Cerebro continues publishing interviews with customers. We talk with producers, project managers, and other industry professionals. We have talked to the executive producer Elena Degtyareva about her work in the animation company, hiring practices and experience with projects management systems.
2019/01/14 Posted by adminCerebro
0 thoughts on “Life on Mars: The Animation Industry behind Russia’s Iron Curtain”
This article contains detailed analysis of 3D Animation in Russia and the CIS. We are not trying to make excuses for the industry or blame the government for how they treat us, animation makers. This is just an attempt to create a 3D image of the animation industry, instead of a flat picture that everyone tends to see.
2018/12/24 Posted by adminCerebro
0 thoughts on “2018.12.24 — New release: task board, sequences, comments”
We introduce a Cerebro update and the main surprise: a task board! You can use the board to group tasks with a simple and convenient interface, providing for easier work and more flexible planning. We have also added new commenting options, sequences, PSD support, and much more.
We have new amazing stories from Cerebro customers. This time, we talked to the film producer, director Alexey A. Petrukhin, and VFX producer Maria Zaykovskaya from the Russian Film Group Corporation about the release of the Viy sequel, their experience with film production in China, and further plans.
Сerebro continues publishing interviews with customers. We have talked to head of HR Anna Khoroshilova and linear producer Igor Kazantsev from 3D Sparrow animation studio about their cartoon Booba, hiring practices and experience with projects management systems.
2018/09/07 Posted by adminCerebro
0 thoughts on “2018.09.10 — New Release: Cerebro “De Cerca””
We have been preparing for this release since the beginning of this year, and the result is pretty darn awesome 🙂 We have rolled out cloud-based data centers in several regions at once. Surprise! The long-awaited mobile app with a cutting-edge look and feel. Localization and 24/7 Technical Support available in five languages. Cerebro Connectors, which enables working with Cerebro directly from other applications 💙
Cerebro continues publishing interviews with customers. We talk with producers, project managers, and other industry professionals. We have talked to the CEO Boris Mashkovtsev and the HR director Daria Strekalova of the legendary Soyuzmultfilm animation studio about implementing new technologies, development plans, and hiring practices.
How to found a VFX studio after majoring in Geology? How does the Japanese management style work? How to impress the audience with Augmented Reality? Vitalijus Zhukas, the CEO of the OKTA Studio, tells us about this and much more 🎮💬❤️
Provocative, sophisticated, impressive. Dmitry Ostroglyadov, the head of the studio: how to keep challenging yourself and build a proper internal workflow. Read about the most extraordinary, large-scale projects in our interview 👾💬💜
2017/12/22 Posted by adminCerebro
0 thoughts on “2017.12.25 – NEW MIRADA, SEPARATE COMMENTS, UNITED TIMELINE AND OTHERS”
– New interface
– Distinct comments
The new version of Mirada creates specific comments, and every comment’s author is displayed. Comments are viewed consecutively, and they may contain text, tag, sketch, duration or an audiovisual track.
Comments may be replied to Mirada directly.
– Possibility to set task status from Mirada
– Unified timeline
All playlist files are displayed in one scalable timeline.
– Export comments in PDF
Possibility to export comments in PDF in order to send elsewhere.
– Possibility to compare videos, images and PDF-files in three variants
Media files can be compared using three variants: horizontal, vertical, “wipe”.
In Cerebro, select the files you want to compare in the attachments panel or search and click the “Compare selected files” button.
Furthermore, there is a possibility to compare different shots from the same video using comparison marker, in three variants as well. Quick switch between the marker and the current shot is provided.
– Possibility to enable cache on video.
– Possibility to put on a loop either a video fragment or several playlist files.
Some shots at the beginning or at the end of a video file can be disabled. In this case they will be skipped during playback. Trailers may be set either on the whole playlist or on specific files.
– Setting your own hot keys.
– Some other different cool and useful features. Let’s watch some tutorials.
– Possibility to view forum on subtasks
There is a possibility to view threads immediately, without entering each task separately.
– Possibility to view forums related to the current task
Cerebro continues publishing interviews with customers. We talk with producers, project managers, and other industry professionals. Our new interview features Vadim Sotskov, CEO of the KinoAtis studio.
— Vadim, we would like to talk about your company. How was it developing and what are you doing now?
— The company was founded quite a long time ago; it’s been about 12 years, I think. At first it was called CNF-Anima, and in 2011, we renamed it as KinoAtis. The studio had been small until we started Belka and Strelka. The project was huge; most of the work was done right at the studio, so the company’s staff increased to some 130 people. Three years ago we launched a branch office in Sarov. Now we are working on two feature films and two series. As we speak, we have finished four feature films. Three have already been released, and the fourth is in post-production; it’ll be on in November to March. I cannot say the exact date of the release yet.
— Are you talking about Hurvinek?
— Yeah. We’ve also made four TV shows, although two of them were mini-series. One of them is called Micropolis, the other was The Unusual Adventures of Karik and Valya. Those are pretty old, we have long since finished them. Each consists of 7 episodes. However, both these series are still in demand on TV.
— And where did you get the idea for Belka and Strelka?
— The concept of a film about Belka and Strelka was hidden in plain eyesight. I wonder why no one had done it before we did. They were already heroes. The movie turned out quite successful, not only in Russia. It was localized in 45 languages and screened in 160 countries, almost globally. Besides, we have two seasons of a series about them, 104 episodes in total.
— Which one of your projects is your favourite?
— I think the best project we’ve had was The Unusual Journey of Serafima. Obviously, it is no match to Belka and Strelka it terms of box office revenue or coverage, but the film has something raw and true in it.
— Why exactly do you like it the most?
— You know, love is beyond logic.
— Hurvinek is a collaboration project with Belgium and the Czech Republic. How do you work with them?
