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.
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.
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 👾💬💜
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.
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.
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.
— Vadim, tell us how you got into the industry, where you studied, and what are your duties in the company now?
— 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.
-Can you introduce briefly yourself, your company, and the history of the company?
– My name is Felipe Morell. I am the executive producer and CEO of Digitz Film a production company in Columbia in South America. We have been a production company for five years, working in co-productions usually between Latin America, and the United States, and Europe. I should say for film, for feature film and TV Series.
-How did you get into industry? What were you doing earlier?
– I got in the industry living in LA. I grew up in Los Angeles in California and went to design and film school in California. In a school called Art Center College of Design. From that, I started working at Warner Bros. for one of the studios in Hollywood and worked there for a while and from that, I moved to DreamWorks. I worked at DreamWorks on a couple of feature films that DreamWorks made. Then I went to Disney and worked at Disney. Then I moved to New York and I worked for Blue Sky a studio that does the Ice Age movies. I was born in Columbia. Five years ago, I came back to Columbia and started our production company which is Digitz Film and started working on our own projects.
-What was the biggest challenge for you when you decided to start Digitz Films?
– The biggest challenge was to be independent as far as like an independent film producer. Even though I think things in the world have opened up a lot for independent film. It is still independent film. It is still a challenge to find financing to get the productions done with smaller budgets compared to the big studios. The big studios they control most of the big financing and the big distribution and all that stuff. I would say that was the biggest challenge is to be independent in a world with big major studios. They have all control and all of power. But at the end it is really good like I said it is opening up all over the world. There are a lot more opportunities now for independent film and we are finding them.
-What is your inspiration working on films?
– As far as from the production, from the producer side I would say an inspiration would be Steven Spielberg. I worked with Steven Spielberg in the past. Even though he is a director and he is a very good director he is in many ways a producer. He is a huge producer as far as his production company and most of the films that he has done are his production in many ways. He is an inspiration as far as how much work he can produce in such a short period of time. Because he is not really that old yet.
From the directors’ standpoint, I worked with Brad Bird. He was the director of The Incredibles at Pixar. I worked with him in a movie called Iron Giant and he is an inspiration to me as a director. He is a very good director.
-What is your favorite film?
– My favorite film it is more a classic film. I love 2001 the Stanley Kubrick Film. I would say that since I was a little that has been my favorite film. When I saw it, I was young and I thought it was actually a much newer film, because all the science fiction effects and everything looked like it was a newer film. It did not look like it was a film from the ‘60s even at that time and because of not just the special effects but because of the story and the brilliance of the movie. In many respects that is my favorite film.
-That is nice. Let us talk more about Digitz films. Do you have any current projects and if so, what is their status?
– Yes, we are finishing a an animation movie at this moment which is going to be released in Spain in December and it will be released in the rest of the world at the end of next year at the end of 2017. We are also in production of 52 episode animation series that will go into production until the middle of 2017. That is for TV.
The movies are for theatrical release. And we have a live action science fiction feature film in pre-production that is scheduled to shoot in March next year of 2017. In development, we have several animation feature films and we are looking at two which will be co-productions with Canada. We are looking at another one that will be co-production with Spain. Another one we are looking at that will be a co-production with Argentina. And two more of our own projects that as of now are our own developments in-house of Digitz Films and still looking for how we’ll structure those ones with action producers from other countries.
-That is really so much. How many people are involved in all those projects?
– We have between 30 and 80 people involved in the last two projects that we have been working on: the feature film and the most recent series. Those are the people that we have involved in our studios in Colombia, which is two studios in Colombia right now. And additional to that we had close to a hundred people going through the two projects as well in the studios in Spain.
– When did you realize that you need some kind of software for managing it? When did you understand that you could try Cerebo?
– We found it from our co-producer on this last feature film because they had been using it for a while. I understand that they had been using it not only for this movie but for a previous project or for previous projects. I do not know how many but that is how we found Cerebro. That is how we got connected to it because they were already working with it. We have liked it a lot.
It is very useful. It is very friendly to use. It works really well for everybody. You can visualize, you can follow the process. Everybody else or the supervisor can go in and follow the process and share information. It is very good.
-That is really nice to hear. What was your first project in Cerebro?
-This last feature film. The one we are finishing right now. That was the one that we are with the co-producer that was already using it and they are the ones who introduced us to it.
– How long did it take for Cerebro to be accepted by the team?
– I would say that it was accepted right away. I think it is very friendly to use. As soon as somebody signs in and starts looking through the information I think it is a matter of minutes probably or maybe a few hours for anybody to get familiarized with the program.
Whoever went in to use it accepted it right away. As far as us, as a production company to go in to use it. It came very well recommended already because, as I said our producer had been using it and they were very happy with it.
We had an initial meeting with our co-producer because they were very familiar with the program already. We had an initial meeting with one person at the co-producer’s company to look at it the first day. She explained it to us and how she uses it and it was very easy.
-What are your favorite Cerebro functions?
– (Laughs) Since I am the executive producer I did go in to look at the work and what was going on. People in the production are actually really using it every day and really working with it as a tool. Because I am the executive producer I am going in every day to look but I am not really the one really working with the tool so much.
-What do production team love in our system?
-For the production team, for the management team I think it is great to have a view of what’s going on in the production as far as like what somebody is doing or some end of the production is doing and how the other end is receiving it.
Not only with the internal communication in the project which it has the messages that they are writing to each other, but also with the actual piece of the movie that is uploading in the program as a video. For myself, I could go in and look and take a visual video of the work that they are exchanging between the parts and the communication that they are writing to each other. I could look at what they are doing and to me that was great. Without having to go through each part and ask them or have to call each one of them. I would have a view in real-time on what was going on between the parts.
– I am glad it saves your time. Do you have any suggestions on how to improve Cerebro?
– I have not thought of anything. At least for my part, for what I was using it I was very happy with it with what I was seeing there. The way the product was working for me and for us, the people we are managing.
– To conclude our interview, can you please tell me about your plans?
– Yes, plans for the movies and the series that we are going to fall from next year on. It is development of a few featured films and pre-production of one that we start shooting in March. And three other projects that are in pre-production now in the stage of finding financing and some of the concept work and things like that.
