Interview - FIDO

 
 

Fido
Creative Effects Company

KAJ STEVEMAN
Creative Director / VFX Supervisor


Rosenlundsgatan 36 SE - 118 53 Stockholm Sweden
http://fido.se



Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us a bit about your company, when did you start, what are your goals?


Fido was founded 2000 and was a merger of 3 different companies. One 3d, one 2d (After effects graphic stuff) and practical effects like Make-up and Animatronics. This merger was to get a more “complete company” that had every trick of the trade to offer and to focus more on content rather than technical issues. At the time Fido made all kinds of things and was a more “generalist in its field. This also because of the many owners. Then came 9/11 and not only was it a horrible blow to all of humanity it also effected the business and Fido was facing Bankruptcy. This gave Thomas Deutschmann and myself a chance to restart the company and with that give it more focus. Since my background was makeup fx the obvious way was to concentrate on doing Characters and organic things. So from 2002 this has been Fido’s core business.
In 2010 Fido got new owners, The media group Forestlight Entertainment.
Not only has this made Fido into a more solid company but it has also opened up possibilities for Fido’s clients to access the business throughout the whole group, financing, production and distribution.



Do you collaborate with other production companies or manage everything in-house?

For the most we manage our selves. We sometimes have hired a freelancing Director and for some feature work we are forced to collaborate by various reasons.



What programs/plugins/scripts do you use? How do you keep up with all the changes in technology?
With a core team of some 25 artists it makes most sense to have a selected pipeline with as few applications as possible. Our core makes out of Maya with Vray and Renderman, Zbrush/Mudbox, Mari, Houdini, Naijad and Nuke for compositing. We are constantly feeding all applications with our own scripts. We also are working with some proprietary software like a fluid solver that we call Speedsph and our project, workflow and asset management system, Ftrack . Ftrack started at Fido but are now a separate company within the Forestlight group.



How involved is the interview process at Fido?
With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?

Well for Fido and its fairly small assignments and our remote location in Sweden we tend to not recruit that many artists from outside Scandinavia. It happens but for the most it’s more “local talents”. Fortunately even though Scandinavian countries have very few artists, there skills and reputation are very high. There are always some “home comers” that we try to recruit since they always have a lot of experiences from larger companies and shows. Fido are working on a specialist level and therefore are seeking artists with special skills and a good team spirit. Fido have kept its personnel more or less intact trough out the years and one of the major reasons is our high team spirit. Something we value very high.

The Falcon from Naturskyddsforeningen looks great. What were the challenges on this project? Can you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?



Yes, this is something we are extremely proud of. Since we are somewhat of experts on realistic animals, we have been encountered many times by scripts that calls for realistic birds. Or some reason we have never got them in the end… Guess it’s a little catch 22 thing. We where approached by a Swedish animation/VFX studio called VA (visual art). They had the whole production and was supposed to do the Falcon as well. But after discussion with the client they realized that it was impossible to have a bird that looked fake. The whole campaign is to preserve nature and falcons are protected and can not in any circumstances be used in the film. After realizing this they turned to us, in hope we could help them, despite the fact that we never done a super realistic bird.



So very humbly they asked if we thought we could do this despite the very small budget. And even though they asked if we could try to make it as realistic as the Hallmark Mother bird commercial by The Mill, we did not take long to say yes since we really wanted a chance to do a realistic bird. We decided to take this as an R&D project and financially as “marketing”. We started the pre-prod by collecting a lot of reference materials like pictures and film of Falcons. Although we have learned not to use different images of different individuals when making a character/animal. It is just to confusing, having different patterns, measurements etc.

So for this project I called the National Veterinary Institute who helped us thaw a dead Falcon for us to collect images and messurements form. They also had a stuffed one in I very nice pose that we photo-scanned with using a Canon 7D and using Autodesk’s 123D Catch free application to get a rough volume for starters.

After that we chiseled out the the Falcon in Zbrush and also made sculpted feathers to keep track of the volumes. Then the feather geometry was used in Yeti.

What were some of the challenges on CosmoDirekt?



