Q&A with Arx Anima
Image courtesy of Arx Anima

Founded in 2011, Arx Anima is the animation production company behind the number one show on YouTube kids, “Talking Tom and Friends.” Produced by a team of 150 people, 90 of which are based in Vienna, the show’s reach is worldwide with airtime on networks ranging from Canal+ in France and Boomerang in the UK to networks in Spain, China and Japan. We connected with Francesco Paglia, Head of CG and Kris Staber, CEO of Arx Anima in Vienna, Austria to learn more about the show and where Shotgun comes in.

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We have ten teams producing shots simultaneously at any given time, and every artist has their own Shotgun account to makes sure that everyone is on the same page.

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How did you get started using Shotgun?

Kris: It was very early on, right after we started the company. We knew we needed to formalize the review process to make sure we had visibility across all of our projects. That was always a priority at Arx Anima - even when we were primarily working on small commercials and game trailers. When we started working on “Talking Tom and Friends”, we developed a lot of our own tools within Shotgun to adapt our pipeline and now everything we do runs through Shotgun. We rely on Shotgun like nothing else. We use it to review projects on the fly, and for literally every step of our production to make sure everything runs smoothly and communication never breaks down.

 

Francesco: We produce an incredibly high volume of work, about 300 shots per week, per department—the equivalent of an entire feature film’s worth of animation every one-and-a-half months. We have ten teams producing shots simultaneously at any given time, and every artist has their own Shotgun account to makes sure that everyone is on the same page.

 

What types of projects are you working on?

Kris: Right now, we’re producing season 3 of “Talking Tom and Friends”, which comprises 52 11-minute episodes. On top of that, we’re doing some commercial animation work, visual effects, and games projects.

 

Francesco: We’re also actually underway on an R&D project for creating new previs workflows, integrating our pipeline to both Unity and Unreal game engines so that we can extract data from Shotgun into the game engine and back into Shotgun for animation once the sequence is done.

Where are your artists based?

Kris: Our team is in several locations, with a majority of our artists working out of two offices in Vienna. We also have some artists in Grand Canary, screenwriters and voiceover teams working in Los Angeles, and several freelance specialists who work remotely from far-flung locations including Japan and South America. All of our staff uses Shotgun.

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We’ve refined the feedback loop so that we are at a maximum of four days of iteration between supervisor and artist before going to final.

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What are some of the Shotgun features you rely most heavily on?

Kris: Visibility. We have a lot of moving parts within the studio, and Shotgun gives us an overview of the latest statuses of many projects at the same time. Having access to that information is essential—and of course, we use the review and notes tools daily, and the media tools to communicate with clients.

 

Francesco: We have an average of 11-15 episodes running at the same time, with at least 35 active shots daily per episode, and multiple supervisors checking them every day. Shotgun helps us keep track of the latest versions, what’s been reviewed and approved, and what’s on the docket for review the following day. We’ve refined the feedback loop so that we are at a maximum of four days of iteration between supervisor and artist before going to final.

 

Kris: Another very important thing we use Shotgun for is custom reports. We generate custom reports that get exported from Shotgun into Google Docs to give us very accurate business insights into how a team is working on a given show, and our per episode cost so our financial departments and line producers can immediately know whether they’re within budget—and where there may be wiggle room to make adjustments.

Do you develop proprietary tools?

Francesco: We have many. One that we use daily is a tool to export and import EDLs to make sure that the timing of the shot is correct at every step of production. One of our biggest issues is review because we have so many shots active at all times, so we interlink our editorial and the whole review process in Shotgun with custom RV layers to make sure reviews are clear. Every episode has 200 shots and we produce multiple versions across eight departments. We actually end up reviewing as many as 2,500 shots in one season because we do so many versions to make sure we’re producing top quality. This process is automated to a large extent by the tool we’ve created.

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Having a well organized pipeline allows us not only to be very competitive on a global scale, but also to produce high quality animated content cost effectively right here in Vienna.

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Why is it important to pay close attention to your pipeline?

Francesco: At the end of the day, a solid pipeline is everything. Having a well organized pipeline allows us not only to be very competitive on a global scale, but also to produce high quality animated content cost effectively right here in Vienna. This competitive advantage is completely due to the fact that we have an efficient pipeline and great technology infrastructure in place. We invest heavily in our pipeline, and the resulting efficiencies save us so much time and money, and help us produce better quality creative in the end.

 

Kris: What’s important for us, and what we’re very proud of, is that by leveraging technology and our pipeline, we’ve managed to get to the point where we can keep this type of work here in Vienna for local artists. People think it’s impossible to do this type of work here where overhead and wage demands are high, but we’ve removed the friction and wasted resources so that we can make it work while keeping our focus on the quality of the work.

For more information on Arx Anima, visit: http://www.arxanima.com/