Let us begin with EXCLUSIVE teaser premiere of «Sergiy Radonezhsky. The Legend of Miracle Worker» and continue further interview with Maxim Alaev, head of compositing department at DA-Studio
«Sergiy Radonezhsky. The Legend of Miracle Worker» teaser
– Maxim, we have known each other for a long time – about 14 years, I think. So let’s start with a brief story about you. How did you get into the industry? What are you doing now and what were you doing earlier?
– I got into the industry through animation. It was my lifelong dream to draw cartoons. I began, slowly but surely, after graduating from the theater and art school. By some miracle, I managed to get a job at MBL Animation Studio where I, step by step, began to master phasing draftsmanship and animation.
Somehow, after classical animation I found myself at Classic Studio, where Volodya Manevich asked me if I knew where “any key” is located on the PC. I said that I knew and that was the start of my work with digital animation. Everything started at the Classic Studio, where I began to master 2D computer graphics and then 3D graphics and eventually I became a person I am now. Today, I work at Da-Studio as the head of the Compositing Team.
– Let’s talk about Da-Studio. When did you arrive there? Tell us a little about it. What does this company do? When it was established and how many people work there?
– Da-Studio was founded in 2009, I came here three years ago, so it was October 2012. The Studio was created specifically for the project titled Sergiy Radonezhsky. The Legend of Miracle Worker (it is a full name for the project).
We have been searching for any kinds of information for a long time for historical, architectural facts, facts about Sergiy himself, how he became a living legend and our Russian Saint. A colossal amount of work was done.
We were searching for not only historical background, but also for an unusual artistic component, a visualization, from which our cartoon is made – as we call it – “an animated painting”. When the background is a painting that has come to life (for example, those of Isaac Levitan) and the painted world comes alive in this painting expanded by depth, in which a 2D hero is drawn. When I came here, they had just begun this work, that is to say that the management understood what they wanted, but didn’t completely comprehend how to make everything as beautiful as they wanted. We began to search for a way to make everything “take off” and how to render and compose it with the famous Ilya Radovilskiy.
We slowly started to compose a color picture from gray material, and we succeeded in getting what we have now. That became our pipeline, something we stand upon. We are proud of it. That is to say, that it is our picture and although I don’t know what everyone outside of the studio might think of it, but our team really loves it!
– Yes, it has an original style. How many people are working in the Studio now?
– The growth is a funny thing. When I had just joined the Studio, it occupied the 1st floor and half of the 4th floor. Accordingly, when the Studio grew we began to occupy the 1st, the 3rd and the 4th floors, and now we already occupy the 4th, and part of the 2nd, the 3rd, the 1st and the entire 3rd floor in another wing of the building.
Off course, we have the biggest and the best mockup pavilion in Russia. When our entire studio team gathers to watch the material, in the past a viewing room on the 1st floor was big enough for us, and now we can hardly fit in our mockup room.
When I joined the Studio, nearly 20–25 persons were working there. That included everybody and administration as well. Today, our team is comprised of almost 160 employees, considering only those who are involved in production and are in our office. We also have remote freelancers, accountants and administration.
– Yes, I see. Not bad! Do you currently have other projects and if so, what is their status? Can you tell us a little about it?
– Yes, I can tell you a about it. We have already started a project called Suvorov. Since the animated painting technology we developed is so complicated, we are going to develop and enhance it further. We have designed a product cycle in this style. The first movie is Sergiy Radonezhsky. The Legend of the Miracle Worker, we have already started working on the second film. It is already at the stage where there is intensive modeling and setup taking place and characters are being prepared. Some tests are done with motion capturing technology, and, correspondingly, concept art is drawn, investigation of historic detail is conducted, sceneries are made specifically for Suvorov, i.e. it has been completely launched.
– Yes, I see.
– The next one is called Pushkin. We are trying to tell about Pushkin’s fantasy stories when he was writing his fairy tales and how it all took place. I think that this is also a pretty interesting topic
We aim to speak to our children (specifically the generation of my and your children, who like to watch cartoons) and to give them a Russian hero they can look up to, who is interesting to watch, like Spiderman, the Hulk etc. We want to develop a Russian hero that our children can be proud to imitate: “I am Sergiy Radonezhsky!”, “I am Suvorov!”. Our goal is to give Russian culture a bit of a boost, as well as relaunch interesting stories and personalities.
– Truly good intentions! What are you doing on this project? What are your daily tasks?
– I am a full-fledged combat unit as a compositor as Vlad Akhtyrsky says. In the former Soviet republics, we used to call ourselves “composers”, but when Vlad visits us, he says “comrade compositors”. Now, I do not know how to pronounce it correctly.
I am a full-fledged compositor. I produce at the level of our entire team, and I also am responsible for tasks in Cerebro. I form a plan and allocate tasks for the team.
The material comes from the Art Department who works with us. It is made up of art directors – women and young girls. It is a workshop, where beautiful girls do their work. They create concept arts and color explication of episodes. When they are done with it, they transfer it to me and I distribute the episode block by block to Cerebro, for specific assignments.
In general, I oversee quality control, but mostly from a technical aspect now. When I arrived, I was also involved in the artistic aspect (i.e. I monitored the sky color, tracked light warmness, shadow coldness and vice versa).
Now, I mostly control technical quality, so that the layout of layers is correct. Sometimes something still needs pre-tracking. Even though we have 3D, for parallax to be correct everywhere this work must be supervised and there is also a lot of manual labor.
We continue inventing technologies and I try to follow the trends and to take part in this since it is interesting and I think it is the future.
Images from the show
– Since we have already mentioned our software product, tell me, how long have you been using Cerebro? Did you face any difficulties in the beginning?
– You know when I came to the Studio we used Shotgun as a project management system. It was a pretty rudimentary application for us. Everyone seemed to understand that we needed some sort of project manager, but they didn’t understand the purpose of it or how to use it. Only managers used it and they didn’t really understand why.
As you know, I have been adept at using Cerebro for rather long time and I suggested using it on a project it to my supervisor as an alternative that was more cost effective and convenient to use. In addition, I was familiar enough with it that I could teach it. There also was support in Russian and it was possible to call a technical specialist into our the office if needed.
