Futureproofing Visual Effects

Challenges and Strategies for Preserving Digital Assets and Records


Digital visual effects (VFX), including computer animation, have become a commonplace feature of contemporary episodic and film production projects. Using various commercial applications and bespoke tools, VFX artists craft digital objects (known as “assets”) to create visual elements such as characters and environments, which are composited together and output as shots.

While the shots that make up the finished film or television (TV) episode are maintained and preserved within purpose-built digital asset management systems and repositories by the studios commissioning the projects; the wider VFX network currently has no consistent guidelines nor requirements around the digital curation of VFX digital assets and records. This includes a lack of guidance about how to effectively futureproof digital VFX and preserve it for the long-term.

In this paper I provide a case study – a single shot from a 3D animation short film – to illustrate the complexities of digital VFX assets and records and the pipeline environments whence they are generated. I also draw from data collected from interviews with over 20 professional VFX practitioners from award-winning VFX companies, and I undertake socio-technical analysis of VFX using actor-network theory. I explain how high data volumes of digital information, rapid technology progression and dependencies on software pose significant preservation challenges.

In addition, I outline that by conducting holistic appraisal, selection and disposal activities across their entire digital collections, and by continuing to develop and adopt open formats; the VFX industry has improved capability to preserve first-hand evidence of their work in years to come.

Research Papers