Technical is old hat; creative is the goal. That’s what clients are looking for when it comes to the art of animation in advertising. Award-winning digital animation studio, Luma, doesn’t ask if it can be done. It asks ‘which style do you prefer’?
So says director and co-owner, Paul Meyer, who with Gerhard Painter and Jason Cullen, runs an agency that specialises in digital content creation, and has won a series of local and international industry awards for character animation in commercials, photo-realistic visual effects and motion graphic design.
What they offer is driven by the technology that allows them to play with stuff like stereoscopic or 3D imaging. “The cutting edge tech of the day, pioneered by studios like Pixar and ILM, quickly filters down into the ‘off-the-shelf’ software, enabling small studios to produce advanced effects,” Meyer says. “Case in point over the years are ray-tracing, hair/fur, liquid simulation and physically accurate light simulation rendering. That is the technical side.
“On the creative side, the less we have to worry about ‘can we crack this effect’, the more time we spend on making it look awesome or giving it a unique look and feel,” he says.
Most recently, Luma have worked on projects for Sandoz, DSTv Bee, Supa Quick Robots, and Vodacom Print. They have clients in Australia, India, the UK and Europe, and the West Coast of the United States, which surely indicates that SA is competing on an international platform?
“We’re not bad at all, but we can’t really compete with the top shops in the world because New York and London gets way better budgets and more creative briefs than us. But in a tough local market we produce top work and we often get international jobs and plenty of accolades from our peers around the world,” says Meyer.
Luma loves collaborating on projects, and they do it often, says Meyer. It’s the way of the future. “We worked on about 80 Visual Effect Shots for Ra.One (Bollywood’s biggest blockbuster yet) with Jeff Kleiser’s Synthespian Studios in the US; a huge commercial job for Minute Maid China with AmI Collective in Cape Town; with Hilton at Tennant on a Mentos spot for the ‘States; The Refinery on Young Leonardo and other long format series work and Animmate on international liquid simulation work. The future will be one huge collaboration where everyone plays their part,” he says.
And that’s why it’s important to choose the right partners, especially when it comes to working with a digital content agency producer.
“Look at the work,” Meyer advises. “See if they have the eye and the mind. See lots of people, and don’t just go with the first one you meet. The cheapest one is probably not the best one. Go with someone you like.”
With the sector changing so fast, and technology developing almost on a daily basis, what are the trends in animation that we will be seeing in the near future? Meyer believes animation will become a “commonplace service like dtp as the need for 3D permeates the world and all media. Soon the Jetline or Post Net on the corner will employ an animator or at least a 3D artist, if they don’t have one already”, he says.
“3D CGI (computer generated imagery) will starts replacing photographic services in some cases like car and pack/product photography. This has already started. Budgets get smaller and general quality level goes up. 3D artists are able to do more with less in a shorter time. We will see animation used for things you don’t expect, like the use of 3D content in presentations and 3D user interface design in apps (game inspired).
“The buzz word ‘gamification’ creates a greater need for animation (in various forms) across the world and throughout the app and user experience/user interface community,” he says.
And he offers a nugget to ponder: “In 2020 there will be 15 billion handheld devices, each with a high def screen, and screens require content. The more screens exist the more content users will consume, the more need for animation. Now my eyes are watering and my vision fading!”
Meyer says speciality work doesn’t faze them. “We primarily try to do something platform appropriate, know the channel, understand the target audience/consumer of the media and the limitations/USPs of the medium/platform. User experience is very important. With mobile/handheld currently there are SO MANY variables that every case requires a unique look and think around the problem/brief/message/goal before a path becomes clear – even people who claim to have it all figured out are winging it to a large extent hoping they’ve got it half right.
“The next trend is hard to predict, even for big names like Google & Microsoft. We also do a lot of research and see what we can learn from the pioneers, then together with the client set a calculated course, knowing that we’ll have to test our thinking and the results all the way through to the end.”
It’s a tough business, so the tricky question is: How do you measure your success?
“SHEESH! What a question!? I would have to look at what I believe is possible in our local context, and ask myself if there is room to improve, and the answer is ALWAYS a resounding yes! But I also have to look at what we have achieved up to now, how many people we have trained and empowered, and how the industry as a whole has grown and I feel we have definitely played a role there, and for that I am grateful and feel privileged to have had the opportunity. That’s my best short answer.”