— Everything is weird. At our studio, we solve all issues right off the bat; it takes ten minutes at most. Now we have to deal with everything via the Czechs, because they are the main mediator. For example, if we have a question to the guys from Belgium, it can take a week instead of 30 minutes. Thus, the work is slower than usual. Approval and receiving of materials from partners take a long time.
— How did you divide the work?
— We deal with directing and animation. The Czechs have initiated the project; they are responsible for the creative part. Belgium takes over rendering and final picture.
— Why did you leave rendering to Belgium?
— The Belgian studio is focused on rendering and compositing; they are very experienced in such projects.
— Does it mean that Hurvinek will be in all three languages?
— I really hope it will be in multiple languages. The film was launched in the Czech Republic and Slovakia on August 29. I still have little clue as to what comes next.
— How many people are involved in your projects? You referred to 130.
— Now we have fewer than that. The studio employs some 100 people in Moscow and the Sarov branch. Our policy is that we do not try to do everything in-house and delegate part of the work.
— Do you use outsourcing or freelance vendors?
— We do not work with freelance vendors, but we cooperate with other studios in different countries. For instance, we have a fruitful cooperation with India. They have a vast human resource pool, so the substitute bench is pretty extensive. Thus, if we are risking to miss a deadline, we can delegate our work to the Hinduses, and they will do everything alright. We were choosing from several companies, and now we work with the one that has a really good Lead Animator. However, we are reducing our work with India these days, since the USD exchange rate makes it far less interesting.
— What specialists are the majority? Those who manage the whole process?
— At the studio, we do the basic and the creative part ourselves, delegating the standard routine jobs. Take the animation: we do the layout, and the animation itself may go to third-party vendors. The better and cleaner is our layout, the better is the material we get from freelancers or India. It’s the same with rendering. In Moscow, we carefully set the master lighting, deal with models, make up the image, and only then we can delegate part of the job to a different studio.
— Given the conditions, how do you meet the deadlines? Do you often have them?
— Of course, we do have deadlines, but we’ve never failed to meet them at major projects. Sometimes it gets pretty scary, when you take the subway and see the ads of the movie there, knowing that a large part of it is not ready yet. There’s just three weeks before the release, and there’s still a lot of work.
— What helps you manage this and get the job done on time?
— Hard work and possibly luck. I like to think that the experience we’ve gained will help us avoid crunch time in the future. However, the pressure of deadlines and rushed production just before the release is not a thing we’ve invented. Hollywood works the same way. For example, we are voicing our movie and see a foreign animated feature voiced at the same time, even though its release is also in a month. And they are not voicing the final version, but only draft material. The Czechs had also done Hurvinek and the Magic Museum just a few days before the premiere.
— What software do you use to manage the quality and track the performance?
— We use Cerebro. It’s convenient that we can later see who had made a mistake. However, the transition was pretty hard. We were used to Excel sheets and only got Cerebro for testing by the second half of the Belka and Strelka project. At the same time, you have to understand that no software will help you if you don’t have decent production assistants and managers. Because you can mark something as ready in a program, while it might not be ready at all.
— You mean there has to be a person to check and control everything?
— Indeed. Previously, the projects were printed on spreadsheets hanging on the wall, and the assistants were blacking out the cells. Now, as we have switched to Cerebro, there is nothing on the wall but one common spreadsheet. We have set up a digital process and it works.
— So you like that Cerebro lets you check everything?
— Yeah. For example, artists often do this thing when they approve something in the system and after a while are like: “I never accepted it or even saw it, I see it for the first time.” Then you can look it up in the program and say: “Look, you’ve put a flag against this picture, it means that you saw it and accepted it.” This helps organize the process.
— Tell us how you are licensing your projects. Which software do you use to track them?
— It’s not like we are dealing with enormous volumes, so that we’d have to track this using some special software. I know that other companies manage several brands, including those that belong to other people. That’s when it really is hard to keep track of everything and remember, who owns what rights. In our case, the entire volume of licensing information is in the head of one person. If you ask our director for licenses, she will tell you everything, including licence expiration dates and extension periods. Now we actually have one major license, Belka and Strelka. The license for the new series called Planet Ai has been added. There is also Hurvinek; its licensing period will be short, because the cinema licence is valid for six months, but as a series, it works for decades. Sooner or later it’ll come to the point where we’ll have to track this digitally.
— How do you see your development in global markets? What are your plans?
— We are already in the global markets. In 2015, we entered the list of 25 best independent studios in the world according to the Animation Magazine. I mean, obviously, we are not Disney, nor are we Hollywood. But within ten years, we have turned into a large company in Russia. We are becoming visible in the world and will continue in the same spirit. The way Hurvinek will be received is crucial. This is the first serious project of this kind involving Russia. In the nearest future, we plan to complete two features. By the end of this year, we’ll see what’s in the package for the next few years. We also have several projects underway. I can say for sure that we’ll continue two of our series. We’ve started the third season of Belka and Strelka; it will be called Belka and Strelka: Space Secrets, so we’ll go a little deeper into science and into space. We will definitely continue Planet Ai. If Hurvinek goes well, we’ll keep collaborating with the Czechs. They already want to make a sequel.
Cerebro continues publishing interviews with customers. We talk with producers, project managers, and other industry professionals. Our new interview features Alexander Oplanchuk from ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’ VFX Team.
— What was your start in the industry, where did you study, and how did you take part in movie-making?
— Good afternoon. I started 3D graphics as a hobby around the year 1994, when people still used 3D Studio and PC386, but ¾ I was not looking to become a professional back then. After that I started my studies. I entered the Tomsk State University, transferred to St. Petersburg a year later, and remembered about 3D graphics only on my third year of the military department, when they asked me to use 3D animation to demonstrate the S300 surface-to-air missile system: how missiles launch and so on. Perhaps, when I handed this project over and got the credit with no tests, I decided for myself that it would be nice to do this for a living.
