Interview - Akama


Akama Studio 
Animation Studio - production and post-production

 Paris, France


Thank you for taking the time to answer our reader’s questions.
First of all, congratulations on your Best Advertising Award at Imagina '11 .
Raving Rabbids Series received rave reviews. Can you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts? Which one is your favorite and why?

On this project the major challenge was to make clear the trip through time and history and especially the role of rabbits and their influences in history. We needed to show that the rabbits were in some cases responsible of great historical events, or in other cases, how they were able to modify / change history. 

All this in a comedy tone with typical Raving Rabbids’ humor, without forgetting the constraint that the new game was this time aimed specifically at younger people. It was therefore necessary to sweeten a bit the''trash side of 'Rabbids' movie” we had done before. 

On this project, in addition to directing and manufacturing, we were responsible of screenplay’s writing. To understand the idea of time travel and the Rabbids’ role, we selected moments of history known by most of the people, and especially the youngest. The events and period of History  selected, in addition of being well representative of history in general, had to be enough different and separated in time from each other. Thus we begin with the discovery of fire during the Stone Age, through ancient Egypt, ending the Middle Ages to the days of chivalry, using the legend of King Arthur. 

The purpose of this film was to promote the Rabbids’ game “Rabbids time travel"at the video games’ show of Los Angeles: The E3. The technical challenge that we imposed to ourselves was to achieve a high quality 3D for the event, while remaining within the constraints of budget and schedule.
Tell us a bit about your company...When did you start? What programs do you use?
Akama Studio is a post production service company, it was created in 2004. Its domain of expertise extends from 3D to Special Effects and digital animation. Akama Studio is happy to work with all directors that require its expertise.

The creators of the studio, Alexandre ADA and Cedric JEANNE are also a directors’ duo represented for advertising by Claude FAYOLLE from Wanda production company. So the films they work on are manufactured by Akama Studio.
Our pipeline is organized into 3DSMAX and V-Ray for 3D and special effects, and After Effects for compositing and motion graphics. 
With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that a Motion Designer has in his portfolio or skills?

It depends on the work methods of the studios. But it is true that nowadays, the majority of the studios asks more and more to the 3D artists to be specialized. We prefer, because of our size structure, to have people who know different tools or at least have a global knowledge of our pipeline. So they are able to anticipate production problems. We prefer people who know how to work in team and don’t work alone, without thinking of the one who’s gonna work after them on the same project. It is really important to be involved in what we are doing, keep interested in the whole project.
You have an extended experience in advertising. What can you tell us about the French advertising market? 

Despite the fact that we have already made several commercials in France since 2006, it is difficult for us to have a global vision of the French market. We are still quite specialized in the animated films even if we have already proved that we know how to make traditional films.  And animated films represent a small market of commercials produced in France.  But animated films are often among the most creative in advertising. We have also worked for several European countries and for China.
What we can say, it’s that being open to the web offers new opportunities in creative and interactive animated content. And it is true that France uses pretty well these new media and shows a beautiful creativity internationally recognized.
How do you keep up with all the changes in technology? 

It is true that we are in a field that constantly changes technologies. There are a lot of research in the field of imaging and 3D. It’s pretty exciting because nothing is fixed, and we know that we won't work the same way in 5 or 10 years. But  it  has  a  financial cost, we regularly have to update the machines, the softwares, monitor  trends and  bet on the good emerging  products. But the principles for making a 3D movie don't change. We always go through the same steps : design, modeling, painting, animation, lighting, and rendering.
The only evolution is that each step is done and will be done more easily. There are still lots of small steps between each major workshop in film-making that are still boring and should disappear; like the unfolding of UVs. The rendering also lives its last years. When we see the evolution of video game engines which get closer to what you can get with pre-calculated rendering thanks to the increasing power of real-time computation.
What was the biggest challenge in the Migros Project? 

On the Migros movie, we designed their mascot : a piggy bank, literally. The challenge in this movie was to direct the interaction between Migros pig, which was in 3D, and a real cat in a real apartment. In addition to the difficulty to film animals, especially cats, the animation work was really important to understand the relationship (competition) between the cat and the piggy bank. This movie is not like the others because we have directed it but it wasn’t manufactured in our studio because of scheduling issues; ‘‘Mikros Image’’, a French studio, was our sub contractant.
How about the Midea commercial?

Midea is one of the first movie we directed for China. The idea of this movie is that the products are feeling so well in the refrigerator that they improvise a song, each product playing an instrument sound.
Create a music, a rhythm, while animating products that you can found in a Chinese refrigerator was the major challenge in this production.

At the beginning, we wanted to create a music based only on the sound of the food. But while exchanging with the agency and the chinese customer in order to choose which products should be in the fridge, we realized that it wouldn’t be the good solution. So in order to respect the schedule, we decided to create a rythm than a song with real instruments, on which we animate the products once these were validated. To do this, we first created a pre animation , so a song writer could work on the rythm and the crescendo that we wanted for the movie, and we would be able to replace products by others if needed later.
Out of all the projects you have done, which one is your favorite and why?

It's very difficult to choose among all the films we've done the one we prefer. Each has its particularity, its challenge, its history, its goal .... "Wilkinson Fight for Kisses'' has a special value for us because it is the film that made us recognize as film director with all the awards it won in advertising. But films like “Lacoste”, ''Kit Kat'', “The rabbits E3”, or one of our latest films on monsters (see picture *) highlight the qualities of the studio as well in 3D animation and rendering,  as in digital effects and integration into the live.

