this fix. They didn't.

A programmer wrote an interface with a help button next to each command. A CG supervisor said to the program author that he didn't think the artists would read the help text. A second programmer interjected that "at a minimum we should expect literacy from our artists".

Compositors were complaining that the 3D elements they received were not lit properly, so a software TD was assigned to investigate. The software TD asked one of the responsible artists, "what color space are you working in? Are the background plates linear?" The artists responded, "what space are you talking about? This is MAYA SPACE!"

More color consistency troubles, and once again someone was assigned to investigate. The investigator found that one artist had his monitor gamma correction arbitrarily set to 0.8 and the color balance set to a strong green. The investigator told the artist that he needed to use the latest standard lookup table. The artist said "no, it hurts my eyes when I surf the web."

A programmer was given about four months to develop a complicated effect; he said that he could complete a version in this time. After working on it for three weeks, the production asked to see it work on a ``test'' that was comparable to the most difficult shot in the film. The programmer protested that it was absurd to demonstrate something that wasn't scheduled to be finished for another 4 months, but they responded that after the test was done the programmer would be given time to write the code.

A new production coordinator was trying to reign in the schedules on a particular production. He asked each of the programmers how long they would take to finish the task they were working on, without troubling to understand the tasks, and knowing nothing about software development. One programmer said "I don't know yet" several times, which rubbed the production coordinator the wrong way of course.
Thereafter the coordinator was riding the programmer, asking every day for a rigid estimate, still without knowing what it was that was being developed. One day the programmer was finished, and proudly called the coordinator over to show that his code was now working. He showed the coordinator a green screen, all green, nothing else. To the programmer this was sufficient proof that the software was working -- the program being some kind of format decoder, and passing green though the system was an adequate test. You can guess the coordinator's reaction to this. He then stormed off and complained to the president and other senior staff about those nasty people that were "riding code" (his term for "writing code").

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