There are always challenges when making commercials. This was no exception. One of the greater challenges was to create the Character. Since he was suppose to transform from the real world, as a real piggy bank and then into the animated world as a real and alive Piggy bank. The tricky part was to animate him in a way that kept the features of a piggy bank without loosing likeability and at the same time create a belivable character. The German’s are often very thorough with everything so they needed many steps to be sent out on tests through out the development phase. Some times I think one just have to trust ones instincts on the first ideas and stick to that. If not, one can always end up with the risk of loosing what was the uniqueness of the whole idea. Not saying that we totally lost it in this production but for sure there are many compromises within the character and his world.

Something we did on this project was really brute force the look development on the Character and made a walk cycle with shading, fur and nice lighting within a very short time. Obviously he was not ready for production, he just worked for that particularly walk cycle. We did this a little by chance since it’s almost always hard to get new clients (that have no experience of buying animation), to understand and finally to sign-off on how it all will look like in the end.

What other supporting departments do you typically involve on an average project? How large does this list grow when you’re working on a longer project like Flying Monsters 3D?



Fido consists out of some 28 permanent employees. From that we almost always have some freelancers working. All-in-all we have never had the need to expand to more than 40 people to date. Our pipeline is as follows, Art and Concept, Sculpting/Modeling, Rigging, Lighting and Render, Texturing, FX/Simulation, Animation, Comp and final On-Line/Grade. On top of that we Production, Admin and Support. All of the above are involved in some way on all of our productions. We try to keep the workflow consistent in any project. The only difference in the amount of people from each department.

Do you use the same techniques from one project to another? What is your company’s strongest point (creative concepts, motion capture, storyboard, animating, VFX)?



We always strive to develop new techniques and ways to reach newer heights. Although it is more or less always the same basic techniques that acts as a starting point. Our strongest point is that we are more than a post facility. We see our selves as a creative partner that have a lot of knowledge beyond VFX. We have our practical workshop, for makeup FX and animatronics and many of our employees have worked with film productions in many different positions other than effects. All this makes us unique and as a very strong creative partner no matter what is required. The best way to use our ability is to reach out early and involve us from the very beginning of a project.

Was there ever something you wanted to do in a project and couldn’t? (Technology wise) Which design do you believe was the most difficult to achieve?

Well we have been around for more than 11 years. For sure there have been projects that have not turned out the way we hoped. With that said, we have (knock on wood) never encountered a project were the client are not satisfied. Like an example we did a Nokian commercial some 8 years ago. The commercial was to animate tattoos on moving bodyparts. Match moving on stretching skin and moving camera was very hard at the time. We struggled night and day on a very tight schedule to get everything working as wished. It all worked and the client was very happy but we saw all minor flaws and compromises that we had to do. Today it would have been a walk in the park.

Tell us a little bit about RWE. What were some of the challenges on creating a corporate movie?



The biggest challenge was the extremely tight budget contra the vision from the client’s. We found a design on the giant very fast. This was very important in order to have the possibility to design and build the rest of his world. Although many of the backgrounds are matte paintings with minor animation. We did pre-viz on everything and made sure we got all of them approved before proceeding. That is the one of the keys in order make advanced animation/effects on a tight budget and timeframe. The tight deadline and the amount of stuff being produced had to be handled with a very carefully constructed pipeline and scheduling. This is the other major key to success.

What techniques do you use on a project like KON-TIKI BTS that deals with matching virtual environment with real backgrounds?



Basically it is the same techniques used in a feature film like Kon-Tiki as any commercial TVC. Most of our work deals with combining virtual environment with real backgrounds. In this specific film the goal was to make it utterly believable, so the demands where very high both with all CG animals as well as ocean extention. We used Maya software for all creature animation, Maya and Houdini for water effects, we rendered using V-ray and we put it all together in Nuke.

How important is it to have a proper education in this field?


Educations can come in many shapes and forms. As long as you have a deep understanding, some experience and good credentials you will have a good chance. So, no is the short answer.



Do you still find time for projects outside the advertising industry? What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?

Yes, we always try to mix commercials with feature work. Some 60% commercials and 40% features is what we strive for. We have now also entered the gaming industry and made a couple of game trailers. We are now working on a Swedish feature made by Underworld Awakening director’s duo Mans & Bjorn. Other than that there are a hand full of features that are in discussion at various stages. Nothing we can talk about, unfortunately. Very exciting stuff, though.

If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
I would love to spend a day with Mr. Steven Speilberg. He is such an inspiration and a true story teller.