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RA “Mandarin” – Case Study

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This month, Konstantin Kharitonov talks to Dmitrii Filippov of Mandarin Ad Agency.

Konstantin Kharitonov: Hi!

Dmitrii Filippov: Hi to you too! (smiles). Is everything ok? Any trouble with the armed men?

K.Kh.: No, not this time, everything is fine! But let’s be honest, things are pretty strict around here… Maybe a little too strict…

D.F.: Well, we aren’t selling pastry around here. TV is serious business.

K.Kh.: Maybe we should start on that subject? Tell me a little about your company. What do you specialise in? Who are your clients? Or is that a state secret? (Smiles)

D.F.: First and foremost, we are an advertising agency, although lately we have been branching out. Lately, I myself have taken on a large number of various projects that have nothing to do with advertising. There are jobs that have to do with the production of video clips and all kinds of 3D stuff for advertising. These days I mostly work with the movie industry, animation, 3D, and everything to do with mass-media entertainment. Our clients are primarily the kind of people who are interested in projects that are ‘out of this world’, original and unusual. These people want to change TV-viewers for the best, to make them go ‘Wow!’ at the key moments, when in fact they are sitting on a couch eating popcorn. We are interested in the viewer, the clients are interested in the viewer, and it is in the viewer’s interest to say ‘Wow!’ more often. That’s how we live: it’s all in the name of the viewer.

K.Kh.: How very humanitarian of you! What kind of projects are you working on right now?

D.F.: At the moment, all our ‘Chinese armies’ are toiling away on animation for the ‘Big Race’ project on Channel One. The channel has recently bought new equipment that allows them to air unusual ads and previews at the bottom of the frame. Basically, if we say that a single shot is the frame, we can stick an image at the bottom of the frame – this can be something in 3D, it can be a video-clip – some kind of interactive on-screen graphic that tells you that in, say, 5 minutes you can enjoy the latest movie ‘Boom!’. And other stuff like that. It sounds like a pretty straightforward way to do this, but I haven’t seen anything like that yet. Or, rather, I’ve seen some, but they are not quite right… we need something new! So we’re want to suggest something crazy, unusual, flashy! I won’t talk about future projects, though, I don’t want to jinx it.

K.Kh.: And that’s alright, no need to do that yet. We’ll see for ourselves when the time comes. Meanwhile, tell us how things got started, when did major projects start to roll in and you decided you needed specialised software to manage them?

D.F.: Truth be told, it all began a long time ago, way before I got involved with production. I had only just joined the TV-center. Back then, we wanted to fully automate the production of TV-programmes. Cerebro didn’t exist yet, but there were a few major project management apps. To work with them, you had to have a room-full of weird servers running Oracle. It cost an arm and a leg and you really needed an advanced degree in rocket science to use them. Before pressing the ‘Power’ button, you had to read through a million-page-long manual under close supervision from specially trained engineers… After a year or two, we began to produce 3D and video. We became a full-service agency and I saw this great word on the Internet – ‘Cerebro’. I logged on to the web-site, watched a video, it was very clear and easy to understand. I was really glad to find it, because at that moment I really needed something like that – I had staff working all over the country and the world, and it was a lot more convenient to have everything in one app, without FTP and other concoctions from the previous century. We were working on some TV advert then, so we gathered everyone and started to communicate through Cerebro.

K.Kh.: What criteria did Cerebro fit for you?

 D.F.: Well, I may be wrong, but right now I don’t know about any other software that can work with every kind of media. I mean, yes, there are some bugs in iOS, which I’ve mentioned before (on the Cerebro Facebook Page – ed.), but to be honest that’s not a problem. I always have my wonderful Mac with me, and I can always open any video people send to me. Basically, if you have Cerebro, you have a live link-up with everyone who works with you. But we understand that you can’t set a link-up unless there is a TV on each end. In this case the ‘TV’ is your laptop, and everything depends on how much effort you have put into it. The more advanced it is, the better Cerebro works. If your laptop supports all sizes of video, all possible formats, and so on, if you have thousands of codecs installed, than there will never be a problem, and everything is really simple. Although I still don’t get why .RAR files are opened with the VLC player, but that’s not the point…

K.Kh.: We are currently working on a new codec, AVC, which is used by VLC. That way, we will finally be able to provide full support for every kind of AVI and all Windows Media files. But still, why did you choose Cerebro in the end?

D.F.: The main reason I chose Cerebro is that I have a Mac myself and it’s very difficult to find software that works well on a Mac. But here I found a fully competitive product that I am very happy with. And the best thing is that it works on Macs, iPhones, and iPads.

K.Kh.: How did your employees, freelancers, and clients react to Cerebro? How long did it take them to get used to it? What problems were there?

