This section is about how to make the most out of Plumber through production workflows, departmental strategies, and asset management depending upon what type of project you are working on. While all of these ideas may not seem particularly relevent to all of your specific needs, they will spur on ideas fo your own. Whatever unique ideas you have, post them to the Plumber forums, or at least email .


Asset Workflow

Asset workflow is explained in detail in the

About Assets section. Whichever workflow you choose, you must remember that any changes to a Parent Component will not affect the Child Components in production UNLESS an asset is versioned. This is due to the Prod Puppet, or the Prod Surface. See About Assets: Components for more details. If an Asset has revisions made to the model after the Puppet is completed, merely Committing the Model will not be enough to update the Puppet.  The Puppet needs to Committed with the new Model in order for these changes to take place.


  • Referencing - Simply put, Referencing is the easiest way for changes in Upstream Components to be picked up.  However, when a Component is changed upstream, the changes are not automatically applied.  The updated Model will only be a part of the Puppet after the Puppet has been Edited and Committed to include the new Model. If revisions to the Model Component have created erratic performance/behavior in your most recent Puppet Version, you will need to RE-INITIATE the Puppet component and rebuild it from scratch.

  • Importing - Changes in upstream Components force you to remake the downstream components every time. A change in the Model will never be seen in the Puppet, unless the Puppet is RE-INITIATED.  With Referencing there is a chance that changes will work. With Importing, however, there are never any problems with history as a result of Referencing Inheritance.   Sometimes remaking a rig is quicker than trying to revise one with a new model that is having problems stemming from Referencing.


Production Department Workflow

This is a recommended basic shot flow for an animation project.  There are slight differences with tools and such, but these are the individual steps typically used in large scale productions.  It is not required that any or all of the default Departments be used.  Experience will be the best guide, but in lieu of personal experience, the default Departments are at least a good starting point a Full CG production.

1. Story
The initial take of the sequence, short or scene is usually done in Storyboard form.  The end result is typically a movie file of the storyboards (called an animatic), individual sound files for each shot, and individual elements of shot data – such as number of shots, their frame counts, etc.    There is a directory within the Plumber Show directory structure called edit:


This is conceived as a place where you can copy/save editorial movies/animatics of your project.  By adding a directory called sound, and editing the User Def Mel Scripts,  you can automate the loading of soundfiles for each shot based on a standardized naming convention. The Edit directory can be used as a place to save files related to editing, such as Adobe Premiere projects, and exported movies.  This is also the place to keep any text data relating to shots, such as frame counts.

2. Rough Layout (RLO)
This is where the shot elements are first assembled.  At this point some form of the key assets should be available.   While RLO determines composition and sets shot length, it is also the stage at which files are prepped for animation.  Asset planning is also initially done at this point.

3. Animation

This is, of course, where the animation of all characters and non-static props occurs.  The sets that animation uses should be simple, with only the elements needed for animation.

4. Final Layout/Set Dressing
This can be done before animation is finished – or even in tandem with animation.  This is the step where the final set elements are put together.  Highly detailed elements will hinder animation, so it is generally best if Set Dressing not get into animation files.  LODs can be used to allow Set Dressing to progress.


5. Effects
After the animation is done, elements as needed for effects are generated.  If a character is animated going through a glass window, here is where the window gets broken and reacts to the character’s body.  Any cloth simulations can be done here, or perhaps in Shot Finaling.


6. Shot Finaling
This is the final pre-render stage.  Any strange deformation issues or creases on geometry are fixed here.  Cloth sims and final camera tweaks based on the final elements are done here, too.  If final props intersect with characters, they get fixed, as do any compositional issues as a result of the final changes and additions.


7. Lighting

Lighting is a department that will determine many workflows.  For example, some workflows use the Puppet to create what is essentially a blend shape/morph object for an unskinned Surface.   Sets may have their own lighting setups, while the characters will each have their own light rig.  Of course they will need to be rendered separately from one another and then composited.  Using LODs to create specific versions of assets with lighting elements is one option.


8. Compositing

The merging of all rendered layers and elements using a separate package, such as After Effects, to create the final image sequence of the shot.


Using Plumber in Team/Group Projects


Plumber is a system created to enable collaborative work. While sometimes all the artists on a project are working together in the same computer network, this isn't always the case. With Plumber, group projects are possible with artists working together or remotely.



Artists Networked Together

Plumber can be used to great efficiency when making a project where every artist is on the same computer network.  In fact, this is what it is designed for.   There needs to be only one Plumber Repository since each Artist will have access to the same tools and preferences.  Artists will not conflict with each other if they try to save a take/version of the same Shot/Asset at the same time.   It is probably best to have a dedicated drive for the Repository.

Artists Working Remotely/Separately

If working on a team project where the artists are NOT networked together, Plumber can still be used, but some rules need to be followed.  First of all, the Plumber Repository MUST be in a place that everyone can replicate on their machine.  For example, since basically every Windows based computer has a C: drive.  If everyone installs Plumber with the repository  at C:/groupProject/ then everyone can work together.