As you remember, we made this decision rather swiftly and implemented it. We initially faced quite a few problems because when we started using Cerebro three years ago, it was customized for VFX and video commercials that directly communicated with the client, so it was best suited for quick response to corrections and modifications and it lacked some tools to work with animation.
I can tell you that I have huge respect for the advancements that were made. I visited you and we just sat down and seriously debated whether all these statuses and other functions are needed. Thank you very much that in these 3 years you have always made improvements and greatly enhanced your product.
– I see. We will do our best to go forward! How long did it take for Cerebro to be accepted by the team?
– You know, I don’t even remember how long. It blended in naturally. It has the advantage that many people have already worked with it. So, I was mostly teaching managers, explaining to them where the Grantt chart is located, how to get statistics, where to look for report amount per employee.
For example, statistics are very convenient. Our girls in accounting conclude how many shots per month is made by each person and decide how to award bonuses.
Cerebro was integrated very quickly and everyone got used to it fast. Now we can’t imagine our work without it. We are even joke: “Write me in Cerebro”.
All production is based on assets. We have our own development. I see that you will ask me later if a built in asset-manger is needed in Cerebro, but we have already written our own, and implemented it successfully. People simply take tasks, they report to Cerebro automatically via script, and upload their dailies. Our asset-browser operates with Cerebro. Everything needed is being written continuously, upgraded constantly, and Cerebro is directly connected to our pipeline.
– We also are trying to do our best. We made a decision to actively develop API, which allows us to do tasks such as Assets. We recently released a new version with a new API based on the Cerebro interface, which will allow it to change completely, by subtracting or adding any of the keys (i.e. not only menu items like now). While we are still developing our built-in Assets, we must still remember the needs of current users and, so, the answer is yes. This API, allows Cerebro to be expanded and integrated with its developments. Good. Now, this question… What do you use as a manager? Maybe you draw over the shots, i.e. audiovisual review?
– Making notes and outlines is everything for us. Yes, I am making notes constantly, we even solve lighting problems, i.e. we arrange the lighting directly in Cerebro, draw the scheme, where the backlighting is from certain side, red is from the other side, blue where it gonna be keyed, etc.
– I see. So, the next question: Do you have any suggestions on how to improve our product? What is a “pain”, pardon me?
– What is a pain? A lot of small issues. For example, “Active Task” cannot be removed from the interface. I have my own GUI setup for Cerebro and I am not able to fit it to the window at the background so it’s not on top of everything yet also always in the interface.
Also, I cannot delete a hash tag. We employ visual artists and scriptwriters… Well, about hash tags… You know, zog-zog, work-work, right? Etc. 🙂
– Oh, I see. I see. It is about our release which supported hash tags. People started to use them but we definitely need a tool for, let’s call it, hash tag management 🙂
– To find all these hash tags and to delete some of them. Then, I guess that’s all Maxim! Thank you very much for the interview!
We continue the tradition and today we will talks with Tatiana Toropova, head of the RENDER.RU Center of Distance Learning
— Tatiana, could you tell us about the Render.ru training center? For example, about its history and when it was established?
— Most of Runet computer graphics enthusiasts have long known about our site Render.ru. It was founded by Stanislav Svarichevsky in the early 2000s. In fact, it was one of the first sites to cover this topic, and is still popular today. Ten-fifteen years ago, everyone interested in computer graphics, got their information from English-speaking sites. There were no lessons in Russian, almost, everyone was self-educated, and people shared information in the forum on our website. Most didn’t have any systematized knowledge, and so we decided to start some training courses.
The courses began in 2006. First, we contacted Autodesk to receive permission to conduct some courses in 3D graphics, and in 2007, we became an authorized training center for the company.
Gradually, we introduced courses in 2D graphics, because we felt there was a need for training on this topic, as well. In fact, until 2012 we only offered a few full-time courses, because they were long enough, and there weren’t many professional instructors. In general, these were basic courses for beginners and professional who wished to improve their knowledge. At that time, we developed “the methodology of simulating the production process”. During the course, students not only studied the capabilities of a program, but worked on a small project and learned the whole process of its implementation.
Our training center is located in St. Petersburg, and most of our students are from the area. Of course, there are students from other cities, but these are limited by economic circumstances. Given the large size of our country, such a trip is not cheap. Over time, though, with the development of the Internet and other technologies, those outside Moscow and St. Petersburg have been given the opportunity to obtain knowledge from professionals. We understood that distance learning was more critical. More people had the opportunity to learn remotely, so in 2012 we switched to completely distance learning and have been continuing this training for the last three years.
— What courses do you provide? What do you consider to be your specialty?
— Our specialization is still computer graphics – 2D and 3D graphics, both basic and advanced level training. We offer more than 20 courses. These focus primarily on Autodesk products, such as 3dsMax and Maya, but there are courses on less popular programs. There are also classes for 2D artists working with Photoshop and the creation of interactive applications and compositing. In general, we try to cover the programs and trends that are currently most popular.
— How do you differ from schools that offer full-time education? Specifically, how different is distance learning and your school from full-time education?
— Of course, distance learning has its advantages and disadvantages. Before anyone starts training with us, we explain “pitfalls” they may face. Everyone, though, has to decide if it will work for them.
Our country is very large, and working as a graphic designer allows people living in remote areas to become freelancers and work via the Internet. These courses allow someone living somewhere far away, for example, in Sakhalin, to gain knowledge from professionals, instead of just picking up scattered knowledge from individual lessons.
Our instructors are very skilled professionals who have been working in the industry for over 10 years. By creating remote training courses, we continue to use our very effective “method of simulating a production process.” The feedback from those who have already have received our training speaks for itself.
There is also one more thing to note: online communication during the training (editors’ note: Webinar), is a very big advantage. However, not all people living in remote areas have the opportunity to do so. The Internet is not fast everywhere and there are large time differences, so the current system is not perfect, but, nevertheless, it has suited most of our students, so far. Our lessons are not live, but are recorded video lessons. Currently, each student can download these lessons and watch them anytime as many times as they wish. Thus, they are not only able to quickly view a lesson and do something, but if the student forgets how it has been done, he or she can review the material for clarification and ask the instructor to learn the correct answer. Instructors reply quickly to everyone.