I started to study LightWave—it was not popular at the time, still isn’t, although many people like it—and got a job in the Videosfera studio, where I made some phone models, basic animation, and simple commercials. I think the real kick-start of the whole story was the year 2004, when I started working at the Begemot studio under Lenfilm. At the time, they did postproduction of various series and advertisements, and I happened to gain invaluable experience there, while working on the Master and Margarita series. I learned a lot and possibly got a new qualification there as a 3D generalist: I learned what compositing and MatchMove were, as well as Shake, After Effect, and Maya.
Around 2007, Begemot, unfortunately, fell apart, and the V-Jet studio separated from it. Everything there was the same: fairly simple and unpretentious commercials (advertising for the LEK company, for example). And then the Moscow-based Dago studio, which was doing postproduction for the Admiral movie back then, hired our studio to process 16 underwater shots. I worked on them alone, from beginning to end; it was a turnkey project, so to speak. It involved texturing, modelling, rendering, animation, VFX, and compositing. When I handed these 16 shots over, Sergey Savenkov, supervisor of the Admiral project, invited me to a party in Moscow on the occasion of the opening night, and offered me a job. So I worked for the Dago studio from 2008 to 2013, where I was learning something new and honing my existing skills.
In March 2013, Kamal (R.C. Kamalakannan), who had already worked with me, a freelancer, on the Indian movie Eega, invited me to Chennai to work for the EFX Prasad studio as a CG supervisor of one project. Two months later, I realized that first, leaving your family is hard, and second, teleworking is a thing. So I suggested that we use Cerebro, because I had used it before, while working on the Smeshariki project in St. Petersburg. I thought, why not? They reviewed the proposal and found that it could be done. Everything was set up by June, so I went back to Petersburg to manage the project remotely.
In April 2014, Kamal offered me the next project, Puli, also Indian, quite interesting; and again, we did the entire postproduction cycle in Cerebro. We made some 2,000 shots within a year or so. The project turned out pretty decent VFX-wise, but the script had its flaws, and unfortunately, the movie failed. Finally, in November 2015, Kamal, already the supervisor of the Baahubali: The Conclusion project back then, invited me to work on the second part of the film. This was how I ended up there.
— Please tell us more about the tasks that the VFX team faced during this project?
— The Baahubali project is in many ways unique, at least for India. First of all, it had perhaps the highest budget in India; secondly, a large part of this money (some 20%) was allocated to VFX. Plus the scale — huge scenery with massive battle scenes, lots of characters, elephants, boars, and a lot more. The script was very extensive. The director of the project, Rajamouli, is an incredibly creative person; he knows how to make everything very colourful. Of course, it was quite difficult to implement all these ideas. During the year and a half when I was working on the project, the main task of the VFX team was to implement all ideas from the script and fantasies of the director in a fairly short period of time, which eventually resulted in over two thousand shots.
— Indeed, a very difficult task. How many studios participated in such a large-scale project? How were they selected, and how were the tasks distributed?
— By the end of the project, some 36 studios participated in it, if we just take those in Cerebro; I don’t think anyone knows the actual number, because vendors just hired different small studios that helped them implement the project, but the main ones numbered some 36. Supervisor Kamal directly engaged in the selection; he has a lot of relevant experience. I think he chose exactly those who could come in handy. Global tasks were distributed to studios based on their qualification in different VFX areas. The main difference from the Puli project is the number of studios; we had 36 instead of 15. Perhaps, the main difference was the way tasks were distributed; they were not broken down shot-by-shot, but rather task-by-task. I mean, studios were sometimes not given the whole shot, but a specific task—for example, one place had to matchmove one shot, another one did models with textures, the third one did animation, the fourth one did lighting and rendering, while the fifth one made the final composition. Thus, we were able to make the most of the strongest points of each studio. On the other hand, interaction between studios could cause extra difficulties, but in this case Cerebro allowed us to minimize them.
— Tell us, please, about the approach that director Rajamuli used when working with the VFX team.
— Working with Rajamuli is a pleasure. He is a unique person and director. His main distinguishing quality is that he completely immerses himself in all new issues and difficulties together with the VFX team to look for the best ways to solve them along with others. Many directors avoid getting involved in the process to that extent, especially in VFX, because people usually think this is strictly for IT experts, and no one cares how they get it done. Rajamouli, however, was with us through the whole cycle, at every stage, making an effort to ensure that this project is brought to life.
It is also worth mentioning that during the edit, when he reviewed final shots, he always recorded a video feedback to help supervisors and all people involved in post-production understand what exactly was the problem and make the changes he needed. Moreover, you could always call him directly and quickly solve some issues. Working with him was very comfortable, and if he ever suggested that we did something together again, I would happily embark on this opportunity.
— What was the most difficult part of the project?
— There were overall a lot of difficulties, and if I try and list everything now, it will take a lot of time. Probably, the hardest part was the last month on the project, when we had some 1,000 shots left out of 2,200. This was the most difficult, because the deadline was too close for so many shots and tasks that had been given a year and a half before, if we count preproduction. We had very little time, even though 36 studios and some 1,000 digital artists were working on this together.
— Please tell us about the effects. Are there some that look simple enough, but are very difficult to implement?
— Yes, I’ll just give an example. The very first sequence, the one with the elephant. It has two shots; we had to make a large dummy stuffed with straw, and the main character was to shoot it with an arrow to set fire. These two shots, that take 5 seconds on screen, took our Houdini freelancer almost a year to finish. You see, that person had to spend a year over a task (of course, he had other tasks as well), which will literally last an instant in the film.
— What part was the most interesting for you personally?
