Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.6, September 1997

The Digital Studio Challenge:
A Catch 22

Keeping up to speed with today's ultra-new, ultra-cool technology is a daunting task. We asked four leaders in the field to answer, "What are the largest challenges you face everyday running a digital studio/facility?" Representatives from Rhythm & Hues, Fantôme, Neurones Animation and Pacific Data Images all replied.

Time and time again the experts all agree that the continual push to upgrade to the newest technology and then integrate it back into the system proves to be the largest challenge. Oh, yes, and finding incredibly talented people and keeping them happy and creative also adds a few headaches!

John Hughes, President, Rhythm & Hues Studio
Rhythm and Hues is an animation studio with clients in the television, commercial, feature film, theme park and video game industries. We do the Coca Cola Polar Bears and have won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for our animation of the talking animals in Babe.

The main challenges I face are keeping everyone focused on being creative,
attracting a steady supply of "A" quality work for the studio, and building
a working environment that is nurturing and conducive to good work.

Georges Lacroix, President, Fantôme
Fantôme is a digital studio, specializing in 3D computer animation. The largest challenges that we are confronted with when running the studio are:

Hiring people who can bring their creativity and a real dedication to the 3D area.

The constant training of staff in order to maintain our high level of quality.

The continual upgrading of software and maintaining the unique production line for 3D series that we have created.

The constant gathering of information to pass onto our R&D (research and development) department, regarding the industry's never-ending upgrading of software and hardware.

And, despite all of that, trying to produce good movies!

Sebastien Dohogne, Gabby Project Leader, Neurones Animation
Neurones is now one of the biggest 3D/2D companies in Europe. We also have an animation studio in Korea. The Neurones group is composed of the following studios:
In Liege, Belgium: Neurones Animation, R&D and real-time 3D animation.
In Luxembourg: 2D productions, pre-production, inking, and post-production.
In Angoulême, France: inking, special effects, scanning, shooting, compositing, story-boarding and layouts.
In Seoul, Korea: 2D animation
In Longwy, France: inking

We are faced with extremely fast growth, and the communication of information and the coordination of materials between studios is one of our biggest challenges. Everybody has to receive the work on time and the instructions must be as clear as possible, in order to avoid wasting time on phoning, mailing, emailing and faxing. Our production schedules and budgets are tight so each production day is a challenge.

In Liege, Belgium, we produce cyberactors which are cartoon-like 3D characters evolving in real-time. The project is called Gabby and was developed by the R&D department of Neurones. We have to produce 3D characters for our customers in a very short time period. Furthermore, these characters speak in real-time with the public at fairs, events, meetings, etc. on low-end SGI computers. Therefore, we have to build 3D characters with their environment with a maximum of 4500 polygons within 2 or 3 weeks. Despite that, the characters have to be perfect. They have to move well, and we have to reach at least 15 frames per second for lip synchronization. Each time, this is a big challenge for the whole 3D team which includes: 2 3D-Animators, 3 modelers, 1 software integrator and 1 tester.

Mark Kirk, Technical Director for Systems, Pacific Data Images
Managing the technology of Pacific Data Images is certainly a challenging task for everyone on our team. The last two years have been a tremendous period of growth at PDI due to both the expansion of our visual effects/commercial group and the Antz feature production. So, one of the primary responsibilities is planning and implementing this growth, with all of its ramifications, while maintaining a robust environment to support production. For example, the last year has seen the introduction of over 200 new computer systems to PDI. The timely preparation and deployment of these systems is critical in itself. However, an important side-effect of this has been the necessary growth of our network. Expanding PDI's specialized, high-performance LAN (local area network) in the face of such rapid growth is a significant design challenge.

The "7 x 24 uptime" nature of production makes implementing growth and other changes difficult. Planning, preparation, and scheduling are extremely crucial. When we are afforded the rare opportunity to make some major change, it must be done quickly and without error. Technology also requires talented people to manage it. PDI is fortunate to have a superb systems group, but continued growth fuels the search for additional systems administrators. The dramatic shortage of skilled systems administrators makes expanding our staff difficult. All studios are facing this problem.

Everything we do must further our end goal of providing a stable and powerful environment for the animators. We never want technology to become a bottleneck for our creativity.

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