07 Mar CASE STUDY: SILA SVETA
Cerebro resumes publishing interviews with representatives of corporate customers.
We will talk with producers, project managers, and other industry professionals. Another interview features Vadim Vinogorov from the Sila Sveta interactive media studio.
— I was a going to get a technical degree at the Bonch-Bruevich University of St. Petersburg, but I did not graduate, because I started my own business. I launched a small advertising agency, mainly focused on branding and website development. Three or four years later I realized that the work was too monotonous. So I went to ASCREEN, a major system integrator, where we were developing various interactive installations and projection mapping projects as well. Basically, we were dealing with museum projects. Those were installations of various scales, from applications for interactive tables to major mapping projects. After working as a producer, I became a production director in three or four months and got down to key projects, distributing tasks for all the other producers. Four years later I got a job proposal from CEO Denis Astakhov to fill a similar position in Sila Sveta. It was promising, since Sila Sveta was already pretty famous at the time. So I moved and now I work here.
— And how was Sila Sveta established?
— Alexey Rozov and Alexandr Us founded the company in 2008. They were doing slide projects; it was them who did projection mapping on the buildings of St. Petersburg Exchange and the Ostankino tower. Everything was, well, quick and dirty: they were the first in this market back then. Then commercial orders started to flow in. So the guys managed to break away from garage production and hire people to create increasingly complex pictures and images. The company has grown and now employs more than 50 people. Almost all of them are designers who make all our content. We have two branches; one is in Red October, Moscow, and the other one is in Los Angeles. Now we are mostly promoting the US office, as the number of international projects is growing every year.
— How many people work in the US office now?
— About four people, mostly managers. All production is based in Russia, but sometimes we send people on business trips. Technicians and supervisors go and do everything needed done, then come back.
— What about your projects, which was the latest one?
— A presentation of Audi A5 was one of the most recent; it was a collab with a department agency and the guys from Interactive Lab. For us it was a challenge, an entirely new experience. The project was complicated and exciting, because we managed to use tracking for the first time. The presentation took place in a large hangar, there was this car equipped with sensors, and cameras stood on top. We were projecting on the floor and tracking the car as it was moving across the hangar. This video is coming soon. The project’s main challenge was to integrate our classic content, created and rendered using our standard pipeline, with the interactive part. We also had a motorized screen. All in all, there was a whole lot of interesting stuff, like lasers and lighting.
— And what are the main difficulties when making projects?
— As we are mostly working with event design, the main problem is tight deadlines. We only have 2-3 weeks to produce a world-class result. We always work fast, so we must hone our solutions or make them as visually accurate and eye-catching as possible.
— And how do employees cope with these difficulties and meet such deadlines?
— When the deadline comes, we spend the night in the studio, then hand over the project and rejoice (laughs). Overall, the schedule is really tight. Once a month, we hand something over, work overtime, and then let everyone take a breather. When people come to us, they understand that Sila Sveta has a lot of work, but they also know that we have a large pool of projects and a wide profile of tasks. This is what makes it interesting. You can work on a demanding project for two or three weeks, then take three days to manage a more balanced task. When you’ve had some rest and recovered, you can once again dive into a project, which will be a global reference in a couple of months. Just to create a sense of belonging to something big and beautiful.
— Tell us about your main customers.
— Basically, we have three markets: Russia, US, and China. In China, all projects deal with presentations of cars and we work through various agencies. In the US, we have different contacts; we cooperate with creative agencies that outsource concert and artistic performance design projects. In Russia, there is a mixture of all; we work both with agencies and with direct customers. We have a wide range of activities, including state orders and museum exhibitions. Among the latest ones, we did a show for the Museum of War.
— Are there any non-commercial projects you are just as excited to do?
— Yes, we do non-profit projects, too. Among the latest funny ones was Train Mapping, when we were projecting on trains passing by the Rodnya club, like pranksters. Now the project is widely used for reference. In summer, we made an original performance at America’s Got Talent, and it was our own initiative. As a result, we made it to the third round. Every year we participate in the Outline festival. Unfortunately, it was cancelled this summer. But next time we’ll come up with something cool.
— How did the Russian team manage to get aboard a US-based project?
— It was kind of a miracle (laughs). I think we were noticed because of our good visual component. We are gradually entering other markets. China was basically an accident. They saw our presentation of cars and used it as a reference, then offered us to work with them. We create a visually appealing picture and thus draw attention to ourselves. Because you don’t have to know the language to understand that Swan Lake is a beautiful story that can be told by images.
— How do your designers find inspiration for such a difficult task?
— We have strong creative staff and strong art direction. Alexandr Us as a creative director pulls everyone along. We have high internal quality standards. For all projects, the internal requirements of our art direction by far exceed the requirements of the customers themselves.