— I find it difficult to single out one thing. Working on each sequence was different and interesting, the tasks varied greatly. This is what makes our work of VFX artists exciting: each time you come across something new and unknown. I believe that many people choose this profession precisely because there is no humdrum, no feeling that you live the same groundhog day all the time. Every single day is absolutely unlike the other: first you work on a wild boar, then over an elephant, then over a flying ship in the sky. The director is an incredibly imaginative person, and all the tasks were quite complex and interesting, and this was the most important thing for me. Therefore, I cannot think of anything special.
— Tell us about your favourite movies.
— My taste in movies is quite versatile: a high-budget blockbuster, stuffed with visual effects, or an animated movie, or a movie with no effects, but some deep philosophy. So the list is pretty random. However, I have a personal quirk that stands in the way: if I am watching a movie with visual effects, I cannot watch it like a normal person, I can’t help evaluating it from a professional point of view and wondering how it was done, why it was done, and there is no end to it.
— Was there something you discovered for yourself while working on this film?
— It was probably not quite a discovery, but still—when working on a film, we always face the same problem: no matter how thorough was your planning, you always end up with too many tasks and too little time. You have but a month before the delivery, the deadline, and you still have a huge number of shots to process. Personally, I really want to believe that this experience will help me reduce, if not completely eliminate, the amount of raw material by the end of my next project. For me, this is the main problem, since technical issues can be solved, but initial planning is, of course, a much more sensitive thing,
— Please tell us about the planning. How did you use Cerebro? How quickly did the team get accustomed to it?
— It took the studios that were given the Cerebro account an average of one week to get used to the features, to audiovisual comments, to the structure, and the interface. There were no real issues; everything was smooth. When people knew we were switching from Excel to Cerebro, where everything is structured, everything is visible, the assets are stored, so everything can be downloaded from there, they realized it was really convenient and minimized the postproduction time. I think everyone was happy; it actually helped us finish this project on time. I would even say, if it were not for Cerebro, we would not have delivered it on time at all.
— Could you name the hottest features that you used every day, and also those that you used less often?
— Yes, of course. One of the most basic and hottest functions for me as a CG supervisor was audiovisual commenting in Mirada: I used it up to a hundred times per day. Of course, I did also plan some tasks, but less often; this was mainly done by our Cerebro project managers. The most important feature for me was, specifically, audiovisual commenting and the ability to track overdue critical tasks; that is, understanding what exactly needs the greatest attention at the moment. All these things that are difficult to cover at once, when you have 2,200 shots and 1,000 employees. The ability to work with them comfortably day-to-day helped us make this project.
— Perhaps, you have some suggestions as to how we could improve our product?
— Yes, I actually have something to say. There was one thing that was not so much annoying as inconvenient. I mean, not everyone has a fast Internet connection. Since the server (Cerebro file server) was in Germany, and people worked in India, in the U.S., and everywhere in the world, the file upload was taking quite some time. Sometimes it was 1, 2, 3 hours, other times—5 to 10. However, Cerebro always puts the identification bulb symbol above the list, so I click it once to be redirected to this task. But the file is still uploading! I mark it as unseen. After a while, the symbol appears above the list, again. I click it and get to the same place. These situations had me manually scroll through the bulbs to see exactly what I needed. I think it would be better if such tasks were moved to the beginning or the end of the list according to their priority. That is, the bulb should not appear above, but rather below.
Do you know what else I would improve? When working on the project, we generate a fairly large amount of statistical data. For example, how much time this particular task has taken. Like, we have a MatchMove task here. It contains 120 frames, for instance, and processing took 9 hours. If we analyze such statistical data for all tasks, Cerebro could greatly contribute to planning in the future. Having all the statistics on tasks, a database of previous projects, the system could tell how long the task would take, so that people would not have to think about it at all. I must clarify: statistics from all studios taken together would be misleading, but data within the same studio would be useful. This would cut the performance time and brought about some kind of an AI.
— Indeed a very interesting suggestion. We will definitely see about it. Thank you very much for the conversation. We wish you creative success!
— Thank you very much for the interview. And I wish you success with your product as well. It really helps.
2017/09/01 Posted by adminCerebro
0 thoughts on “Asia Road Trip”
Here it comes! A Cerebro Road Trip to the countries of Asia. During the whole month of September we are going to visit some of most important countries of Asia, and with their help we will be able to find some new agents for our services.
We have products:
– Cerebro https://cerebrohq.com/ the environment for teamwork and learning in the Media & Entertainment industry.
– Staya http://staya.vc/en/ recruiting IT-platform like “adwords” but for Jobs.
The whole month is packed with meetings.
Our plans are:
September 4-10 – Beijing, China
September 11-13 – Shanghai, China
September 14-19 – Mumbai, India
September 20-22 – Bangalore, India
September 23-29 – Seoul, Korea
October 1-6 – Tokyo, Japan
During this days, we will show our services, personally to our agents, which can sale or support our products.
Cerebro continues publishing interviews with customers. We talk with producers, project managers, and other industry professionals. There is our new interview with Alexey Duk from PIK Group.
— We have known each other for quite a bit. You were studying architecture, am I right?
— So why did you start computer graphics?
— I am no longer involved in computer graphics, but I was once upon a time.The explanation is very simple: I graduated from the university as an architect in 1996, while computer technologies and three-dimensional computer graphics were just starting to gain popularity. They were already available to mere mortals, not hidden somewhere in secret labs of Pixar. You could buy some i386, install 3D Studio for DOS and, well, be able to sort of make stuff in 3D.
Architects tend to dig such things, because you study perspective and shadow projections for years and draw everything manually, and then you suddenly can make a computer do it in your stead and get an efficient image of your future house without any struggle. That was what got at me in the first place. I took an interest in it, and it turned out to be in high demand. My first ten years as an architect actually involved me being some kind of a visualizing architect, meaning that I was mostly engaged in computer graphics.
