13 Mar CASE STUDY: OKTA STUDIO
Cerebro continues publishing interviews with customers. We talk with producers, project managers, and other industry professionals. There is our new interview with Vitalijus Zukas from OKTA studio.
— How did you get into the industry, where have you studied?
— I got there directly from my university, where I majored in geology. What can possibly be closer than that? In fact, for a long time I was a producer of music video projects. At the time, there was the famous Vilks studio, where we were shooting music videos for MTV Russia and working with such famous [Russian] musicians as Zemfira, Mumiy Troll, and Bi-2. Besides, we were making ads. All the same, everything comes to post-production, so while working on projects, I had to deal with VFX, and this was how I first got acquainted with the industry. I’ve always found the world of VFX very exciting. Moreover, I had friends who have now become one of the best VFX artists in Latvia. They were self-taught, like the majority of our generation, and they showed me their work. I was so interested that I started edging closer and closer to the VFX, until I gradually turned to this side of good and evil.
— So you studied and created the OKTA studio on your own? Please tell us more about it.
— Of my friends and acquaintances, I cannot recall anyone who would have studied at the VFX school. We are from Lithuania, and unlike Moscow, we do not have good online schools. When we first started, there were only few materials available on the Internet. It was like Wild West in VFX, where everyone was on their own. OKTA was created by such self-taught people, who liked their work. Initially, many were very surprised that this hobby could eventually turn into a business.
— Tell us about the latest interesting projects.
— The world is changing a lot, and the same goes to the world of VFX. The market for TV advertising and television itself are becoming secondary. The product formats are changing—the ads themselves, requirements to them, and prices are now completely different. Cinematography is now experiencing tough competition with video games. Along with the new opportunities, there are new interesting areas of work. Now we are engaged in both new things and older things. We are having interesting VR and AR projects and at the same time, we are engaged in large-scale traditional projects: we are working on a TV show similar to the Game of Thrones in the Japanese market. The project has received an Emmy nomination, which is a major achievement for a Japanese TV show. Their market is quite secluded, and they do not have many world-famous TV projects at the moment.
As for virtual reality, we are working on my favourite project, an interactive animated feature. More precisely, it is a meditative VR journey into the world created by the famous Lithuanian painter M.K. Čiurlionis. It is going to be really great and beautiful, and we are very pleased to work on it. We also make projects with our French partners. I used to work with one of the International Red Cross organization’s project as a producer for NEDD agency. And the project received international coverage.
— Now that’s intriguing. How many studios participate in your projects? How many people overall?
— We have changed our modus operandi, so we act mainly as a production company. We work with new studios a lot. Our projects engage a large number of people; we have different approaches to the selection of teams. We have a coworking space in the studio in Vilnius, where we try to gather the best VFX specialists in the region. For example, to work on the Japanese show, we gathered people from Vilnius, Moscow, Kiev, and Riga. We have customers all over the world, but our employees mainly live in eastern Europe. Now this is the basic approach of our studio, although the cycle of development already calls for another permanent team on the spot. However, this does not mean that we are going to suspend outsourcing activities.
— How do you choose studios?
— We take the example from the Japanese; I work with them for a long time and I like their approach to business. The work system in Japan is very different from Western countries, for example, the U.S. The Americans tend to have a project-based approach: do the job, get the money, go on. As for the Japanese, every new project is meant to create a relationship between partners. We try to work less with new studios, and even though it is always good to expand the circle, we emphasize the development of relations with old partners. At the same time, we limit their number, so that we have enough time to know each other. If we work on several projects with one studio, then our mutual understanding improves, we hone the basics to find some common ground, and the result becomes better every time.
— You mentioned the augmented reality; do you have any fulfilled projects that have already impressed the audience? Also, could you tell us about the effects that look very simple, but are hard to implement?
— Many people know that Apple has released the ARKit. It tracks the environment very effectively, bringing lots of interesting opportunities. We use these opportunities on our new project and implement them in an unusual way. The hardest task is the effects, which are not intended to be seen. You have probably heard film viewers say, “This looks okay, but I still know it’s 3D.” “How do you know?” “No idea, but I just see it.” Our brain is intended to process visual information, and deceiving it is a real challenge. So we are very pleased when critics write reviews on movies we had been working on for long months and say, “There’s next to no special effects.”
— Please, tell us about films that you love. I know it’s difficult to single out but a few.
