Stumbling Toward 'Awesomeness'

A Technical Art Blog

Monday, June 30, 2014

Wasted Time, Sunken Cost, and Working In a Team



Let’s say that you want to do something, like watch a movie. When you arrive and open your wallet to purchase a 10 dollar ticket, you notice you have lost a 10 dollar bill, the majority of people buy a movie ticket anyway (88%).

Let’s examine a slightly different situation, where you arrive at the theater, but have misplaced your ticket, would you go buy another? Studies show that a majority of people (54%) would not re-purchase a ticket and watch the film. The situations are the same, but in the first, you lost 10 dollars, it wasn’t associated with the movie, in the second, you lost your ticket, 10 dollars that was specifically allotted to that task, and loss sucks.

This is a great example of the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Kahneman and Tversky are two researchers who have spent a lot of their careers looking at loss aversion and decision theory. The bottom line is, it’s human nature that the more you invest in something, the harder it is to abandon it. As a Technical Artist, you will find yourself in a position where you are the decision-maker, don’t let your ape ancestors trick you into making a poor decision.

..since all decisions involve uncertainty about the future the human brain you use to make decisions has evolved an automatic and unconscious system for judging how to proceed when a potential for loss arises. Kahneman says organisms that placed more urgency on avoiding threats than they did on maximizing opportunities were more likely to pass on their genes. So, over time, the prospect of losses has become a more powerful motivator on your behavior than the promise of gains. Whenever possible, you try to avoid losses of any kind, and when comparing losses to gains you don’t treat them equally. – You Are Not So Smart



As a Technical Artist in a position to lead or direct a team, you will often be the person signing off tools or features you and your team have requested. How many times have you been in the following situation:

A feature or tool is requested. Joe, a genius ‘lone wolf’ programmer receives the task, he is briefed and told to update the customers periodically or ask them in the case he needs any clarification. Now, sometimes what happens is what my brother likes to call ‘The Grand Reveal’. It’s where, for whatever reason, Joe sits in his corner working hard on a task, not involving anyone, and on the last day he valiantly returns from the mountain top and presents something that is unfortunately neither really what was requested or needed.

In this situation, you get together with his Lead and point out that what is delivered is not what was requested, he will more than likely reply “But Joe spent four weeks on this! Surely we can just use this until Joe can later rework it?”

No, you really can’t. Joe needs to know he works on a team, that people rely on his work. Nothing gets people to deliver what they are supposed to next time like being forced to redo their work. I guarantee you next time Joe will be at your teams desks any time he has a question about the tool or feature he is working on. You know the needs of your project or team, it’s important that you do not compromise those because someone wasted time running off in the wrong direction or has problems working in a team.

I’m sure Joe is a really smart guy, but he’s also now four weeks behind.



Anything that is wasted effort represents wasted time. The best management of our time thus becomes linked inseparably with the best utilization of our efforts.
– Ted Engstrom


A Feature Brief is a one page document that serves as a contract between the person requesting a feature and the one implementing it. My Feature Briefs outline three main things:

  1. A short description of the feature or tool
  2. It’s function – how does it work, what are the expected results
  3. It’s justification – why is it needed? What is the problem that is needed to be solved.

It’s important that work not begin until both parties agree on all terminology and requests in the feature brief -again, treat it as a contract. And it’s worth mentioning that Feature Briefs aren’t always needed, but they’re a great way to make sure that goals are clearly defined, everyone’s on the same page, and leave zero wiggle room for interpretation. Here is an example Feature Brief for the first Pose Driver we developed at Crytek.


Work with Joe’s Lead or Manager to set up ‘Gates’, it’s important that he get the feedback as early as possible if he’s going down the wrong track. I understand that bothering people halfway through a task may not be kosher in Agile development, but never just assume that someone will deliver what you need on the last day of a sprint.


Break down the goal into tasks whose progress can be reviewed, it’s important that you, the primary stakeholder, are involved in signing off these gates. Any gated process is only as useful as the person signing off the work, the above comic may seem harsh, but it’s vitally important that the stakeholder is involved in reviewing work. Joe’s manager has a vested interest in Joe moving on to his next tasks, you have a vested interest in the tool or feature being what your team, the company, and whomever else needs.

Perhaps Joe will first present an outline, or maybe after taking a detailed look at the problem, Joe has a better solution he would like to pitch and you all agree to change the Feature Brief. The next gate would be to evaluate a working prototype. You probably know a lot about the feature as you requested it –are there any gotchas, any things that just wont work or have been overlooked? Last is usually a more polished implementation and a user interface.



If Joe has a Lead or Manager, check with them, no need to bother Joe, that’s what the others are there for. If you ask them details about where he’s at, more often than not they will offer for you to speak with him or get you an update. It’s just important to understand that if Joe delivers something that’s not what you need, it’s your fault too. Joe is only a genius in the trenches, it’s your job to make sure that he’s not barking up the wrong tree and wasting company time. It may be tempting, but never allow these guys to shoot themselves in the foot, if you think he’s not on the right track, you need to do something about it. Even without gated development, frequently check the progress of items that are important to you. The atmosphere should be that of a relay race, you are ready to accept the baton, and it needs to be what was agreed upon or you all fail.



More-often-than-not, whatever Joe did in the time he had allotted is going to be what you ship with. If you agree he will return to address the issues later, make sure that when this doesn’t happen, your team can still be successful. Nothing should be higher priority than a mistake that holds up another team. I am sure you feel this way when it’s your team, when a rig update from last week is causing all gun holster keys to be lost on animation export, it’s important to address that before new work. The same can be said for Joe’s work, don’t make it personal, he is now behind, your guys are relying on him, and it should be high priority for him to deliver the agreed upon work.

posted by Chris at 12:02 AM  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Undersea Creatures, 2013

After Ryse wrapped, Colleen and I went diving in Asia for a month. I finally finished the epic After Effects project, srsly.. not for the faint of heart, I think I had over 200 layers. So yeah, my love for creatures has completely enveloped my spare time as well.

Colleen shot roughly half of this, while I am fiddling around with my aperture and strobes, she’s already gotten a video of the thing doing a backflip while waving to the camera. The little frogfish yawning, the tozeuma shrimp changing directions, and others are all hers..

posted by Chris at 1:05 AM  

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