— What about now? As far as I know, you are more of a manager now, right?
— Yeah, I am an elderly guy after all. Ordering people around is pretty much the only thing I am capable of these days.
— How did this happen?
— Oh, this is a natural process. I believe most professions work like that: you start with doing stuff by yourself, then you have too much on your hands and they get someone to help you, etc. Then you find yourself having a whole team to manage, then you realize that you barely perform tasks anymore, because you are mostly managing. After that you know you can deal with any number of people and start managing full-time. And if you have grown in the very same industry, you are not just a manager of whatever; you are a manager in a certain field of activity. So it went.
— Let us move on to the current events. Before we talk about your company, tell me please about your sales office.
— Sales office is our headquarters, where you can buy an apartment in any our project building. We can call it an apartment store. We also have branches, usually at certain construction sites, where you can buy an apartment in the corresponding project. The sales office is where you can buy any apartment.
— So it is like a common showroom.
— Yeah, a common showroom, but also a selling one. To put it bluntly, people come here to buy a dwelling. And we have everything to accommodate them.
— Okay, so let us talk about your company in general.What is the PIK Group and what does it do?
– The PIK Group is what is called a vertically integrated structure that deals with housing development, mostly in Moscow, but also in the regions, St. Petersburg, and so on. What do we mean by vertically integrated? This means that the whole life cycle of our facilities is under our control, starting with the site, the purchase of land, further development of the project, construction, sales and maintenance, up to its dismantling sometime in the distant future.
It is all done by one company. Naturally, some stages do involve third-party contractors, but overall, the product in its entirety belongs to the PIK Group. In terms of housing volumes, we are Russia’s top developer.
— What is the company planning for the future? You are already number one in Russia, do you plan to enter Western markets or something?
— It would be precocious to talk about other markets, but we are currently expanding in the regions. We entered St. Petersburg this year.
— What do you do in the company, exactly? Which department do you manage, what are your duties?
— The company has this establishment called Design Department. This is an unusual thing, because I do not know of any other development company to have something like that, let alone something this big: it employs over a hundred people. We have it because our senior managers believe design to be crucial, and lots of US and Europe-based companies are what is called design-driven. Like, you know, Apple. The design of its products and services is essential, this is why Jonathan Ive is basically the second person in the company, since what he does is so important. We have a similar approach. We think that the appearance of us and our product has to look like the same concept in any communications.
— So you are trying to put everything under a single concept?
— That’s right, everything. Ads, marketing materials, website, facades, interiors, landscaping, framed models—those are all our doing. Also videos, souvenirs…
— I did see the magnets, yeah.
— Some exhibitions, too… Everything, one way or another, passes through our department. We have a separate unit called PIK-Projekt that directly deals with architectural design; it employs 700 architects and engineers. This is a story of its own. In the design department, I am the deputy head, responsible for administrative management. The head of the unit is mostly responsible for the beauty, while I ensure that everything happens on time and works like it should.
— Can you name your most difficult or, for example, favourite project? You probably have more of them now, especially after the acquisition of Morton.
— I do not think it is quite right to put the question like this. We, unlike some architectural bureaus or developers that build unique elite housing, deal with mass market. What is good in our product—it allows us to make affordable housing using methods that can be called industrial. This is why all architectural solutions we use are always made in the context of repeatability, typification, and so on. The more arranged and technologically similar is the product, the easier it is for us to replicate.
At the same time, we, naturally, have to struggle and make the outward appearance of various projects different, so that we do not return to what was before the transformation two and a half years ago. Everything has changed quite drastically, because the company used to build almost exact copies of its houses for 20 years, i.e. we had two series of houses, each of which contained a huge number of projects. Now we try to make houses with similar insides, but varying outward appearances.
— Yeah, so it is not quite right to single out a particular project.
— No, it is understandable to have some favourites. For example, 141 Varshavskoe Shosse was our first project under the new concept. It is already close to completion. Naturally, I call it my favourite because we learned a lot from it. It is almost ready; people will move in the last towers in autumn. It will actually be our first project in full accordance with the concept that we consider correct. All the other are still underway to some extent.
— Okay, I see. Let us talk about your work now. What kind of people, so to say, fit in your team the best? What kind of people are you most comfortable with?
— It is important for me that a person is a professional and, well, in control of themselves. I have no other requirements. Overall, I am looking for motivated people who want to work. Like I said, no other expectations.
— Then, to sum this up, the simplest question: how do people get in your company? Suppose, if we are talking about the design department.
— We publish job openings when we have them. Of course, we often find people via networking, since the field of design has a certain specificity: there are few decent professionals and you know them all. Here, too, the market is not very big, so we start with familiar faces. If it does not work, then we publish job openings.
Many people apply via Staya.vc. It is such a hassle to interview all of them. I have never had so many applicants, honestly.
— You have been using our software for a long time, and I remember you were saying, “I live in it.” How did Cerebro implementation go?
— The introduction was no problem. I think the entire launching process took less than a week. Training takes an average of a couple of hours. This is what made it appealing in the first place.
— Our customers are mostly animation studios and such. But your company is different. Why did you choose our software for managing such a complex department, and even more than one?
— It originally happened, because I used to manage a computer graphics division in another company, where we successfully used Cerebro. When we started to consider a project management system for the design department here, in the PIK Group, I did not see any problem in using Cerebro to manage not only tasks or projects related to video content production etc. Overall, it has all features for other units as well.
At the moment, for example, Cerebro is very actively used by our product department, where media content as such is virtually nonexistent.
— How exactly do you manage your daily work in Cerebro?
