The first tool I’m going to talk about is actually the first one here that I was introduced to… PureRef.
PureRef is fairly simple; it’s just a canvas that allows you to collate images and create moodboards, which you can then use as a reference when creating whatever it is that you are working on. You are also then able to save these boards so that you can come back to them later or transfer them to fellow team members.
One of the main aspects of PureRef is its “Always On Top” mode, so that your board, containing your reference images, is always visible while you are working, rather than having to keep pulling up a separate window.
Here’s a screenshot of a material I created for my third-year project, Singularity, and how I utilised PureRef to help make it. Being able to check if the forms I was creating matched up to my real-life references efficiently was a big deal throughout the project for me and I would say, for reasons like this, PureRef is a must-have.
Next up, OnTopReplica. What this tool does is capture window content in real-time and display it over the top of whatever you are doing, in the form of a resizable window. You are able to specify the capture to a specific zone of the window, meaning you can crop out any unnecessary info.
The main thing that makes this tool worth using, rather than just using PureRef, is that, due to it capturing in real-time it also works with video! So if you’re working on an animation and have a video reference of an animal or person, you can set that footage to loop and keep it on top of your animation software while you work. The same can apply if you’re working on certain types of VFX.
Honestly, my main use of OnTopReplica is a bit more fun; As it works with video, that also means it works with Youtube and Streaming Services. Being able to have something on as background noise that I can glance at ever so often while I’m working is a big preference for me when I need to zone out and work in long sessions.
Also, if you only have one monitor, or are already using up all your screen space, you can still have a show on while you work, overlaid in a small, convenient window. Just be wary of how easily distracted you get. Figure out what works best for you.
Out of the software I’ve mentioned, Miro is the most recent one I have used and I’ve only used it a little due to learning about it within the past few months, however, it’s one I’d definitely use in the future and advise for any team project as it has a lot of potential.
There are many advantages to using Miro when it comes to team projects. It can be used to create moodboards that are visible to everyone in the team (who is part of the board) and the images can also be downloaded so that someone can then use the images while creating an asset for the project.
This can help manage and maintain the art direction of a project can then see what images are being used and also draw over the images to indicate which elements they want to be replicated. This process can also work for feedback, posting images and the Art Director can draw over and leave comments for you to refer back to.
Miro also has “Frames”, which are boxes that contain part of the board and the title of the frame will be listed in the side panel. You can then click on the frame in the side panel and the board viewport will jump to that frame, making navigating the space much easier, especially as the project grows and the board becomes busier and busier.
Imagine you’ve gathered a bunch of images before you make something and want your Art Director to check them over before you start making them. You can put them on the board and add a frame, then your Art Director can easily jump to them and give their input.
You can also embed hyperlinks on images and text allowing you to link to tutorials, google drive folders or any other links relevant to your project, allowing the board to act as a central hub for your project..
I highly recommend looking into it. I used it briefly for a project I was planning to work on and found it really useful for organising links and reference images.
At least to me, this one is a must-have no matter what you do. PowerToys is an addon that contains experimental Windows features and some of them are amazing. I’ll go through a few of the ones I like to use.
Always On Top
Pretty self-explanatory. Introduces a shortcut to set any window to always be on top. I’ve got some use out of this when using a calculator and having to click through things as it means I don’t need to keep pulling the calculator back up every time.
This adds a shortcut to pull up a colour picker so you can get the colour codes of any pixel on your screen. Can be fairly useful for choosing colours out of images for a colour palette or setting colours in a piece of software.
I normally use this one to quickly down-res images if they are too large to upload to a certain platform. It’s quick and easy to use, rather than opening the image in editing software and making it smaller.
If you’ve already heard of PowerToys, it’s probably because of this tool. Windows, by default, allows you to snap windows to the left or right sides of your monitor, or even the corners.
What Fancy Zones does is allow you to set up custom snapping zones where you can drop windows into by holding shift. By holding shift+ctrl, you can drag the window over multiple zones and the window will occupy the selected zones.
I use this when I need to manage many different web-pages. My main monitor is split into three columns and I’ll normally have the document I’m typing on taking up two of those columns and the browser that I’m using for research taking up the remaining one.
So there we have it. My four go-to productivity tools I like to use while I’m working. I hope you found this information helpful and get some use out of the tools that have aided me.
By James Snell (MArt The Art of Video Games)