What was the most difficult part in Kit Kat Senses? How about Kit Kat Ultimate Break?

''Kit Kat Ultimate Break'' was the first part of the commercials we've done for the brand Kit Kat. It was a film created for the introduction of the web site ''Ultimate Break’’. The main challenge on this project was the schedule. We needed to create a 3D animated film of approximatively 3 minutes, within 7 weeks.  After the success of ''Wilkinson Fight for Kisses'' we had  the  ambition  to work on a cartoon movie of  great  quality : the  movie  Kit  Kat  arrives right in time. It seems that the quality was much appreciated because the advertising people nicknamed us: "the French Pixar". A compliment that is worth all the rewards, even if our humility makes us think that the level of Pixar is unattainable.

The film ''Kit Kat Senses'' came the following year, the agency wishing to surf on the universe created for the first film. The challenge was reduced; the characters and the sets were ready for animation.

How do you start working on an idea? Do you use references or just imagination?
In advertising, the agencies come to us following a competitive bidding process. Depending on the advertising campaign they imagine for a client, they select some directors who match the project, and ask them to develop and think about their movies. It’s at this moment that our work begins. If the agency and the client likes our vision of the film, our intentions, we are hired to produce it.
For this creative work we use references, we ask designers to help us put our ideas on paper.

Agencies arrive with their idea for a movie. Based on this idea, of what it inspires us, we try to find the style in which it would be interesting and relevant to make the film. For the style we are looking for references that we mix with others, to try to get an original look. At the same time, we are working on the story and the editing of the film. We look for situations that tell the best the idea of the film, the scenes the most effective and rarely seen. For all these steps, we use our inspirations, our imagination, our culture of animation and film.
Which effect do you believe was the most difficult to achieve? (How did you do it?)
On the film ''Nescafe Spa'' we were faced with a difficult effect: The foam on cappuccino coffee.
Generally, the 3D fluid effects are quite difficult to obtain. These last years, simulation tools have become increasingly powerful, but whenever there is interaction with the animation and several types of different fluids, this kind of effect is still tedious. For  the  pool  of  cappuccino, we  had to make several simulation with Real  Flow  to  get  the  right  density, the right  viscosity  for the foam; in addition with the  interaction of a conventional liquid (coffee) and the cups' animation in  the  pool .  Then the use of Displacement Mapping and Sub Surface Scattering in the material allowed us to obtain a convincing result.

Do you use the same techniques from one project to another? What changes? What’s your favorite part? 
On one project to another, we use the same pipeline, with some variations depending on projects’ specifications. Whether we  work  on  a  full  CG  movie  or  integration of 3D in live action, we  use  slightly different techniques, but the main change of techniques depend essentially on the expected result. For example,  on  the  project ''Lacoste future", we wanted a  very  realistic  animation  in  a  tight schedule;  instead  of  doing  keyframing  as usual, we went through the motion  capture. This  involved some variations in our animation pipeline, going through Motion Builder to clean and adjust the animation before going back to 3DS MAX for rendering.

When we work from images filmed live, we inevitably have steps of tracking  for plans in movement and rotoscoping to make masks or delete some elements of the plan in order to integrate the 3D inside. Regarding the film in full 3D, the techniques are the same, working more or less on details, depending on the expected result: cartoon or realistic.
All steps are interesting in creating a film. But the most exciting step is the animation, where you can see your movie come to life.
Do you also create the storyboards?

Yes we are creating the storyboard of all the films we work on. But we rarely start from scratch. Indeed, in advertising, the creative idea comes from the advertising agency, which to explain properly her script has often already done a storyboard. From their original idea, we are working with them and we offer our vision of a new film with storyboards. We are the directors of the majority of films that are made within Akama Studio. So when an ad agency called us, it is precisely for this directing work in addition to the manufacturing quality we offer.
How important is it to have a proper education in this field?

We are in creative jobs, imagination jobs, artistic jobs but also very technical jobs. It is therefore important to acquire the technical knowledge and artistic notions to start to work in these fields. It is not necessary to achieve long studies; what’s important is to continue to cultivate and practice our eyes and artistic senses. It is important to not stay on a technical knowledge base but to be open to new technologies because in our field of CAO, there is always a new mean to facilitate a task, make it less tedious and to be able then to concentrate on the artistic aspect of things.
How important it is to have the right tools? (a good computer/camera/latest programs)
The same way it is important to be aware technically, we must do the same for tools. As advanced as they are, they must remain tools. What we expect from them it’s to help us to create pictures the more intuitive and natural way. When you have the right tools, ie a powerful computer without slowdown, programs up to date, ...etc, you save time, have a better comfort to work and allow us to go to the essential : the movie.

If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be? 
Steven Spielberg ;) And it will not be only for one day, it would be on all production and post-production of one of his movie.

What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
Making commercials for several years now, old desires of short film and even feature film begins to come back in mind. Being able to tell a story of more than 30 seconds, that’s great. We’re thinking about it more and more seriously and it may be possible that we do more than thinking about this. Only the future will tell what we really have in mind.
Anyway, thanks a lot for the interest you have in our work which is an additional motivation to continue to produce better movies.