— Everything is quite simple. We have a customer inside the company. This is the advertising unit that sends us orders by setting tasks in Cerebro. Then our coordinator looks through these tasks and assigns vendors. In addition, we have a large schedule of our work for a year and according to this schedule, the same coordinator simply starts some tasks that need to be started under the schedule. So he starts them and also assigns vendors. This is how it happens.
In terms of quality assurance, we have several options. People who perform a certain type of tasks already know that after completion they must leave the results of their work for a certain person to approve. This person reviews the task and then passes it either further along the chain for another approval, or decides that the task is completed. Sometimes we need to further approve the task with some project managers and so on.
When the task is completed, it is sent to production. For example, if it is about printed materials, the production team takes the approved task and then marks it in Cerebro when the printed copies are ready, like, guys, we already have them printed, they are at our warehouse. This is how it goes.
— So as a rule, you have template structures, so that you can very quickly launch them into work?
— Overall, yes. The structure of the projects is approximately the same. What we are developing for each project is called an advertising and marketing package. It is a set of deliverables: website materials, booklets, advertisements, and so on. The set is roughly the same all the time. When the time comes, we need about a month to develop this package. We start the whole block of these tasks, which is already there and is, in fact, a template.
— I remember you had a very global rebranding process.
— We have already dealt with it; the rebranding is almost over. We always have some work of this kind. It was a really serious task, because a huge amount of everything needed to be done from scratch. It took almost a year, from creating a logo to developing templates of all documents, business cards, etc.
— Well, the last question. What could you recommend, as a user, to improve Cerebro?
— Having both a web version and a mobile version is basically the standard of today’s life. It is clear that without this moving forward is hardly possible. We are glad that work on this issue is already underway. The second thing concerns the overall UI. Cerebro’s interface is a bit out of this millennium, but the fact that you constantly improve its features and appearance is wonderful. We see what is happening and where this is going, and we like it.
Cerebro continues publishing interviews with customers. We talk with producers, project managers, and other industry professionals. Our new interview features RC Kamalakannan from ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’ VFX Team.
—How did you get into industry and what were you doing before that?
— I have been engaged in computer graphics since 1989. Earlier, I was doing subtitling and simple 2D animation using Commodore Systems. Then I gradually started making commercials in India, especially in Southern India, for advertising agencies based in Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad. From there, slowly, I moved on to doing titles for South Indian feature films.
My first titles for films were made in 1995. We shot the titles off the Monitor screen, as we did not have access to a film recorder then. I was supposed to acquire Silicon Graphics 4D-35, but applications for Macintosh and PCs started coming in. My first PC application for 3D was Topaz. Many people would not remember it now.
Topaz had been released before 3D-Studio by Autodesk. Slowly, I learned compositing with the Digital Fusion application and started expanding the man-power base in my company, Indian Artists. Then I became a VFX Supervisor / Producer and was a VFX Supervisor for Baahubali 2. It was a long process with more than 20 years in this field.
— How did you get into the Baahubali Project?
— Baahubali 2 is my sixth project with Director S.S. Rajamouli. Earlier, I won the National Award for VFX, which is equal to Oscar in this part of the world, for his film Magadheera, which also had lots of computer graphics and visual effects.
Actually Magadheera was my entry into visual effects-based projects. Earlier, my projects were not totally based on visual effects; just one or two scenes. Magadheera was fully based on visual effects. Another film called Eega was my next visual effects-based project with S.S. Rajamouli.
Then there was a small pause before I joined him again for Bahubali 2 as a visual effects supervisor.
—How many studios were involved in creating visual effects for this project?
— More than 35 studios were involved in Baahubali worldwide, including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Tashkent, Shanghai, London, Tehran, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, and several studios in India. Almost all visual effects studios in India worked for Baahubali 2.
—How did you choose those studios?
— Well, I had already worked with some studios in previous projects. Other studios I found online, based on their specialization, got their show-reels, then discussed storyboards and previs with them. Normally, I do not give one scene/shot to one studio; I split the scene/shot into various tasks and select the studios depending on the task.
— Could you tell us more about your approach in work with your VFX team? How were you assigning tasks among them?
— Yes, normally, we start planning on-set production from the previs stage. During the shooting, our on-set supervisor logs in Cerebro and uploads the HDRI directly from the shooting location. A Lidar scan of the film’s sets and terrain, shooting data with the log sheet, and reference images will all be in Cerebro.
Cerebro is our project management software, which is very user-friendly. It takes just a couple of hours for a new studio to get used to Cerebro, and the support is excellent.
We had our data center in Germany, so all our assets were saved there and linked with Cerebro. The entire pipeline was neatly integrated with Cerebro as the hub.
The first task was asset building. 3D modelling and texturing of characters and props of the entire project are broken down to parts for several studios and individual vendors. At the same time, we start R&D on FX and crowd. Asset building and R&D processes are all in Cerebro, on day-to-day basis, from the WIP stage. Once the edit is done, Input Arri or DPX files are sent to matchmove. The matchmove studio uploads solved cameras and my QC approves it. The studios are assigned new tasks, which can be FX, crowd, digital-extension, comp, character animation, etc. They have access to MM data based on their allocation. If the studio finds any error in MM, it red-flags it to QC, so the task goes back to the MM studio for correction. The main tasks are further broken down to sub-tasks like rigging, rotoscoping, object-track, etc. All goes like clockwork.
Then the main studios send postvis material, which is normally gray-scale quicktime movies with rough animated characters, but with perfectly matchmoved shots. The director watches the postvis line-up in edit again and does final edit and trimming. Upon approval, the studios send the result for final rendering. I have used Werender in China and Forrender in Ukraine as Baahubali -2 renderfarms.
After that rough comp QTs in HD are sent with a few final comp sample shots to my Comp supervisors. And then they arrive to our DI facility.
All the above tasks are saved in Cerebro, and as it’s admin, I am able to get them 24/7.
— What was the biggest challenge for you creating visual effects for this project?