SELECTED WORKS OF STUDENTS
— If we talk about the basic stages of the lesson — you first load a video and then there is communication with the instructor, followed by homework — correct?
— Yes, the student completes homework using video tutorials and uploads it, then the instructor comments on each assignment and gives some advice. In particular, we have 2D-graphics courses, such as Adobe Photoshop for Artists: Computer Art School. How does one learn to draw pictures remotely? We can debate this topic of course, but, nevertheless, the number of our students has continued to grow, rather than decrease — and we can teach this remotely.
— I understand that payments can be made easily? How do you accept payments?
— We have a store on the site that provides everyone with convenient payment options.
— When did you realize that you need some kind of platform, I mean for education, to deliver video and provide communication? And when did you understand that you could try Cerebro?
— We learned about Cerebro when we decided to switch to remote education. It already had been used in the industry for some time and there was nothing else like it, so it worked well for our Computer Graphics Program.
— I see.
— We decided to test it a bit, and have been using it for the past three years.
SELECTED WORKS OF STUDENTS
— Great! It looks like you realized pretty quickly that Cerebro was going to work out. Did you have test groups?
— The fact is that the launch of remote training was…well, let’s say, not so fast. We started with one or two courses and a small group of people. Once we realized that everything was working well, we started increasing the number of courses. Now, I repeat myself, we have more than 20. Everything is working really well. Today, we simultaneously teach more than 50 people a month.
— So within a month you realized that this technology was going to work for you or did it take some time?
— Actually it didn’t take much time. Our course lasts one month. Once the first group completed their training, we realized that, in principle, we can recruit other groups and also communicate with them without any problems. We surveyed the students and asked if it was difficult for them to adapt to the program. Most of students said that everything was simple and logical, and they immediately began to use the program without additional training. We give students two days to adapt to the program, but usually that much time is not required.
Of course, we recorded a short video for the students to help them quickly understand, what to do, where to go, how and where to upload completed assignments, and how to communicate with the instructor.
— So, as I understand, you first email them study materials and then give them a lesson on using the Cerebro platform, so that it is easy for them to adapt to the teaching system. Correct?
— I have a question: Exactly which Cerebro functions are used? You see, Cerebro is used by companies that create computer graphics for a wider range of tasks, and …
— Absolutely. Of course, we probably only use about 10 percent of the program’s functionality.
— That’s not bad. In other words, globally, that’s your task. I mean, what kind of functionality? Do you use audiovisual commenting?
— Of course, we use the basic features of the program – the ability to create a large number of different projects (courses), administer them, and use the forum to communicate with instructors and students, which includes audio-visual commenting. We don’t use most of the functions, though. They are not needed in the learning process, but we cannot disable them. They distract the students who look at them and ask “What is this?” and “what is that for?”. Unfortunately, we cannot disable these features, so we have to explain that we use only what is needed for teaching…
— Tatiana, you know what? I have some good news! We are planning for the future. Yours and ours. So, I will continue asking about your plans, but I would like to let you know that we will be using the API make it possible to disable, literally, all keys in the next release.
— Yes, and we can preconfigure files to allow you to disable unneeded keys. So they can have reduced functionality for students, will still be fully functional for teachers.
— Yes, that would be nice, because we have different audiences. Many are technically savvy, but there are also those who are not very experienced. I want to mention your technical support. They always respond very promptly and are quick to provide support. We really don’t have any problems here.
— To conclude our interview, can you please tell me about your future plans?
— We plan to increase the number of courses we offer and provide a wider selection to accommodate the requests of our students. Right now, there is a new interesting topic – virtual reality. I cannot even imagine what sort of course this might be, but we have an instructor, who has already been working in this field professionally. So, we hope to make the course available this year. We also will be establishing new courses in gaming and animated films.
— Yes, that’s wonderful, because gaming is actively developing and the number of specialists only grows from year to year. I mean the needs of the industry is such, that it should continue to grow, as will, perhaps, to a lesser extent, the animation industry. Unfortunately, the demand for visual effects specialists, is somehow decreasing in our country.
— Still, though, there is TV, which very actively recruits specialists. You can see a list of openings on our website. Infographic specialists are in demand, as are visual effects specialists for television. They are needed for advertising and news. There is always a high demand for these high paying jobs. Young people, of course, are often more interested in working with animated films, but there are not a large number of jobs, especially because of the crisis. Let’s hope that everything will work out okay.
— No, Tatiana, I disagree. Thankfully, I don’t think that things are so bad with the animation industry in our country. Unfortunately, our visual effects in advertising and movies are perfect and the demand is decreasing, but thankfully, progress has been made in animation and that is improving. Well, that is my two cents worth. Thank you very much. That’s all!
Today we spoke with Himakumar Kilari, VP Post Production at Prasad Group
Let’s begin with a brief history of your company. What is your profile? What do you do?
Prasad Group was established in 1956 by the legendary filmmaker L.V.Prasad. Now Prasad Group has major production facilities and offices in India (Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Trivandrum, Bhuvaneswar, Kolkatta), USA, Germany and UK. Prasad Corporation Ltd (EFX), a leader in digital post production in India, offers the entire range of digital services including VFX, Digital Intermediate, Digital Film Restoration, Archiving, Digital Asset Management, Stereoscopic Conversion, Complete 3D Movie Making Solutions, Blu-Ray Compression & Authoring and Digital Cinema Services. Our staff have more than 800 professionals.
Who are your clients?
Our clients include Dharma Productions, Yashraj Productions, UTV, Madras Talkies, Filmkraft and etc. We cannot reveal overseas clients names since we are committed to NDAs.
What kind of projects are you involved in now? Or is that secret information?
We are involved in creating visual effects for multiple feature films, both from India and across the world, at the moment. As already mentioned, we maintain good relations with our clients, with whom we enter into long-term NDAs, and hence this information is top secret :).
At least tell me about one of the projects: How many people and/or companies? Number of shots? What scenes caused the biggest problems? Any funny stories from shooting?
A recent project we delivered involved 45 artists working from different locations and time zones. The projects comprised of 200+ shots (3D and 2D). We had to do research and search for references for understanding animal anatomy for a particular portion of the film.
Do you use outsource to companies? If so, explain who is involved in the process – from both sides.
