David Andrade is an artist, entrepreneur, and co-founder of the global animation collaborative, Theory Animation (theoryanimation.com). He is part of the production crew for the Ray & Clovis webisodes and talked to JHI about the production process for a webisode.
Could you describe the creative process for a Ray & Clovis episode?
The original idea of Ray & Clovis had been gestating with writer and creator Evan Detwiler for a few years before he’d joined Theory Animation. Those early sketches, designs, and scripts were brought to Theory during a pitch in 2011 and have served as guidelines for every episode since. Evan serves as the creative force behind Ray & Clovis, shaping everything from plot and dialogue to pacing and animation. However, because we’re a collaborative bunch, we build off of the ideas that Evan initially presents us in our weekly meetings, and the sparks of inspiration fly! You never know where an idea may come from. For example, an idea we saw in a PIXAR trailer led to playing around in Blender, a new rig update, and ultimately some super squashy and stretchy facial animation that we’re now including.
Can you talk about some of the challenges of artistic collaboration online and how Theory Animation has been able to resolve them?
The biggest challenge we face is communication since we’re scattered across 12 time zones. Thankfully, technology has come to our rescue. For dailies we use zoom.us to conduct video conferences. This tool is awesome and lets us communicate on most devices, even letting us call in from our phone. Video conferences makes it feel like we’re all in the same room, and being able to speak and react in real time has been priceless for our production process. We also use publicly-available platforms such as Google docs, and yes, even good old-fashioned email, to make sure we’re always on the same page.
Internally, we have our own asset tools where we can manage our entire production pipeline: from assigning and tracking shots, to posting reference artwork, technology tests, and even showing off completed scenes. Technology’s ability to connect us has become the linchpin of our organization, and it’s helped us to overcome the challenges created by distance.
You are primarily using Blender at the digital-asset creation tool. How did you make that choice?
In the beginning it was license costs. We wanted to put our money in tool and team development. We knew Blender being free would allow us to not wipe out our start-up funding just for licenses.
As time went on, this answer became more about Blender’s robustness and community. The software can do some marvelous things, more than most give it credit for. We were quite surprised to see how well it handled our animation workflow. In fact, there are many tools in Blender that we love that other packages don’t have out of the box! The Blender community was also a pleasant surprise. The ability to have a bug fixed and pushed to you in just a couple of hours, or a quick response from a developer on IRC, is astounding.
You are promoting web episodes, software, and hoodies on the Theory Animation website. How are you able to stay focused on your core products?
Everything revolves around story. We want to create the funniest cartoons on the planet. Everything we do revolves around telling these great stories. We know merchandise is a way to share our love of Ray & Clovis with the rest of the world. Each shirt is design to tell a funny story from Ray & Clovis; like our recent Knock Knock shirt with Clovis laughing all over in the background.
For our technology, we liken it to letting people use our studio backlot. We will soon be releasing a new site completely dedicated to software and collaboration tools. We’re going to call it Make Theory. This will allow artists from anywhere on the planet to create something amazing.
Could you talk about the digital asset management toolsets such as Theory Task, Sync, and Render and the need to create those tools?
When Theory first started out, we knew that as an animation studio we would need some production management tools. We thought we could simply pull together a bunch of tools from the internet and we’d be set, but we quickly determined that none of the tools out there was sufficient enough for us. We realized we’d have to take a couple steps back and create our own tool sets before we could move forward with any actual production work. Theory Task was written first, almost six years ago now, as a way to organize the chaos of production. Sync came soon after as a way to share files, with the added benefit of version control so we could keep improving it over time. Both Task and Sync helped us make our first short film, Nuts for Pizza (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kTTrHjA9hE .) Rendering was our last hurdle, which was finally cleared last year. We had tested an early version of this on Nuts for remote rendering, and perfected it with Ray & Clovis. We can now render fully in cloud and send frames to our editor or compositors.
Interview by Shish Aikat