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WATCH: Artella Unveils New CG-Animated Short ‘Thistle One’

Director and Artella CEO Bobby Beck details how 54 artists from 21 countries helped create a thrilling post-apocalyptic tale using the company’s cloud-based production platform.

After four years in production, Thistle One, a CG-animated short produced through an international collaboration of 54 artists from 21 countries using the Artella cloud-based visual project management platform, was released today. Directed by Artella CEO Bobby Beck, Thistle One, set in a post-apocalyptic world, tells the tale of a young girl’s fight against an alien invader.

The intrinsically taxing animation process was made that much more difficult by a production where no two artists were ever in the same room together, nor always spoke the same language. Beck, however, was able to harness Artella’s functionality to help build a cohesive and tightly managed production team despite the challenge of a geographically disbursed resource base and a lengthy production schedule.

Starting back in the spring of 2015, the project seemed like it would come together quickly, at least on paper. “Something about these short passion projects makes it seem like they’ll go much faster than they do,” Beck notes. “Once you get into it, there are so many things that push and challenge you. There are a million moments where you think, ‘This is never going to get finished!’ But, somehow you pick yourself up and keep going. The team is counting on you and you have to do it. For yourself, yes, but also for the team that has worked so incredibly hard.”

An animator by trade who spent many years at Pixar, Beck has worked on several Artella projects with an eye towards helping artists use the growing platform to achieve their creative vision. On Thistle One, looking to better understand how Artella technology could drive production management through features like tasks, reminders and notifications, as well as how the platform could be improved and expanded, Beck took on the role of producer as well as director.

Thistle One was designed organically as part of the previs effort, which also provided the team an opportunity to work out the story’s flow and get a better idea of how to pace the action and energy. But, inevitably, as development proceeds, things begin to change. “The film changed quite a bit once we got into it,” Beck explains. “The end used to be much faster… we kept the same energy throughout the film. But my creative consultant, Carlos Baena, suggested that we bring the energy down to let the audience breathe for a moment before hitting them with a suspenseful ending. I think that pacing really adds texture to the piece as a whole.”

The Artella platform was used from start to finish -- the file management pipeline was used from the first to the last file, as were the review tools, finding and integrating the artistic team and managing all the work. The production additionally used a Google spreadsheet to manage some of the task work and Slack for production heavy conversation.

“We’ve worked hard to build Artella as a great cloud-based file management system made specifically for remote productions,” Beck says. “For example, you can have an asset, like a truck, and that asset may have a model, rig and 50+ texture files. If we used Dropbox or Google drive, it would have been a mess. Artella keeps all the file connections intact, so as you move an asset into shot production, it keeps the relationship to the original assets. You can branch the assets so you have one truck that is clean and one that is damaged, and you can use both in different areas. This allowed our artists to work in their specific areas and the work flowed through the production quite nicely.”

Beck acknowledges that the project would not have succeeded without CG supervisor Max Pickl. “You need a good right-hand person to support you along the way on a project like this, or you will fail at some point,” he shares. “For me, that was my CG supervisor, Max. He was on the project from day one and stayed until the final day. That’s four years! We finally met in person for the first time to celebrate the end of production a few months back. It was great getting to thank him in person for his support, talent and friendship along the way. I trust that guy with anything and I look forward to working with him on more projects in the future!”

The project also benefitted from a “lead” artist in each area of production, because with any pipeline, things can break down if artists don’t follow the workflow. “Our reviews were not just about output, but were about making sure the work was in the proper location so it could flow to the next department,” Beck describes. “Project ‘leads’ were in charge of ‘blessing’ an asset when it went from ‘in progress’ to ‘final’ so we could ensure the work was indeed ‘final.’”

Previs artist and animation supervisor “Boa” Tikumporn Teepapal, based in Thailand and working through an interpreter, was one of those leads -- he led the animation team, creating a dynamic visual style while providing detailed feedback to the animators using review tools built directly into the platform.

It’s also important to note that regardless of Artella’s features, tools and overall functionality, artistic creativity and teamwork is what makes a film like Thistle One succeed… or not. “There are a lot of projects that start and never finish because these things are hard,” Beck notes. “There are continuous roadblocks and you have to work through them. When I worked as an animator in the studios, it was no different. There are always challenges to get through. So, with an indie film project like Thistle One, you have to be on board for all of that, have a great team to support you and move through each hurdle one at a time. Production is not a race, it’s a marathon and then some.”

And while there are several large enterprise clients currently using Artella, the next iteration of the platform will be geared even more to producers, with more key production management functionality. Right now, the free version of Artella is a great place for independent artists to make their productions. “It’s always been part of our vision to help independent artists achieve the level of work that the big studios do,” Beck concludes. “That will continue to be a driving force behind Artella. Thistle One is a great example of that commitment.”

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.