We rarely outsource our work to other companies, since we are very well equipped with professionals and infrastructure. Our experience and scalable infrastructure, make us an ideal destination for global studios outsourcing.
Tell us how things got started, when did major projects start to roll in and you realised that you needed specialised software to manage them?
One of our projects required services of artists from across different locations and time zones, and we wanted to ensure that the submissions and feedback were well tracked, hence we wanted to utilise a specialised software to manage the project.
When did you understand that Cerebro got accustomed in your team?
It is happened very fast, the software enabled us to track the work and made it a lot easier!
VFX Studio, Chennai
Sound recording and mixing studio
Digital Grading Suite, Mumbai
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?
As Cerebro is very user friendly, the team got accustomed to the interface within a week.
Do you use the drawing, text and audio-commenting functions?
Yes, we use the drawing, text and audio-commenting functions while providing feedback for the shots.
Which Cerebro function do you use every day?
Shot submissions, feedbacks and shot status.
Maybe there are some improvement recommendations?
We are still experimenting with Cerebro, and it currently meets our requirements. We will return some suggestions and recommendations, if any, in the future.
KK: Can you introduce briefly yourself, your company, the history of the company?
HK: Okay, first—history of the company. Transparent House was founded in 2004. They started out as a design visualization firm, creating photorealistic 3-D architectural renderings and animated walk-throughs of commercial and residential buildings. As they gained more popularity, they expanded into 3-D product visualizations, videos for campaigns, and keynotes.
As for myself, I joined Transparent House about a year ago to push my creativity to the next level. My background comes from product design where I used to design energy-efficient lighting fixtures for the consumer and commercial market. After two years in lighting, I decided to go back to graduate school to obtain my master’s degree in Italy and then came back to the US to join a start-up in the gaming industry.
TH SF Exterior
KK: You worked in the gaming industry in the USA, right?
HK: Yes, I worked in Palo Alto and the Silicon Valley for almost three years developing mobile and social games that utilize 3-D environments and assets.
KK: Right now, what is your occupation? What do you do in your work?
HK: I specialize in 3-D modeling, materials, textures, rendering, preparation for animations, and development for our interactive applications. Lately, we have been doing a lot of interesting Unity and Oculus rift development, pushing our 3-D work to further immersive stage. It’s great here because Denis gives our team the opportunity to push our creativity and technical skills.
KK: What about clients? What type of clients do you and your company have?
HK: We have a broad range of clients. It could be from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies that include large architectural firms like Gensler, Perkins+Will, big consumer electronics companies like HP. We really touch on every spectrum.
KK: What type of works do you create? It’s not only architectural stuff? It’s product stuff, what else?
HK: We create virtual tours, animations, marketing videos, teasers, branding assets, motion graphics, and graphic design solutions. We just recently worked on a very large, upscale residential property called One Rincon Hill Tower 2, located in the heart of San Francisco. We needed a practical and effective production management tool and this is where Cerebro greatly came into play.
KK: Can you mention names of recent projects? If it’s not under NDAs, maybe two or three.
HK: For properties, the two largest projects we worked on over the past year were the One Rincon Hill Tower 2 residences and Lennar Urban’s Hunter’s Point shipyard project. Lennar is currently developing a large-scale residential community with over 1,000 homes near Candle Stick and SFO located in a beautiful area surrounded by water and we generated a broad spectrum of products for them including renderings, animation, leasing applications, and virtual tours. For products, we continue to work with HP to delivery high-end animations and product tours for their marketing needs.
One Rincon Hill – Rendering
One Rincon Hill – Final
KK: Can you describe, for example, one project with more specifics and maybe in these projects you use Cerebro and can you describe problems on this project, maybe some challenges, how you create? Can you explain more specific?
HK: Cerebro was a great asset when it came to keeping the One Rincon Hill Tower 2 project on track. During the entire three months of production, we worked with our Moscow team and a team in the UK to generate 3-D assets, live shootings with green screen, and take aerial helicopter footage. The challenge was to keep the entire production organized and make sure that all tasks were assigned to the correct people. Cerebro really helped us greatly because we were able to assign tasks, put things on a time line, visually see progress, were able to immediately access production files and provide real-time feedback with effective communication. Using platforms like Basecamp, Excel, or Google documents just wouldn’t suffice.
KK: How many people work on these projects?
HK: I would say about ten people internally and about ten people externally, so in total about twenty people in production.
KK: And all people will be only in USA or maybe in Russia?
HK: I’d say about 50 percent is in the States, the other half is in Europe.
KK: How many objects, assets do you create?
HK: We’ve had about seventy cuts in the marketing video, a ton of RED Raw footage, Go Pro footage, six virtual tours, fifteen still renderings, four time-lapse videos, and a good amount of branding assets to be used for the leasing efforts.
KK: What was the duration of the projects?
HK: The duration of a project is about three months.
Tower Two at One Rincon Hill: Official Teaser Video
KK: What is the typical duration of the projects? Do you work only on short projects, or long?
HK: This really depends on the client. Most of our clients come in for two- to three-week turnarounds while others like One Rincon Hill Tower 2 can end up to be a long partnership of work. The original project duration was three months but they ended up liking our work so much we’re still working with them right now to help with their leasing campaign and this pushes the collaboration to over six months. With Lennar Urban, we have been working with them for several years now.
KK: Right now you use both systems, not only Cerebro, you use Basecamp for small projects. How do you separate pipelines?
HK: For projects that are about two to three weeks long we tend to stick to Basecamp, just because it’s more client-friendly, more straightforward, they’re more used to the type of communications that take place in Basecamp. However, for larger projects extending into several months with a large number of assets, we will definitely use Cerebro because the tools allow us to assign, track, comment, and keep files for immediate access. This is essential to keeping production smooth with our Moscow team.
KK: Can you be more specific about what type of tools you use in Cerebro? I mean voice, maybe you type tool in Cerebro?
HK: For me it’s usually review notes, create a report, I check status, I update status. Sometimes I use the markup tool to make internal and client-based comments, which is really useful and fast, but not so much voice. Or motion designer Eduard puts it to more use than myself.
KK: It’s okay, voice is better for animation. You mostly use something like markups. I understand, because you need to put specific marks, like in this corner, or in that corner.