— How do you develop communication, how do you solve problems within the team and during the projects?
— The company has a project-oriented structure. There is a large pool of designers, who are chosen by supervisors and art directors for different teams. Each project gets its own team that performs certain tasks. Supervisor, manager, and art director are those who cover all internal and external communications and process management, including budgeting, shooting, and setup. Also, each of the three divisions has a design director, who is in charge of all art directors, there is a head of managers, who is in charge of all managers, and there is a production director, who is in charge of all supervisors—it’s me. If something happens, each of us takes part in the process.
— When it comes to concept visualization, how do you try to explain it clearly to the customer and your colleagues?
— Like I said, we have a strong preproduction process. It takes up about 20-30% of the time. We draw quite nice and detailed stills, make clear animatics, and present them to the customer, so they accept it with minimal editing. The more thorough is the work on the project before its launch, the smoother it goes when in production. No wonder that we spare a lot of time on briefing and initial control.
— Tell us about some interesting projects related to musical performances.
— I’d love to tell you about our current project, but so far it’s a secret (laughs). I’ll talk about the performance of Halsey at the Coachella festival: this is also an American project. We have a special team for musical performances. When assigning an art director to the project, we believe they should hold up against the musical genre in which the artist performs. They must either understand it, or be a fan of it. After that, everything depends on the art director. Designers work on separate tracks, if the performance has tracks. If it’s all about loops, then we hand out dozens of loops to each designer and start the production. Then the supervisor comes in, collects all the materials and current versions, and checks the setups as well as everything else, before we hand the project over to someone else. The output of such a project usually consists of 80-100 files that are later used on the site.
— What do you do if it’s the other way round, and you need to use music for your projects?
— We have great contractors, we love them very much. They are the Monoleak studio, and we almost always work with them. We have other partner studios as well, but the guys from Monoleak are something else, they almost finish our sentences. We can give them a video as a reference of the sound or the music, say that we and the customer need something similar, and they nail it most of the time. They grasp customers’ expectations very well, so we value them.
— When people watch the show, what methods of mapping do they like most, in your practice?
— Our latest projection on the Moscow State University building, which set the world record for the area of exposure, part of the Circle of Light festival, featured some most spectacular scenes, making the viewers completely immerse in the atmosphere. Some elements interacted with the whole building. Imagine that we don’t see much of the building; we only see certain images appearing on its surface, but the building itself takes a back seat. And when some elements of the structure cave in and reappear, it looks stunning. There is a scene with figures, which is quite simple graphics-wise, but it works very well with the building. Everyone was impressed when the figures started to scatter and change from large to huge, from small to tiny, filling the whole surface.
— Please tell us about your experience with Cerebro, since you have started using it for your projects.
— Well, we first used Cerebro about six months ago. We went off with it, worked for some time, and decided that we need something more to manage our projects. We tried different software, but it didn’t work out, so we returned to Cerebro. By the way, designers were very happy, like, “Yay, our beloved Cerebro is back!” Because unlike all other software, it works very quickly, which is very important to us. We do projection mapping, and we sometimes have just huge OUT files of projects with a resolution of 20,000×12,000 pixels. Uploading such files to online resources is a problem. With Cerebro, however, you can put them on your local server and keep working. So we deployed Cerebro again, and now 90% of the entire team works with it. Technicians take part in this as well; they upload materials for our projects, which has not happened before. So we are trying to completely integrate, using all the possibilities, including planning, the Gantt chart, and time tracking. We used to do half of it manually.
— This is great! And what tools do you use the most?
— It differs depending on the role. I, for example, constantly monitor the time management of employees, because my main concern is where they spend their time and what we get as a result.
— Have you seen our new feature, likes and dislikes?
— Yeah, we haven’t tried it yet, but I think we will soon. It’s exciting, especially when artists upload some concerts, and everyone says, “Oh, this is a great concert!” Now we’ll see who gets all the likes.
— That is great! And how long did the integration take?
— It took us about a month to get used to Cerebro, because its interface is not really intuitive. But this was later compensated by the speed of work and visibility. You can immediately see, which task provides materials, or which one was updated. Other software did not support this, but here everything is visualized.
— We are glad to hear this, but we would still like to know if there are any areas we could improve.
— Well, I would like to cut the number of buttons, checkboxes, and submenus. The interface itself is too complex, not very intuitive. Even if you work with it for a while and want to use some feature you rarely need, it’s very hard to remember where it lives and how to find it. I mean, we’d like some features to be simpler, like mentioning a person in the task just by adding the @ symbol to their name. We are getting used to things like that because of messengers and other common solutions.