Every Asset in Repository has their own directory, with all of the files for all of the LODs are contained within that directory.  As long each artists have the repository set up from the same base directory,  they will all see the Char Assets contained in the directory below:



Thus, the directories for any asset can be copied to the individual repositories of ANY artist on the project, even thought the machines are separate. The same is true of Sequences, Shots and Departments in shot work.  For Shot work, as long as the base paths to the repository are the same, each user can copy/replace the Departmental directory with a copy of the directory from another use and both Repositories will consistent.


To work remotely, consider having one artist’s Repository as the golden repository.  When changes have been made, the newly updated Asset, Sequence, Shot or Department directories can be Zipped into a file, and ftped/emailed to the  Keeper of the Repository.  The Keepr can then email the update to the other artists.


Communication between other project members is key if working together remotely.  Individual responsibilities MUST be handed out and respected.  Individual artists cannot make unique versions of assets that differ from those that others are using.  It may be common sense,  but keep communication open when working with remote project mates.


Using LODs and Sets Effectively

LODs can be switched using the Plumber Spreadsheet, and they can help you out in many ways.  They will save Load time, help keep memory available, and the allow different departments to work on the same shot at the same time.  These are just a few examples/ideas to get you started.  As you use Plumber more you will create your own strategies and workflows.  Please share them with the Plumber community.



Simplified LOD Versions of Assets for Animation

Using LODs to save off simpler assets for speeding up interaction with Maya is one way to work more efficiently.  Creating a Puppet with geometry that is parented to bones instead of skinned will definitely speed up animator interactivity.  If there is a prop that is needed for the Animator to work around, create a simpler version that has less geometry than the final asset.  Your animators will thank you.

LODs for Multiple Costumes for a Single Character

If you have a character that has either multiple costumes, or has a wet/dirty mode, create the other “Looks”/costumes as different LODs.  A single, simplified rig (mentioned above) can be used to drive all the other Looks while preventing animators from having to learn a new rig for each costume change.  If you are working on multiple characters for crowd systems, they can all be different LODs of one asset.  That will save a lot of time.

LODs for Stand-in Geometry

Sometimes, early in production the design/modeling work has not been done on assets that are needed to begin Layout.  Making an LOD for stand in props will allow an Asset to be throughout the lifetime of a shot.   It can get positioned early in the shot process.  When the final Asset is created as a secondary LOD, after it is switched in the Spreadsheet it will go to the same position as the stand-in.

LODs in Sets for Set Dressing

Set Dressing is usually done at the same time as animation in order to save production time.  However, how can you dress a set that is currently being used by another department?  With LODs, you can create an LOD of a Set Asset that is used by Animation, and then you can create another to be used by Lighting.  If you are dressing a shot that takes place in an office, perhaps Layout and Animation both need only the desk, chair, walls and floor.  You can make a Set Asset named “Office” that is made up of those four elements.  Then create another LOD that has those elements, as well as the pens, tape, wall hangings, light fixtures, filing cabinets, phone, computer, etc.  Since the Animator is working on a shot with the original LOD, they will never see the changes you are making.  After their animation is completed, however, merely use the Spreadsheet to change the LOD of the Office to the Set Dressed one, and you’re ready to send the shot to Lighting.

LODs in Sets For Set Changes

In the same way as Characters can have costume changes, a Location may be used at multiple times during a project – each time with changes.  Keep the same Set Asset, but make a new LOD for set changes.  For example, the set might be used once before the Party scene when it is all decorated and clean, and another the next morning when it has been trashed.

Efficient Sets: Using Multiple Set Assets to Create One Set

It is sometimes easier to break a set up into several Set Assets that are areas/parts of a bigger set that won’t be visible all the time. If we use the Office as an example again, we may only see two walls at a time, depending on which direction we are looking.  We could make five Set Assets that are each parts of the completed Office.  One Set Asset could be Office_North, and would contain all of the elements against the north wall, including the wall itself.  Office_South would only have the components and walls on the South side.  It is pretty easy to create multiple set Assets for working this way.

Bring in all the elements for the full set -– the entire Office -– and position them all to make the complete set. When Committing the Sub-Set Asset –- Office_North --, choose only the assets you want as a part of the Sub-Set you are creating.   For example, do not select the Assets that make up the South side of the office for Office_North. In the outliner, Unparent all of the Assets from the Puppet node that was just created as the top node of the Set Asset. Now, repeat the process by Committing a different Sub Set Asset by choosing other assets to make the Sub Set.


Keying Assets in Sets To Lock Position

While it is sometimes nice to be able to “cheat” Assets in Set Assets (change their position for a one-off shot), you can prevent this from happening accidentally by keying the controls of the Assets that make up the set BEFORE Committing the Asset.