The visual effects industry is a turbulent place, but mid-sized studios can endure much like a larger global outfit or a nimble boutique if they place their focus in three core areas: technology development, specialization, and their people.
Innovate in technology
At Image Engine, we place a great deal of importance in the tools we use. They’re the paintbrush and palette that bring our artists’ ideas to life. Increasingly, this mentality is also associated to the “glue” that binds our pipeline together.
Before & after shots of Image Engine's work on Game of Thrones
Efficiency is the source of our enthusiasm towards technology. This might come from today’s rendering technology, where advances across the board are increasing the amount or specificity of creative iterations possible; or in production tracking, where Shotgun enables us to manage multiple people across constantly moving targets.
But what we’ve found to be most important for a studio of our size is in-house R&D. Managing a mid-size studio is all about the strategic choices you make in terms of development, because every penny counts and it’s our open-source tools like Gaffer and proprietary tools like Jabuka that allow for huge increases in efficiency in our work-flow.
Gaffer enables us to tackle projects that would not have been viable before. With Gaffer in our arsenal, we can manage our projects in a boutique-like fashion, but with the high-end capabilities of a global VFX house. Investing in the right tools for your specific workflow is key to operating this way.
Nail your specialization
Mid-size studios need to make smart choices around what to spend their time developing, and what not to - this extends to the management of the creative tasks that you take on as a collective.
My first piece of advice is: don’t be distracted by the dollars and cents. Think more about the type of projects that you want to work on. The money comes along with it, but it should never be the focus — that should be the identity you want to craft for your studio and the creative enterprise it will become.
The second piece of advice is: think less about the building blocks of a piece of work, and more about the creative identity tied to those things. At the upper level of the industry you can be all things to all people, and even as a boutique you can do the same, just at a much smaller scale. For a mid-sized studio, it’s more important to target work that sells your studio’s core skills. Figure out who you are - what drives your people - and stick to it like glue.
At Image Engine, we’re as generalist a facility as we need to be, but within that we also have a core focus on hero creature and character development work, and the environments that these assets inhabit. We may also do FX work within this, but the creative focus remains the same, whether it’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or Game of Thrones. Find what drives you and what you’re good at, and hammer it home. When you’re working in the middle, you can’t be all things to all people. Sometimes this is a tough lesson for mid-sized studios to grasp.
Work with the right people
It’s the obvious answer, because it’s true: people are the core of your business. They control the tools. They provide the talent that drives your skill set. They’re the creative force that moulds imagination into reality. And they’re amazing! If you let them be amazing.
At Image Engine, building a company culture that supports our people and helps them develop is incredibly important, but we also extend this thinking to the working relationships and collaborations we develop outside of the studio.
There’s so much sameness in the industry these days –we’re using the same tools and the same workstations, but it’s the environments that differ. What does your studio feel like? Build your own tribe. Find people interested in your culture. Find clients that like working with you. Make people a priority, and success will follow.