HK: It’s great because you can use Cerebro to create internal review and markups for our production team and those markups we can use for client-facing as well, which we post at Basecamp. It’s actually a tool that we use to optimize the production efforts between the clients on Basecamp, so it’s useful in both ways.
KK: What was the first project in Cerebro?
HK: The first project was One Rincon Hill Tower 2 for us. Now we use it for some of our internal projects as well.
KK: How much time do you spend after you decide that Cerebro is good for this? How much time do you spend before you decide if it’s good?
HK: First of all, using Basecamp and Google Docs is not very visual so the instant I tested Cerebro out, the response was good. It’s hard to beat the set of tools you have created so far.
KK: I mean, how much times do you spend to understand that this stuff is good?
HK: Maximum, a few hours.
KK: I mean implementing it in your company, so that not only you would understand it, but also the other people?
HK: For the Moscow office, they didn’t like change so much, so it took them awhile, but once they started to understand how easily things were accessible, how communication was much more simplified, they were happier with it. For Transparent House, I’d say it took about two weeks to make the transition. We just had to accept the challenge. For us internally, when Eduard our Motion Designer recommended it, and the instant I tried it, I knew this was a solution to our problems, so we picked it up in a few days. We set up the project here in our San Francisco office and then shared it with the production team in Moscow.
KK: Do you have any problems when planning with Cerebro?
HK: In terms of pipeline, it only helps. With Moscow it may be an issue with the network setup, but they are having issues of downloading, at times it can be very slow.
KK: We will definitely fix this problem. We work very hard to create fast protocol with many sessions, and many connections, and right now I’m sure we have a very high speed. We tested already in Moscow.
HK: At the time, when we first started, there were some issues with speed and huge files when downloading for our Moscow team but my understanding is that this issue is already resolved. As long as the system is smooth and fast, anybody can use it. The problem is the people and their mind-set. If the managers in Moscow don’t want to change what they’re comfortable with, then they are going to be like ‘Oh no, I don’t know, we don’t have time to learn new software.’ All they have to do is take a few hours to try the software and soon they will realize how much the software will help with their project management.
KK: The last question: do you have something like improvement recommendations, what you want to improve? Right now we are working under digital assets, it is an important part to any production, we create asset management. It will be a little strange, asset management, because it will be not only manual-shot/scene asset management, it will be auto-video/photo-reference asset management as well. Do you have another suggestion? What do you want to improve?
HK: One thing, when you work with 3-D, you create many versions of files. The more versions you upload, of course, it’s more data that you have to maintain. It would be nice if Cerebro could have some kind of tool that could remove old files automatically based on version control. It could keep the latest three versions of a file saved on the server while the older ones are removed. That way, you could keep the system more optimal and simplified for artists that need to access work files. That’s one suggestion I think might help. Another one is in the Mirada Viewer to be able to have some vector markup tools, where you can draw some straight arrows and have callout boxes for text input.
KK: Something like arrows, circles?
HK: Yes. By the way, what about view and markup on top of PDF files?
KK: Yes, it’s possible. Right now only on Mac version, you can open PDF files. Actually, you can create markups in pages like frame in movies and save it. But it works only on Macs, because Mac OS X has QT API. We are working under implementation for Windows, Linux. I think it will be our next step. Right now, we are working hard under all Mirada for more stable version and faster for playing 2K–4K video.
I think we are done for today, thank you for your time!
We are proud to present a new cycle of interviews on how Cerebro is used in companies.
This month we interviewed Elena Chugunova and Anastasia Pashenkova, project managers at “Petersburg” animation studio.
Please tell us about the history of your company.
The “Petersburg” studio was created in March 2003. Our studio is the only one in Russia where the whole production process is in digital format, using the latest computer technologies.
Our creative team incudes over 100 specialists working on powerful graphical stations for 2D and 3D animation. This is why “Petersburg” ensures fast production rates for animation series, corresponding with european standards. In order to support young talents and to help develop love for the arts the studio also features a school for animators, storyboarders and directors, and also courses for animation film script writers, that are open for everyone.
We try to fully realize all of our knowledge and experience in our work. And the work of our team was acknowledged at various festivals: Grand Prize of the China International Cartoon and Digital Art Festival (China, Guangzhou, 2005), People’s Choice Awards at the International Festival of TV cartoons Cartoons on the Bay (Italy, 2005), nominated for National cinematography prize “Golden Eagle” in 2008 and 2009 in “Best animated movie” category, etc.
On what projects are you using the program?
At the moment we are working on creating a full-length cartoon. This is a movie about the new adventures of the popular Smeshariki characters, that find themselves in a big city. We are using the latest technologies on the project, including 3D format. We are using the Cerebro program on the production of this full-length cartoon for 2 years now.
How efficient is using Cerebro for your business?
The Cerebro program allows us to effectively distribute human and time resources, plan the production process, track task fulfillment and keep up with the whole project production process. Cerebro has a flexible structure that allows, if necessary, us to add new task types and change old ones. You can easliy see the productivity of each separate employee, using the User Stats option. The Project Stats function allows you to evaluate the level of project completion. A major plus of the program is the opportunity of working with remote users and the opportunity of working out of the office.
What difficulties do you experience during the process of organizing work on a project? What versions of Cerebro do you use Mac / Win / Linux, Web or, perhaps, IPhone?
During the process of work on a project you sometimes need to edit or change work that has already been done and correct mistakes, and Cerebro allows us to quickly react to such alterations. We use 2 operational systems on the project (Windows and Linux) and Cerebro works well in both systems.
How fast did your team get used to the program?
As our team consists of creative people, the first stage of implementation caused a negative reaction, but after the first week of work in Cerebro our employees were able to appreciate all the advantages of the program: convenient task setting options, task list, tracking of time necessary to fulfill a specific task, payroll control options (for contract workers).
Do you often use the audiovisual reviewing tool?
Screenshots allow quick evaluation of work, but we do not actually use the function itself, as the key employees all work on the studio.
Do you have any recommendations to make the program more convenient?
A very important function is work with animation files only through Cerebro, by-passing all browsers, and also control of all work file versions.
Is the program interface user-friendly and convenient from your point of view?
