Animating is great fun!

Evermotion 2013-01-08 14:30 article  > Interview

Interview with Human Ark

Ha Studio is a team of film directors, animators, CG artists and producers willing to take on any character animation and visual effects challenge for purposes of commercial and film production.

WAWPOL is a duo of Kamil Polak and Wojtek Wawszczyk - directors and animators working together on various animation projects (commercial and artistic). Some animations of WAWPOL and / or Human Ark: George the Hedgehog, The lost town of Switez, Peter and the Wolf, Heart and Mind commercial.
 

The movie „The Lost town of Switez” was finished in 2010 and there was a lot of buzz about this in mass media. How do You recall work on this production?

Human Ark was involved in work on the film for one and half a year until its completion. We were covering two aspects of this production. Graphic designers worked on animation and production division was managing the financing and promotion of the film.

What was the biggest challenge in creating this movie?

When it comes to visuals, the biggest challenge was the huge amount of shots and their diversity. Although the film is only 20 minutes long, it has many sceneries – from very minimalistic to scenes with hundreds of characters and a lot of special effects.

All this had to be subordinated to our aesthetic inspirations derived from the nineteenth century paintings and medieval icons. It can be said that “Lost town of Switez” is a blockbuster short.
Studio lived up to very high technical requirements and created some excellent
FX – for example - the scene of the flood, in which the vast mass of water is flooding the medieval castle of Switez.

LINK: For a detailed presentation of some techniques used during making of “The Lost town of Switez please refer to the article on the website of Side Effects Houdini.

The film is a showcase of the studio and its possibilities in creation of a very advanced 3d graphics. It was shown at the huge number of film festivals and has won a lot of awards.

It harmonizes perfectly with our studio strategy – Human Ark from the beginning has set itself the goal of making movies alongside commercials. The movie premiere was at the 61st International Film Festival in Berlin - Berlinale 2011. An interesting fact is that we now get a large number of applications from people interested in working at Human Ark thanks to this work.

LINK: You can find a trailer and information about the awards for “The Lost town of Switez” here.

One of Human Ark's directors, Kamil Polak was the special effects supervisor of Oscar awarded animation "Peter and the Wolf". Were the lessons learned from this production unique, and could be translated into other productions of Human Ark? What techniques were used on this project?

"Peter and the Wolf" was created in 2006. It was a pioneering production through the use of digital technology to produce a puppet animation. Earlier puppet animations were created directly on light-sensitive tape without further interference in the image. In 2005, when "Peter and the Wolf" began to emerge, the only high budget animation filmed with a digital camera was a "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride."

Was this a very labor intensive project?

Kamil Polak and his team of graphic designers were responsible for work with digitised images and for making of special effects shots (bluescreens, breaking shots to layers). Kamil had to develop a whole workflow of processing of digital files. CG in the film was used very intensively and many of the scenes could not be created without it. An estimated 90 percent of the shots (in total there were about 400) required different treatment - from deleting handles (rigs) supporting dolls, reprojecting images from the camera to correct recorded movements of the camera to the tedious rotoscoping characters in the scene. One of the key props – a blue balloon, which Peter holds almost all the time, was purely digital.
The biggest difficulty was a small amount of time scheduled for the film post-production. Most of the post-production work
was conducted in parallel with making the takes that took a year. The last shots were taken only two weeks before the premiere, so at this time graphic team has been working 24 hours a day. For the entire post-production team, making this movie was a great experience in teamwork, which is now essential for the operation of such studies as Human Ark.

Human Ark begins now the work on an animated series for children: “Kacperiada” (adaptation of the book of Gregory Kasdepke). What animation techniques will be used here? Tell us a few words about the story / characters and their development.

Recently we finished the first pilot episode and ended writing screenplays for 12 next episodes, so we have prepared the ground for the first 13-episode season. The series is dedicated to children aged 6-9 years. Although we are still before of the entire production stage, "Kacperiada" has already received a very prestigious award for Cinekid festival in Amsterdam as a project with the great potential.