— At one point, we had 2,550 shots. It is a huge number of shots, and we had to make assets for all of them, so the studios had to work tirelessly to meet the deadline. From start to finish, we had only fourteen and a half months. It was a tiresome project to finish on time. Without Cerebro, it would not have been possible at all.
— Which visual effects are very hard to create, but look very simple on screen?
— In the climax, there is a bison pulling a chariot, and the hero is trying to destroy the chariot. He jumps and lands on the horns of the bison, and there were some 12 FX shots. That was very challenging.
— What was your favorite part of this project?
— The swan ship song. It is my favorite scene in the entire project. We had shot it only by January, and the studio had only three months to finish it. That was my favorite part of the film. I think we did a good job on that.
— What films do you prefer?
— Of course, a movie without visual effects. A simple comedy or a thriller.
— Do you have any suggestions on how to improve Cerebro?
— Well, I know that Cerebro can handle the Russian language, Chinese Mandarin, and English at once, but I do not know if it can translate between these automatically. Whether it is possible for an artist to type in native Mandarin, but for me as a Cerebro admin to see it in English.
I would also like a chat window, so if I want to speak with an artist from another part of the world online in Cerebro, I could drop them a few lines.
Besides, a personal URL Reminder, where we could come back to some tasks later, would be nice.
— Those are very good suggestions! We will work on them.
— Please, tell us a bit about yourself. What was your start in the industry, where you studied, and what are your duties in the company?
— I have graduated from the Physics and Mathematics Department of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. Long ago, in the year 1994, my friends and I created a design studio, mostly focused on printing. Step by step, it became a basis for an advertising agency, and our range of services increased. We did printing, made souvenirs, and arranged corporate events. It was like any other small advertising agency in Russia. At some point, the need arose for 3D, 3D Max models, and stuff like that. So we hired people who deal with it and over time, a whole department was created. The United 3D Labs independent laboratory for computer graphics later separated from this department. In 2008, I left the agency and transferred to this company. Since then we have been doing this.
— What projects is the company currently managing and how many people are involved in them?
— We have a team of 20 people working on the projects. Those are widely different projects, which is quite a rare thing for the Russian computer graphics market. We do both works based on the traditional pre-rendered works, such as commercials and presentation videos, and modern interactive projects with real-time rendering: mappings, installations, and museum expositions. This is our area of activity. We think we deal with almost everything except traditional TV and cinema. We focus on content, its playback and presentation, so we try not to tamper with the hardware too much. However, we will tinker and fasten anything if we need to. First of all, it has to look good, be catchy and unconventional. Our company is one of the few, if not the only one, to actually have pipeline with images over 10K resolution. We do not just make relatively simple motion graphics. We can do photorealistic graphics and animation with a resolution like that Few companies can do that.
— How did you manage this pipeline?
— It’s just one of our focus areas. One of our customers required such high-resolution images. A major Russian industrial enterprise has a showroom, where they need to display real-time graphics. They use Ventuz for that; the process is controlled by a computer cluster. A huge wall of 80 full HD displays is constantly screening clips about the products and capabilities of the enterprise. Those clips were the reason why we needed the pipeline to work with this resolution. There is a GPU render farm; our entire local network uses InfiniBand with 56 Gb/s of speed instead of common Ethernet; 512 GB RAM workstations. Of course, anything can render these resolutions, it’s not a problem. The problem is that we have to do a project in a month, not in 10 years. This is our unique area of activity, and the company’s main advantage is that we deal with really complicated high-tech tasks, while making them nice to look at. You know, some people like unconventional solutions—using tracking or something—that have no beauty to them. We are trying to consider the aesthetics as well. Lately, we have been largely engaged in virtual and augmented reality projects.
— Since we are talking about beauty, tell us about your most impressive projects for customers, viewers. What methods can be used to achieve it?
— It’s not easy to please everyone. Different people like different things. It is like the old story about the Black Square by Malevich, when some people say it is garbage, and others think it is a great masterpiece of art. We work for the sake of our viewers, so we avoid obscure abstraction which only our colleagues can appreciate. Perhaps it is worth mentioning one of our latest works, completed in Kazan in January. It was a city panorama, a four-storey museum full of installations (a total of 17). There were things to suit any taste; we tried to satisfy everyone. We started thinking of what will be there during the concept development phase—it is very rare for developers to get involved at such an early stage. Many thanks to the customer, who gave us the opportunity to implement this project. We were developing all the components together with scholars from the Institute of Archeology under the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences. They were telling us what installations should be demonstrating from a scientific point of view, while we were trying to make it work. The museum is a city panorama, it tells people about Kazan, its past and present. It is a conventional museum of city history, but it is also very modern: it focuses both on education and entertainment. We tried to make the entertaining part interesting for everyone: augmented and virtual reality, children’s games, traditional presentations, a historical timeline. Everything that makes getting acquainted with the city history as exciting as possible. We wanted to please everyone—that is, if someone dislikes one thing, they should like another. Considering the reviews, we have succeeded. Kazan actually has few such museums; even Moscow cannot boast many of them. So our project made quite a splash, partially because it wasn’t just one unique and beautiful solution, but several various solutions, hitting the same goal.
— What projects made you the most confident, as in “there is nothing to change, everything hits the right spot”?
— I don’t really think such projects exist, because now, as some time have passed, we would make a lot of changes even in the Kazan city panorama we’ve just mentioned. All installations have a common control system, and we can see in real time, which of them are popular or not, and whether some concepts are implemented at the exhibitions or not. We see how people interact with all of this. And we would definitely refashion some parts completely. So there are no projects where you don’t want to change anything. However, sometimes you only want minor changes. Rock opera Crime and Punishment, staged at the Moscow Musical Theatre and directed by Konchalovsky, is one of such projects. All its visualization was made by us; it was the first time when projection mapping was done on moving scenery in a Russian theatre. There is a tracking system, all the scenery has markers, cameras are working, and projection devices display images in real time. It’s not exactly easy to work with Andrei Konchalovsky. Many things were confusing at first, but the play has been on for a year now, and we understand that the master was right. This is the case when you first want to fix something, but then you look again and realize that leaving everything intact was a good idea. But in general, any work wants improvement to some extent.