— Sometimes you ask a person about their favourite music, and they tell you they like different and good music. So you start thinking: maybe you just do not understand music at all and listen to everything? And you never know whether they have the same opinion of what ‘good music’ is. Therefore, saying that you like different and good films is the same as saying nothing. I have favourite directors and films. I adore the Cohens, David Lynch, Danny Boyle. Among the Soviet directors, I really love Tarkovsky and Mark Zakharov. They are all completely different, but each of them interests me in their own way. Recently, I have been watching more TV shows than films; it’s the sign of the times. Now we have options; we don’t have to fit everything in one and a half or two hours, but really develop the ideas and the fictional world. I’ve always felt the lack of this in movies.
Despite the fact that we did a lot of animation, I myself d not like it anymore. Projects of major American companies have merged into one big animated feature in my head, and each subsequent film is of no interest for me at all. It is much like changing a theme on your phone; the phone stays the same, but the colours are different. In these projects, huge money is invested, so they are afraid to step away from the adopted formula. Step to the left, step to the right are like an attempt to escape, a jump in place is a provocation. Thanks to my son, I have discovered a huge world of Japanese animation, it was a breath of fresh air. People make animation relatively cheap, but they are not afraid that it will be too difficult to perceive. Viewing such stories often brings a great intellectual pleasure.
— Which TV shows have you last watched?
— The latest show I have watched with great interest was Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. They are really not afraid to seem weird and go beyond the templates, but at the same time, they manage to keep your attention on what is happening.
— Tell us about your discoveries when working on projects. What surprises you and inspires you when you solve problems?
— Each project gives some interesting vibes. It is not always pleasant, but sometimes it is. When working on a project, I am inspired by the sense of globalization and the opportunity to work with people regardless of their location. You choose not the person who is available next to you, but the person with whom or for whom you really want to work. I really like globalization in this respect. I find it really inspiring to feel like a global citizen, it’s like only sky is the limit for you. This is so cool.
— With so many people in different parts of the globe, what problems have arisen in the projects and how have you solved them?
— When you work online, you really need a good tool that allows a lot of people in different parts of the world and time zones to work together. This is the downside of globalization—you never have an established working day. The work begins when you get up and ends when you go to sleep. Somebody is always working in any given moment, and there are issues that need to be addressed urgently. Cerebro is one of the solutions to these problems. Such tools help solve problems, provide answers to questions, because people, especially in the Eastern countries, are completely different.
When we started working with a Japanese linear producer, he answered at any time of the day. I, as a normal person, thought, if I send an email at night (so as not to forget about it later), the other person will wake up and answer in the morning. So I would send a letter or a Skype message and then immediately get the answer. I would ask, “Wait, I thought you were sleeping?” They would answer, “I was, but my iPad is next to me with the sound turned on. If something happens, I can quickly respond and go back to sleep.”
When dealing with different cultures and time zones, it is really important that there is a hub to gather all the information, where everyone can get it at a convenient time.
Earlier, we partially used Cerebro in our daily work, but since the situation in the studio has changed, we have to start anew. Using Cerebro should bring our interaction to a new level. This will add to our comfort and improve teamwork.
— What Cerebro features do you most often use at the moment?
— Now we are discussing how to use the classic functions of the system for project management. Working with versions, comments, a single space with constantly updated information is what we need.
Of course, this is much more convenient than Google Docs, which we used before. At the moment, we plan to improve our work using Cerebro.
— How quickly did the team get accustomed to it?
— Everything is relative. Before that, we used TACTIC. As compared with an open-source product, there is a huge contrast. Cerebro is a commercial tool and our main task is to study and configure functions, and not create them from scratch. On the other hand, throwing everything away and switching to another software after having put in this so much effort was hard. However, the upsides did outweigh the downsides, and the overall impression was good.
— What new features would you like to see in the improved version of Cerebro?
— Considering our specifics (many participants in one process), some ways for various accounts to interact in Cerebro would be useful. As of now, we have one account, our partner has another one, and we cannot communicate with each other; we have to switch to one common account. It’s very inconvenient. We had projects when we worked with several studios at the same time, using Cerebro; in one case we were a customer, in the other we were an ordering party. So we needed to have two clients and switch between them, which was not so easy. It created a lot of difficulties. If there were some ways for two partners to efficiently work in a joint account, I would be happy.