Interview - N3DESIGN


Animation Studio

Andy Golikov
Head of N3 Design Studio 

Russia, Moscow, 12th Maryina Roscha proezd, 9А.



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?
We are a relatively small post-production studio, which creates graphics for television channels, commercials and corporate presentations. We started about ten years ago with a team of three people and have now grown much bigger. We do not have any special orientation or mission. Our task is to consistently deliver high-quality products within our specialization.

Do you collaborate with production companies or manage everything in-house?
As we are a post-production studio, we do indeed work often with production studios specialized in filming and with advertising agencies, but we often work directly with our clients, which are usually major television channels along with other types of companies. We also cooperate with other studios and freelancers, but this does not happen often. Most of our projects are prouced in our studio.

What programs/plug-ins/scripts do you use?
We use several software programs, but primarily Autodesk 3ds Max, although other programs as well. I don't want to dwell on the technical aspects, because it is not especially important which software a studio uses. You can achieve the desired results with almost any kind of software. What is important is the specialists and their experience, while the tools they use play a secondary role, I believe.

You do everything from 3D modeling to live production. How do you keep up with all the changes in technology?

It all depends on the project and the tasks set by the client. We sometimes do absolutely everything, including the script, the storyboard, the previzes, the shooting, the 3D effects, and the final compositing. Sometimes we are involved in only one aspect of the work, but it is almost never a purely technical task (keying, rotoscoping, modeling, etc.). We usually produce parts of video clips or complicated presentations for large companies. Of course, we keep up with developments in technology and introduce new technology into our work whenever feasible.

With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?
It depends on what a specialist would like to do. In my opinion, finding narrowly focused specialists (modelers, visualizers, composers, etc.) is now much easier than before, but there are fewer designers who can create concepts and sketches. Highly skilled animators for motion design are rare. A specialist's portfolio must demonstrate mastery in their professional area and in using their tools, their tastes, attention to detail (close to perfection).

A portfolio should demonstrate a potential for further development and the artist’s passion for what they would like to do in the future.

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games introduction impressed an entire world. 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?

This project was created by several studios. Our part included the country maps (the entrance of the athletes) and a number of other fragments (the destruction of the floor, freezing, constellations, etc.). The main difficulties included a large number of complex and detailed three-dimensional maps in very high resolution and a very limited time frame for the production of that large-scale project. We do not have any great secrets, but the final result, which is about one hour of content created by studio, was the product of a very hard-working and well-coordinated large team.

What were some of the challenges on TVC IDs?

This is one of our favorite projects. We recently carried out a similar task for a major TV channel in Shanghai. The main difficulty was to perfectly fit three-dimensional objects for stabilized hyperlapses (a series of photos). It was necessary to take into account optical distortions, the specifics of architecture, etc. This involved detailed and lengthy work by a fairly large team under the close supervision of the art director.

What is the typical starting point in a VFX commercial? How long does it usually take? How much of it is just trial and error?
Everything is determined by the initial brief. The more detailed and clearer the task description, the easier it is for us to do the work. The storyboard is very important, as well as communication with the director and the operator. It is crucial to have a supervisor on the set. These projects normally take less than one month, but sometimes the deadlines are very tight and we have to do everything in a few days, including working on weekends and holidays. There is hardly ever enough time for trial and error, so we need to understand from the very beginning what and how we are going to do, who is going to participate and which technical methods we will use.

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 Most Intelligent?

Again, it all depends on the project. A project that is small and typical (for example Most Intelligent) is carried out by a small group of designers (sketches, animation, art direction), a visualizer, plus sometimes the participation of a modeler. The entire project (from start to finish) takes about three weeks.
Most often, a working group consists of four or five persons: a designer, a modeler, a visualizer, an animator, and a composer.

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)?
Yes, as a rule we use similar techniques and our own developments. In my opinion, our strong point is the creation of television design (ID, program headings, etc.). In this area, we usually work from an initial idea and concept to final implementation. When we work on commercials, the concept and storyboard are usually provided by an advertising agency. We do not use motion capture. This is not our specialized area, along with character animation, although we do have specialists who can do that.

Was there ever something you wanted to do in a project and couldn’t? (Technology wise)
We are not very good at sophisticated simulations, such as complex fluids, fur and wool or feathers. Movie-like special effects are not our strong point, because they require very specialized technicians, plus a different approach and a different pipeline. In addition, we do not create classic animation and do not produce corporate identity, Web material, or archives separately. In general, we prefer to do sophisticated digital abstractions, such as infographics. Our portfolio clearly reflects this. Personally, I am strongly attracted to futuristic concepts and technologies. Unfortunately, a company has to work with a broad range of assignments in order to survive in the market.

Tell us a little bit about Serve Russia. What were the challenges on this project?

That is a bumper for a program shown on Zvezda (Star), the channel operated by the Ministry of Defense. We are preparing a complete re-work of style and themes for this channel, and the project will soon appear in our portfolio. Our task was stated very simply: "We need something cool with a military theme". Most of the work was done by one person, one of our most experienced designers—one of our all-rounders. The client gave us a free hand. This is the type of project that we prefer, but those projects do not come around very often, unfortunately.

What techniques do you use on a project like TVC Postscriptum 3 that deals with matching virtual environment with real footage?

We created the storyboard, sketches, and obtained the client's approval, and then created a previz (animation) for filming, which clearly shows what we need to shoot and how. We dealt with just the technical issues, such as tracking, rotoscope and compositing. In fact, I'm not very happy with the way the shooting and computer environment are combined in this project. This is not the best example of our best work.

How important is it to have a proper education in this field?
It is important, but much more important are talent and skills that come with practice. We have creative and experienced professionals with specialized training, as well as professionals who do not have specific training, but who do perform just as well.

Do you still find time for projects outside the advertising industry? What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
Right now, we are beginning to participate in the creation of interfaces for a game project, but I cannot tell you which project it is. We have begun to create projections for shows, concerts and events, which is now quite popular.

If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
That’s a difficult question. I would probably like to spend a day with the person who created all those incredible concepts for Halo 4. I'm sure you know whom I am talking about.

Thank you Andrey Golikov, Head of N3 Design Studio