The program interface is very convenient and user-friendly.
– Ekaterina, Please tell us in brief about your school; specialization, history, plans for the future.
– ScreamSchool, computer graphics school, it is the largest educational center that trains computer graphics in Russia. At present we have 7 long-term educational faculties. Such faculties are about post production- «Visual Effects», «Compositing» , «Animation», game development faculties- «Game Graphics» and «Game Design», «Architectural visualization» and «Motion Design» faculty. As Well we have an online education course, on the general software packages. In general, our school works in a regime that forms the actual experts for the industry, that is why it is very important for us, that our educational process will be as close as possible to the industry realities. That is why we are using all the possible technologies in the industry, and we always update them.
Also not far from us there is another project- «Moscow Film School», where I am in charge as well. From 1st of October we are starting with two faculties- «Script mastering» and «Producing», during the next year we will open all the main specializations of Film Production, and also distribution, that means, except two named-above, there will be also: “Direction”, «Operator art», «Art statement», “Installation”, “Film distribution”, plus, certainly we plan to integrate ScreamSchool’s animation and computer graphics faculties into the «Moscow Film School» grid.
– Actually, You have already partially answered my next question, but I still will ask it. How ScreamSchool differs from other Computer Graphics schools ?
– At our school , Teachers practitioners work only: if a person does not work in the industry, he will not be able to work in ScreamSchool nor in the «Moscow Film School». This is first, Secondly, our resource base is being very actively updated. Further- learning process is developed on the British academic standards and quality base, that means, it is aimed at practical results and on portfolio formation. And last, a student integration and communication into the professional society.
– And How does the academic load is distributed: what percent of educational tasks is carried out «in a class» and how much is carried at «home», as homework ?
50/50. Students take classes three times a week (two times on weekdays and one day on the Weekends).
– And this one as well, that differs you from other schools, you have large amounts of homework’s?
– Well fairly yes, this is because Computer Graphics is an area where it is necessary to sit and work, sit and learn constantly. And at home too, in this case it is necessary.
-When and why you decided that you need to use Cerebro in educational process ?
As soon as our cinema post-production faculties were opened, we understood at once, that we need Cerebro. Because, first, all the major Russian studios were using this software, plus our teachers were using this software as participants of the CG industry. So we got together and decided that it is necessary to integrate work of our students in Cerebro- after leaving school our graduates would not need to have an additional training course, in order to work with Cerebro software that many Russian companies are using now. And second, Cerebro is very friendly to use, very convenient for maintaining student’s projects – course, degree, vacations. As the computer graphics for cinema are not made by a single person, the educational project is not one man’s job either, it is the whole group that must be involved in the process. For example, student groups like, «Visual effects» and “Composing”. That means they must cooperate with each other, not only in class, but also at home, because some parts of their work must be done at home.
Respectively, when they work at home, it is much more convenient to manage their projects while using Cerebro; put materials in one place, to know what each project-member is currently doing, plus it is very convenient for teachers especially- because they can access the system at any time and to know, what students are doing and to evaluate and comment their working progress. Thus, for teachers-practitioners, educational projects do not differ from the real ones.
– And, probably, part of teachers uses audiovisual tools for commenting?
Yes indeed, majority of them, in fact. At first, they give intermediate audiovisual comments, students start them to carry them out, and only after goes the “official” written part of commenting.
Also, Cerebro is a program on which all our online courses are based. Because online group training are away from the teacher; and naturally, in this case it is very convenient to upload a lesson into the system, that students could hear or read it.
Besides, after the lecture is finished, students are given homework from their lecture . This homework could be heard several times, rewind and etc. Further, within a week, the teacher checks the homework performance, evaluates it, carries out consultations on mistakes.
-What faculties are using Cerebro now and what faculties aren’t.
– Cerebro is being used at both post production faculties- «Visual effects» and “Compositing “.«Architectural visualization» uses Cerebro too. But «Game graphics», “Game design” and “Motion-Design” are not using it yet. That is, like in the industry.
– In general, industry of motion design uses Cerebro, but it is not about it. I want to ask a tricky question: Whether you considered any alternatives to Cerebro ? After all there is a whole class of software programs that were made specifically for education and remote education.
– On average, once in a month somebody calls us in order to offer some new service product. Now I even have a whole list of competitors of yours. However we do understand that there is no worthily alternative to Cerebro at present, because of our specifics. For us it is important that every shot in the project (and our in class training and online training courses are based completely on the real projects, that means we use real material, that was given to us by a certain movie company under the confidentiality agreement) would be most protected. And here Cerebro gives us more security guarantees, than any other software, that are made just for information logistics.
– But after all, let’s be honest, our software is designed, first of all for the needs of real production, as for educational specifics we didn’t sharpen it. But what functions, from the educational purposes point of view, Cerebro doesn’t have ? for example, there is no system of putting marks for the students work. No, it is possible, of course, to comment, to put evaluation mark as comments, but it is not like what you need ?
Well, let’s note that at our post-production , there are no marks in simple understandings of the marking system. Our marking and evaluation concept is: “is accepted” or it “is not accepted”. That means in this way we do not differ at all from the real studio: the students who passes their test, differs nothing from the industry expert who handles over their real work: «Shot it is accepted», «it is accepted with comments» or «isn’t accepted» – that’s all. «Architectural visualization» is the same: we have «handed-over project» and «not handed over project».
-And what’s about students tricks, like: points, estimates – «who has more, he’s the best»?
– Perhaps, I repeat, but nevertheless: we use Cerebro, first of all, for students project management.
Cerebro is used for term projects, so that it would be easily and quickly to collect all these works that our students made, for example, throughout the year. But if students study, say, «Classical animation» either “Drawing”, or “Photo”, Cerebro is used. That is, we have no specific “educational” tasks, our educational process is closest to conditions of the “real” work.
And when all students and all teachers work in one system, consider it the main working tool for sharing their work, it is more than convenient, the reasons that I have already mentioned.
-And what versions of Cerebro do you use, Windows, MacOS, Linux maybe? Or maybe, mobile version for iPhone and iPad (recently we ave launched a new official version ).
– As for graphics, generally we teach on PC, and our main version is Windows. 90%, approximately. But at home students, that have Mac, they use MacOS Cerebro version.