The story is inspired by the stories of Gregory Kasdepke, but our director, Wojtek Wawszczyk expanded Kacper's world and added a number of topics, including Kacper favorite cartoon superhero Muchomściciel. Tom Lesniak, the "father" of George The Hedgehog made character's projects for 3d animation. Adventures of Muchomściciel are carried out in 2d. Music for an animation was composed by Simon Wysocki (we work with him regularly - for example, he also composed music for our demo).

What is the approximate release date?

On spring 2013 we will publish pilot episode for free on the web. We want to show that it is possible to create in Poland a world-class bed-time cartoon and that it is a better alternative to low-cost Asian productions – we want to win the audience with a great story and animation, sense of humour and marvellous characters.

Next year, we will seek funding for the production of the whole season and we will begin the production. We plan to collaborate with other companies, but each 11-minute episode will be initiated and closed at Human Ark and directorial supervision will remain in the team WAWPOL (Wojtek Wawszczyk and Kamil Polak).

Who makes the script?

The scenarios are written by Wojtek Wawszczyk, Aneta Wróbel and Adam Wojtyszko. Gregory Kasdepke will be consultant. He already seen the pilot episode and he really liked it.

Your another production will be an adaptation ofEntresol of professor Nerwosolek” and “A Travel with Diplodok dragon” - popular polish comic-books by Tadeusz Baranowski. Is he involved in the production process?

This comic book adaptation was Wojtek Wawszczyk's dream project for years. The first talks were conducted during the comic convention in Lodz (PL). In Tadeusz Baranowski opinion, Human Ark - the makers of "George the Hedgehog" are the perfect team to transfer his work on the screen. That's why directors and writers of this cartoon (Wojtek Wawszczyk, Tomasz Lesniak, James Tarkowski and Raphael Skarzycki) are currently working on the screenplay for the animation of Baranowski's comic-books. This work will last for many months, which means that production will start in late 2013 at the earliest. Our aim is to reconstruct the production team of "George the Hedgehog" and make an animation that will be a combination of 2d and 3d techniques.We will use a variety of tools - from After Effects to Houdini and Nuke. We will start when the script is finished.

Besides of making animated shorts, You also make commercials. The best known is the series 'heart and mind' for mobile company – Orange.

Our first commercial of “Heart and Mind” series is an animation "Pepper and Salt".

It is one of the biggest production in the entire series. We won a contract for making this ad. As a result, we now regularly create episodes of “Heart and Mind”. The process of making each episode is a result of clash of client's order, an advertising agency ideas, director's vision and final work of animation studio team. You could say that it is an exchange of ideas, in which the customer has decisive opinion. “Heart and Mind” is now the undisputed brand so we can afford a lot and Orange is not afraid of risk. So each time we have a lot of fun making an episode of this series.

We animate shots, illuminate them, render and compose. The main difference between making own work and making a commercial is the director's role: when it comes to work on commercial it requires more humility and subordination for project's contractor.

How do You find yourself working in advertising bussiness? Are you planning to delve in this branch?

Advertising is the bread and butter for studios such as Human Ark and allows us to maintain liquidity. Animated artistic shorts are long-term projects and fundraising may take even years. Of course, it would be perfect to be totally independent and make only dream projects. But often our commercial work is a great fun - we make a variety of interesting projects at the frontier of advertising and movie industry (for. eg. tv and festival trailers, which give the great satisfaction and let us to experiment with various techniques).

Kamil Polak and Wojtek Wawszczyk are known as WAWPOL duo. How this cooperation works on a daily basis?

Kamil and Wojtek know each other for over ten years and have often worked together before: Kamil helped Wojtek in making of “Penguin" and Wojtek helped Kamil on the production of the movie "W" in 2002. In 2007 Kamil helped Wojtek in the making of "Splinter", while Wojtek supervised the animation in the Kamil's film "Switez". Many years of their successful collaboration has resulted in a natural next step - a common direction, mainly in the field of advertising. Kamil strong sieds are usually matters of color, staging, lighting, composition and Wojtek mainly deals with animation, choreography, movement cameras, follow-up. However, there is no a strict division.

Wojtek Wawszczyk is the only Polish animator who had the experience in working for Disney studios. How do he recall this step? How different was this work from Human Ark workflow?

