Custom commissioned animation is ZKad's forte. So is selling their library of original animations. For over a decade Vynny Ward and his company ZKad Productions have fused the creative process with a sound business model—offering animations for all price ranges and difficulty levels. The company's client list ranges from small companies buying images from their library, all the way up to enterprise-level clients like FOX, NBC and PBS.
ZKad's, and Vynny's, philosophy is to find the right animation for their customers, on a budget they can afford, and then to deliver it in a timeframe that works. And this philosophy has paid off with a decade+ of success in the business.
Of course Vynny had to pay his animation dues before becoming a successful animation entrepreneur—before he started Zkad he was a Director at Planet 24, and Technical Producer and BBC and the Trinity Mirror Group.
Now a seasoned industry professional and successful entrepreneur Vynny offers the following advice for those entering the industry:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Our specific goal is to offer the least expensive, highest quality
customized media and non-exclusive buy-out products to all, whatever their budget may be. Buy-out and media, especially music, used to be an expensive complicated beast with all sorts of clearances to be filled out and convoluted costly payment plans being the norm. A production house would have to pay per use or pay a monthly fee... either way you never 'owned' the piece and always had to jump through hoops each time you used it. Some time back we felt it was time to offer high quality products that were really royalty free and we did so. Now it's normal to for products such as ours to be offered on a contract-free basis and I'd like to think we had something to do with it.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
Bleak! Just kidding. I think real-time animation is the future in many avenues of the movie and TV industries. For example, when you a real human actor performs, the director hopes for that spark, that originality that sometimes only happens by accident, and this is especially true in the theatrical field. Sure, the actor is going through prepared lines and action but each performance can reveal something new. With pre-rendered movies, however, there's no accidents; everything is pre-calculated and pre-rendered and nicely laid out on a DVD or Blu ray ready to play exactly the same each and every viewing. If the animated show or film could utilize programming scripts and play out the results in real time then what you'd have is an animated scene that could subtly change on each viewing and I believe that real-time animation with sensible AI could offer a new form of visual entertainment. I don't think it would replace pre-rendered movies such as Shrek et al, but would be a complimentary addition to a franchise. With that in mind, any animator who also has programming experience is ahead of the game.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
The best is having the customer see the finished result after weeks, months sometimes, of work. This is especially true if several people have been involved in the making of the production and none of us have seen it in its finished form. Our intro for the United Kingdom of Christ Fellowship TV show is a good example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRsrXCRSMys . Each frame was taking around an hour per render station as it was in 1080p HD so all we had to go on were stills and low-res previews until it was fully compiled.
The worst is the long hours using rapidly out-dated equipment/software. People are often under the mistaken impression that working in animation, especially in TV, is glamorous. It's really not and most of your time is spent hunched over computer screens working late into the night. As I am right now.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
Tough one. Although it was a simple animation, I was particularly proud that our work was the center-piece on the 2005 Queen Mary II fourth of July celebrations with an animated US flag waving proudly as a full orchestra played the nation anthem.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
Meeting your own deadlines is a must. Be honest and realistic about how long things take to animate and most importantly be prepared to walk away when it's done. Animators often like to refine, tweak and just generally faff about with the tiniest little thing for far too long. Being a perfectionist is admirable but in my opinion if you're 80% happy with the work then it's time to move on to the next job. In our case, any experience in television in a non-animated capacity is a massive plus.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
On the whole we no longer hire new grads as I prefer real world experience. Of course, that real world experience may be in a field in which we don't do too much of such as cel-animation or stop frame. But a talented artist can often turn his or her hand to 3D animation even if they're unfamiliar with the software we use or 3D software in general. So, in our case, we look for people with natural artistic talent. Having an interesting, varied portfolio shows this. Versatility is key and I like to see it.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Sit down and produce an animation with real-world considerations; that is deadlines, unexpected changes and so on. To do this you should write out a simple brief – maybe you have a customer who wants a logo to rise out of the sea and then crumble to dust. Calculate how long would take then try to make it within your own deadlines. Set a real day, not 'a few a weeks or a month' and mark it in your calendar and try to have a finished piece of work on or before that date. If you fail, try to see where you went wrong. Did you spend too much time on a particular element of the animation that really you could have done without? If you succeeded then do another imaginary test this time up the difficulty level and add the 'surprise' factor. The customer changing something major within the brief but not giving any more time to do so is a good one. An example, and one we've had to cope with more than once, is a customer significantly changing the name of their new business two thirds of the way through the production of their logo animation. The more you practice the more you'll feel comfortable meeting deadlines.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
Working on Pentium P200Mhz PCs with 3Ds Max 1.0 and Character Studio 1.0, both of which were full of bugs and crashed all the time, yet trying to use them to produce a weekly animated show with five regular main characters was probably the most challenging.
Frankly I'd rather not think about it!
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
Not much to talk about - finished school and dropped out of college. I started as a programmer in the late 70s and then I saw the movie Tron. I then new where I was going in my career.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
For 3D we use 3DS Max and associated peripheral programs. For editing it's Adobe products such as PS, AE and Premiere. You don't have to spend $3500 on Max and any 3D app should give you some insight into this field. Start small and work up. Google Sketchup for example is free and is a good starting point for learning basic modeling. You can also download a trial for 3DS Max straight off the Autodesk website.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
In a pilot for an animated show about a musical 'boyband' we had obtained some motion captured data (this was when mocap was massively expensive) and I tried to incorporate each move as they looked so cool and 'expensive'.
This resulted in one of the characters, a real actual member of a 90s boy band, moving in some totally off-the-wall ways. Three of the band members would enter a room and the fourth would waltz in doing some ballet. It wasn't in the script, we just wanted to use the mocap data and so unfortunately for that one member he was the inexplicable idiot that would dance, limp, jump, backflip or drunkenly stumble about when all the other characters were behaving normally. Myself and the producer would laugh like children working on that pilot as we attempted to get the writer to use each and every mocap movement that we had, regardless of how inappropriate it was in context of the show. The show wasn't picked up.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I haven't really thought about it. I would imagine that given the massive amounts of credits at the end of today's animated movies that the demand has increased. I don't think animated productions are going anywhere but up and feel the demand for talented artists will always be there.