-Ekaterina, thank you for your time with us today !
Today Konstantin Kharitonov talks with the heads of Moscow VFX-studio Trigraph – Arkady Dubinyn (Supervisor) and Olga Nikulina (Producer).
Let’s begin with a brief history of your company, what is your profile, what do you do?
Arkady Dubinyn: The Trigraph company was created at the end of 2004, it was established by three co-founders: Vladimir Sokolov, Sergey Zaporozhcev and myself. The first project that we had was TV series based on Michail Bulgakov’s novel “Master and Margarita”. The amount of work that we had was large enough, connected with serious three dimensional graphics: Motion Control based shootings and character animation. Later we had 2 films from “Central Partnership” (a leading film and TV series production and distribution company in Russia. Trans.), “Piranha Hunt” and “Countdown”. In total we worked on more than 40 films.
Konstantin Kharitonov: What kind of projects are you involved in now?
Arkady Dubinyn:Generally we work on feature films, sometimes on TV series. Till the end of the last year, we haven’t done any advertising videos, but in December 2011, we had decided that advertising and music videos are quite interesting business for us, so we made a couple of advertisement videos for VTB bank, with the help of DTVMA Production Company, plus we made a music video for one Russian pop-group.
In the crisis year of 2008 we had switched to a service specialization that means we did just workflow things, for example: cleanup, product placement and so on. But in the last 2 years, starting from “Generation P” (a film based on a Viktor Pelevin’s book. Trans.). Since then we had returned to the complicated high-tech effects, brought back our 3D-animation department, and in new projects we are having high-grade character animation with complicated effects.
And in what projects, in particular?
Arkady Dubinyn:For example, now we took an interesting TV-series from our old friends, a director on this project is Evgeny Bedyrev, with whom we had worked on “Tariff Novogodny”(New Year’s Tariff. Trans.) film.
This TV-Series name is “While the Fern Blossoms”- this is a 12 series film for teenagers, with some mystical elements, for this project we already have some work on characters, monsters and a large number of “magic” effects.
Great! And now again to your history: how long and on what project did you start to use Cerebro?
Olga Nikulina:We adopted Cerebro about a year ago, on a TV series project called “Hokkaido police” (UMP company). There were 12 series and 121 shot – a pretty big project, and it had to be done fast. That’s why we purchased Cerebro at that moment – we needed to boost up things and secure all possible management issues.
How much time did it take for that project?
Olga Nikulina:Two months, from scans till the final project delivery.
When did you understand that Cerebro got accustomed in your team?
Olga Nikulina:Right away. At once things became clear. Everything became so instant and more convenient.
Arkady Dubinyn: Actually the story is quite simple: during that time in our studio we had a large amount of graduates from ScreamSchool (a branch of the British High School of Design. Trans.), 10 people in total. All ScreamSchool students in our company were using Cerebro, because of that and also what Cerebro had to offer to us potentially, the rest of the office had to agree and to switch to Cerebro too. J
Which Cerebro function do you use every day and which one more rarely?
Olga Nikulina:Well, every day we use task forums for various communications, often we use commenting system – for texting and drawing in Mirada Player. The thing that we use rarer is statistics, once a month we use it to collect statistics on users.
But how often do you use Voice commenting function in Cerebro ?
Olga Nikulina:Quite rarely actually, but in general it is rather convenient.
Arkady Dubinyn: We tried to use it. When working with outsourcing, probably it is more convenient, but for now 95% of our employees are present at the studio, therefore it is not necessary to give them any voice comments, the supervisor or the artist can simply approach any performer.
Well there is such dependence: when people are more away from each other, then they are more willing to use Voice commenting in Cerebro…. But What Cerebro OS versions do you use -MAC, WINDOWS, LINUX, WEB, IPhone and IPad ?
Arkady Dubinyn:We use MAC and WINDOWS, sometimes IPhone.
Konstantin Kharitonov:Do your Clients use Cerebro in order to cooperate with you?
Arkady Dubinyn:Yes, for example on that TV series (Hokkaido Police), where we are working right now with them.
From a functional point of view, who are these people?
Arkady Dubinyn:Often it is either a producer or a director, sometimes – an external VFX supervisor.
Olga Nikulina:For example, Post-Production Producers from “Kino Direction” know Cerebro well, when needed they can log in and comment some shot straight away.
Is it difficult for new users to get used to work in Cerebro?
Olga Nikulina:Not at all, but at the same time we are lucky, all the people mentioned were quite familiar with Cerebro functions and also they had some experience using it when they came here.
From your point of view, how comfortable is the Cerebro interface to use?
Arkady Dubinyn:It depends on a task. In general, Forum is very convenient and fairly common to use, because everyone knows Facebook – therefore by analogy everything is simple and clear. But regarding the administrative functions, it is slightly more difficult….
Maybe there are some improvement recommendations?
Olga Nikulina:Well for me it is data input in the navigator fields, i.e. so that there will be no need to go into the “Task Properties”, for example to set a tag for or to change any other parameter of a task.
Arkady Dubinyn:In other words it would be nice to have an inline editing in the “Navigator”.
Maybe something more?
Arkady Dubinyn:I miss a certain initial form for creating a task, with standard fields for the entire project. At least some sort of a form editor. The same forms editor would be useful for reporting- that reports for producer would be uploaded at once in the form of a beautiful PDF file. And again, very important thing, that the first definition in a forum branch could be fixed, as the top line in Excel, for example; not to lose a task essence in the long branch of comments in the forum.
Olga Nikulina:And regarding the access rights, there are some wishes too. It would be nice that the users could have access to a specific objective, which is displayed in a separate column of a “Navigator” – similar to how the appointed performers in the assigned column are displayed now.
And in the “Task Properties”, the access rights would be displayed at once, without pressing any buttons.
Also that there will be a task color coding, connected to a tag: you choose a tag – the task is recolored in any color.
Thank you we will try to consider it for the future! And the last question: Is there any side software that you think it would be useful to integrate Cerebro with?
Arkady Dubinyn:Useful programs-software might be: Frame Cycler or PDPlayer, also programs for Render-management and asset management.
Yes we can do that, I think. At First we will integrate Cerebro with our own render management DUMA.