Wojtek worked with Disney's studios during his stay in Los Angeles at Digital Domain company in 2003-2005. He was a part of an international team of animators making computer generated effects for the Oscar-nominated film "I, Robot". But it was not his only task. Disney studios wanted to celebrate 50th Anniversary of Disneyland with a special animated spot- for the first time in the history classic 2d cartoon characters appeared on screen in 3d. Wojtek Wawszczyk animated Donald Duck with his nephews and Hippo and Alligator from the "Fantasia" movie. Work was very enjoyable thanks to wonderful, inspiring people and clear rules of the division of roles in the company. Many mechanisms of Digital Domain, we managed to implement in Human Ark, including a similar pipeline but also freedom and the mood. We're a small studio, but every our employee is an outstanding professional and a great personality.

Is it possible to highlight any particular trends of the animations in film and advertising?
Are there any techniques, tools and solutions gaining in popularity? How do you see the future of animation and this market?
 

In the last 10 years, thanks to digitization of the cinema and by the overall Internet access, animation has gained importance. The average viewer begins to see the animated forms. The audience discovers that animation is not just cartoons for kids, but it can be an effective form of advertising or talk about adult problems in movies for adults. All mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets bring animation closer in various forms of games and applications. It is a zone of art and industry, which is growing rapidly and that demand is growing.
The economic crisis is felt even in a small studio like ours. Contrary to appearances during the last few years, prices of animation services in Poland have dropped and the realization challenges posed by the market are often more difficult. This usually means that the studios have a lot more work to sustain themselves, often endangering the health of their employees or cutting their pay. Our production team is doing everything to ensure a comfortable working environment for the staff. There is nothing worse than working in a team of people tired and strained by the work.
We have a relatively closed market in Poland. Our studio is young and small so at this stage we are competitive in the commercial market mainly for other Polish studios. Of course, by making movies such as Świteź, we let the world know about us and by the originality of this type of productions, we often compete at film festivals with similar productions of the largest studios in the world.

 

Please tell us, what software and hardware do you mostly use? Which do you value the most and why?

In the studio we are working mostly on the Linux operating system, which is standard in the world. Our pipeline is expanded and divided into departments. We have a few generalists and mostly specialized departments. Models are created in 3ds Max and Zbrush.

Softimage is used for rigging and animation. Lighting, materials and rendering, and most of the effects and simulations are created in Houdini. Mantra, Houdini's native renderer is our primary rendering engine. The composition is formed in Nuke. In fact, each of these programs, in addition to 3ds Max offers the node based interface, in which you can build very powerful tools for solving various problems of production from complex to simple duplication of simulation assets within the scene.

The leader in this philosophy is, of course Houdini and such tools allow us to meet any challenge so we don't have to buy other specialized programs or plug-ins. Renderfarm tasks are managed by Open Source Sun Grid Engine, for which we are currently building our own user interface. Our programs are adapted and prepared to cooperate with each other such as: automated data exchange format for animated geometry between Softimage and Houdini, sharing cameras between all applications. Most of the work related to the assets management, versions of software and files is done with a specially programmed bash console on Linux system.

 
Do you cooperate with other studios? If so, with what and how this partnership looks like – if it is not a secret?
 

We are expanding the base of our partners but we don't want to reveal the details.

What was the biggest challenge for you so far? What challenges would you like to take in the future?

A major challenge after completing work on “Åšwiteź” was a strong entry into the Polish advertising market. In the two years since the completion of the film, we managed to win the trust of advertising customers and work out a very good position. We have already taken work towards future challenges. We began a preparatory work on the feature-length animation "Diplodocus" and soon we will start a production of animated children's series "Kacperiada".

Where do you find inspiration? What are your interests beside the animation?

We have in our team comics cartoonists, musicians and painters. We draw inspiration from so many sources, it's hard to list them. Human Ark employees have rich and complex personalities, and that's what gives the company specific character. In many other companies, the main theme is the technology, the new plug-ins and add-ons for the next games. We are interested primarily in the objectives and the associated emotions, and then we think about the technology by which we achieve the desired effect. We see what is happening in the market, but our inspiration goes far beyond the last 20 years.

 

Visit Human Ark website

Author: Evermotion
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