— As for corrections, have you faced any problems in projects and how did you solve them?
— If it’s not a plain video made at the office, checked ten times, reviewed in the demo room, and then handed to the customer, but a complex installation for museum or exhibition, then of course, we face a lot of problems. First of all, this is due to the fact that there is never enough time for testing. Everyone trashes Microsoft for constant bug-fixing, but we need to understand what an intense job it is and how much time it takes for the tester. Microsoft can afford it, but we rarely have such an opportunity; everything is done basically on the fly. Something is corrected on the ground, something is done at the office, then we send it again.
I have to point out that we, like many other companies in the industry, use a wide range of software and hardware, which, in fact, is absolutely not designed for our activities. Game engines like Unity and Unreal are used for complex exhibitions simply because we do not have anything more suitable. Or, for example, Ventuz, which is used as a plain video display system because all the other ways to do it are even more difficult and cost considerable money. Anyway, we somehow adapt everything to our needs. Naturally, problems do arise at times. We try to solve them quickly, sometimes with a hammer. Common videos and pre-rendered works rarely present any difficulty, and in most cases they can be changed, fixed later and cut again. Museum exhibitions are basically the same. But when a museum installation is on, then Putin, Medvedev, and others come the next day—that’s where all the fun begins. Sometimes we do all-nighters and fix everything, but we generally try to avoid it, unlike many colleagues. We are of a strong opinion that programmers should not code at night. A code written at night needs to be completely re-written the next morning. We try to stick to this principle.
— You mean, you do have deadlines, but you also try to support employees?
— We do have very tight deadlines. For example, our activities partially overlap with game development. No one will even be surprised if a new game is released a month later; this is common for them. As for us, if the exhibition opens the next day and important people are expected to come, everything must work like a charm. On the other hand, we try to arrange the whole process so that we have as few failures as possible. Thus, the pace is comfortable: if you need it tomorrow, it will be ready tomorrow. No need to work until four in the morning to get it done.
— Excellent approach. Now tell us about your work with Cerebro. How long have you used it and how did it assimilate in the company?
— In fact, Cerebro helps us keep going with this approach. Take the Kazan panorama: there are 17 installations, each of them is divided into N tasks, a total of some two hundred. Obviously, you need a seamless system to manage and control these tasks; otherwise it will be very hard to stick to a comfortable schedule. Therefore, Cerebro has naturalized among us just fine, because we always try to work according to the plan. When you have one or two tasks—to make a show or an exhibition—then, of course, you can all get together, gang up on it and do everything really fast. But if you constantly live at this pace, it gets very rough. People start to leave, and you realize: you cannot live like this. In this respect, Cerebro is an indispensable tool that helps with the overload of small tasks. It is an absolutely brilliant thing.
We have come to Cerebro step by step. In our work, we have a methodical approach to everything: first we studied foreign systems, for example, Shotgun, which we used for a couple of months and thought it was inconvenient. Then we tried Russian control systems, say, Bitrix24, and came to the same conclusion. Thus, we started working with Cerebro and suddenly realized that it was convenient, even though the introduction process did not escape complications. Implementation of any control system in the team is a difficult task for everyone. After all, it is much easier for a designer to explain things in a conversation, or maybe in an email, but here you need to register and manage something, and they do not like it. Novelties are always painful, but we mastered it in some three months. We have been working with Cerebro for about two years, and it no longer raises any questions; everything is calm. New employees quickly master its basics. Once it is installed for the first time, it is easier to keep working. Cerebro is an extremely useful and convenient tool to simultaneously manage a large number of orders, broken down into small subtasks. This is largely due to the fact that the program was written by people who understand our industry. It is especially striking in the details. As for the other systems… We have tested them and realized that they do not suit us. Strangely enough, even the globally known Shotgun. I, as someone who has tried both systems, can objectively admit that this solution is less convenient than Cerebro.
— Thank you for your honest answer. Could you tell us which features of Cerebro you use regularly and which ones you do not use at all?
— In fact, we barely use one-third of all features that Cerebro provides. If we talk about what is constantly used for work, then, first of all, it is the list of tasks with the entire tree of subtasks and a forum for messages on each task. And, of course, a brilliant invention of Mirada. Everything else is used to a lesser extent. In my opinion, Cerebro has a somewhat overwhelming interface. It is as if the developers tried to fit everything in, so the UI we see now is quite complex. On the other hand, this is a trifling thing, you can just ignore it. Since we do not have piecework and do not involve freelance vendors, we don’t get to use the time-tracking functions and all the Gantt chart-related features. Again, our company is not very big. I understand that time tracking and control is needed for piecework or a large organization. But at this stage, we have other problems at hand. But as for order management, the opportunity to see all previews at once and leave comments is very convenient. With our systematic approach, we are happy that everything is in one place. You know the common routine: email, corporate chat, personal communication… As a result, no one understands who said what and to whom, as well as when and what to do. Especially if the manager said one thing and the art director said another. Now that this is all strictly within Cerebro, even if there are issues, they are promptly solved, we just have to view the task history. It helps a lot with our work.
— What else besides the interface you dislike in our product? What would you like us to improve?
— I wouldn’t say I find the existing interface unacceptable. Yes, I do think it is somewhat overloaded, but it’s the matter of taste. Someone likes to drive a BMW, someone prefers Toyota. In fact, everything works very well.