D.F.: It’s a well known fact that we live in a country of contrasts, and no innovation can be introduced without problems. There will always be some generation that will say: ‘We don’t need this, we’d rather keep working the old way, on paper, with pencils’… You just need to come up with an explanation that makes people feel personally invested in the change. You can’t just tell someone that in the name of corporate morale and team spirit they need to get to grips with the basics of this software called Cerebro. No. You need to make them understand that this really is simple and useful, that it will significantly speed up not only the production process, which is something that no-one but the manager needs, but also the employee’s personal work process and their connection to the outside world. You don’t need to use e-mails, upload files to FTP, come up with dozens of passwords, and so on. Of course, at the moment the Internet connection can be a little slow, but I think this is just a matter of time: the Internet is growing like crazy, and soon enough gigabytes will download to your laptop in the blink of an eye. And Cerebro is an important part of this process.

K.Kh.: Do you use the drawing function, text and audio commenting?

D.F.: To be honest, I began my career as a copywriter, creating advertising concepts, working out original synergies in ads, all kinds of things to do with words. It’s easier for me to explain something in writing than by talking to people. In any case, when you use audio commenting, people don’t see you. You can’t point your finger to this or that details. But I do use the drawing function sometimes. When we worked on the ‘Big Race’, we had very tight deadlines and really didn’t have enough time to get to know all the functions, but I’ve gotten the hang of it, more or less, – the Gant diagrams and all the other stuff, even though I didn’t really have time for all this administrative work. Ideally, I think, there should be a special person who would oversee this and who would know the app from top to bottom. Then I could just come to them and say, ‘Peter, we launched a project today, we have so-and-so many employees, so-and-so many subtasks, the budget for each employee is this, etc.’ And he would then get everything in order and let me know the figures.

K.Kh.: Well, we’ve found that people like that are usually ‘Mary’ rather than ‘Peter’. People that create and assign tasks, who are called project coordinators, they are usually female. I don’t know why, but this is the case in any large company.

D.F.: I’ll keep that in mind.

K.Kh.: Tell us, have any of your clients switched to Cerebro?

D.F.: Yes, why wouldn’t they? For example, we had this situation with the Russia State Lottery. The staff there are all very active, the sales manager and the brand manager, they all got the hang of Cerebro in a hurry, as they say. We uploaded the project and began talking through Cerebro straight away, they commented on our work. This really speeds up the process, because you see comments and responses live and not when it’s too late, there’s no turning back, and the project is an ‘epic fail’. If you don’t have Cerebro, you try to avoid sending materials as much as possible, so, basically, you get some frame of reference, then you send the mid-way result, and then the composited result, and that’s it. The client doesn’t see anything else. Here, you have subcategories: you have modellers, you have artists, compositors, animators… One way or another, they all depend on each other, and they send each other materials, and the client can see all of this and comment on the production process. There is, however, one giant drawback – as a rule, the client has no understanding whatsoever of the creative process. So, if they see a piece of animation that hasn’t been composited yet, they can have a fit, thinking we’re ‘useless’.

K.Kh.: Well… Generally, it would be better to only give clients limited access, not the same as for employees. Then the client will only see those messages that have been set as ‘Client Visible’. Of course, this can only be set by the project manager, not just any employee, and the manager can decide, what they want to show to the client. Speaking of this, what do you think we need to work on? What do we need to improve?

D.F.: I am a huge fan of Apple, and I’m used to seeing my desktop and my computer as a whole as something interactive. If I move my mouse to the left edge, there’s a light on the left, if I move it to the right – there’s a light on the right, everything is so interactive and user friendly. The whole thing is there to make people love it and enjoy it. Your entire work is like a game, like a quest. Really, though, I’m completely satisfied with Cerebro as it is. I think that Cerebro is really cool. I don’t really see the need to add feature after feature. So, ok, I may need a MOV file without compression using the Pro-res422 codec, but it’s just as likely no-one else needs it. So why add it to Cerebro?

K.Kh.: I see. By the way, we will release a SDK soon and people will be able to add whatever they need. So, for example, if you attach a Pro-res to a message, Cerebro will automatically create a MOV and put it there, so that people who don’t have Pro-res can see it.

D.F.: Well, I don’t really see the point of tinkering like that, because I have a Mac. Macs are very intuitive, they don’t really force you into anything. To open a Word document, you don’t need to do a million pointless things, you always have this large W button at the bottom of the screen. You just click it, and that’s it. I think it should be the same way here – if someone needs something, they can install it separately. We are not playing Tetris here, we are making important decisions and solving difficult problems – you can just help us and not overload us with a hundred more features that only give me a headache. You know, one guy I really respect once told me: ‘Dima, your generation is a generation of trade experts: no-one knows the innovations of the digital market like you do! And you can’t really think of anything new. But you can come up with original things! Then, maybe, you don’t need to be so obsessed with innovation? Maybe you just need to do things that attract attention?’

K.Kh.: That’s pretty good! There’s also this saying: ‘The key to success is simplicity’. Let’s always remember these wise words!

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