ExodoDW on the state of the CG Industry
In our aim to complement the daily news with context and analysis we have the pleasure to present readers with another article that provides a broader look at the patterns and trends of the changing CG ecosystem. In this interview we focus on Mexico, and its place in the Latin American landscape. We talk to Paco Navarro, CEO and co-founder of prominent Guadalajara-based studio Exodo Digital Workshop. Paco has worked in the CG field in Mexico for many years and has been a first-hand witness of the industry’s evolution in the region. He shares his experiences of building Exodo, the studio’s growth process and his views on the local CG industry’s past, present and future.
How was Exodo founded and why did you choose that name for the company?
Four of the five founding partners originally worked together at another animation studio in Mexico. That’s were we initially met. But each of us left that place at one point or another for different reasons. We took different paths, some started working at advertising agencies, others at public relations organizations or animation studios. We stayed in touch, though, and at a certain point we decided to create this new company. We called it Exodo (“Exodus”), because the word means “migrating to a better place”, and that’s exactly what was happening to us.
Exodo has grown a lot through the years. How did this growth take place and what changes has it brought to the company?
Exodo started with 3 people, and quickly grew to 5 during the first year. We then hired specialized artists: a concept artist and a modeler (raising the staff to 7). In the third year we managed to break into the market of Mexico City, which brought a big growth to the company, raising the number to 12 people. At the end of that year we produced a series of 16 videos for covering the Football World Cup in South Africa, and grew to 25. Through this past year we reduced the staff to 21 people, because we managed to implement an animation production pipeline that has made us much more efficient, optimizing our production time.
Four of the five initial partners now work as area supervisors, and one of them, who used to dedicate to animating particles and physics simulations, serves as managing director.
Which plugins and scripts for Max do you use frequently?
How have customer’s needs evolved since the early days of Exodo?
First and foremost in the complexity of the things they ask for, and also now 90% of the jobs we are getting are related to character animation. This is because we have shifted the focus from a “generalist” studio to one dedicated to character animation.
How has the production process at Exodo changed through the years to meet these requests?
We have put an emphasis in improving the revision processes in the pipeline, because the key aspect of creating a character is developing its personality, and sometimes the agency has a very different idea from the client regarding what the end result should be like. So we’ve created very flexible, non-destructive processes, in order to be able to quickly go back to previous versions and work on sequences that the client has specifically requested.
How has the 3D artist profession evolved in Mexico?
It has evolved a lot. In my particular case, when I started there wasn’t the amount of online learning resources that one can find now. It was a matter of going through books and spending a great amount of hours in front of the computer practicing. We ended being generalists because we had to complete all the different tasks a project required, from beginning to end. But now, with so many schools available, and with all the resources one can find on the net, the 3D professional has changed from someone who does all CG tasks to someone who specializes in a key area of these processes.
Tell us a bit about the latest work produced at Exodo. What challenges did they bring to the studio?
We’ve been working on Zaztun, a short film that will be 4 minutes long (approx.). It’s based on a free interpretation of some Mayan legends. We’ve had this project in our hands for some years, due to it being an internal project that we’ve been working on our “free time”, and this free time has been diminishing each year. The most important goal of the piece is to show the capabilities of the studio in developing photorealistic cinematics.
Time Warrior is a science fiction feature film directed by Joaquin Rodríguez and produced by Jaguar Films’ Mike Halverson. Working on the VFX for this project was a big challenge, because it was the first time we had taken so many shots from a single project. Production took place in Las Vegas, and since it was and independent movie we had to adapt our processes in order to fit the budget and timing estimated by the production company. We’re talking here about more than 130 VFX shots that require from on-site supervision to greenscreens, seamless integration of CG characters with live action footage, as well as some 100% CG scenes involving mocap, dynamics, etc. The biggest challenge in this case was managing the volume of information and processes which were taking place concurrently, and it’s in this area that our company improved a lot. All this work has done in 5 months under the direction of Jaguar Film’s Joaquin Rodríguez and Mike Halverson. We also invited a good friend of ours to participate in this project, Jaime Jasso, who worked as Associate Art Director and Lead Matte Artist.
Plaza del Sol is a job we’re especially fond of. It’s a spot we made for a shopping center here in Guadalajara. We were in charge of doing the redesign for the characters, and last year we managed to create the 20” Christmas spot in just 3 weeks. This was thanks to taking advantage of all we had learned during the production of Time Warrior, and the re-utilization of certain assets that we had from previous versions. This spot is the 3rd one we’ve made for the local shopping center. We also produce the designs for their print campaigns (around 8 campaigns a year, with 3 graphic pieces each).
Z14 is another short film we’re working on. The idea came from a discussion about how illogical it was that an extraterrestrial ship would crash at Rosswell after having traveled many light years to reach Earth. The reply to the question was “shit happens”, and from there we decided to try to find out what could possibly be the most irrelevant cause of why such a thing could take place. The script has gone through various stages, we’re currently on the 3rd version, but the characters remain the same. We intend to turn it into a TV series with various episodes, but for the time being we’re focusing on creating a finished short with the quality we are used to producing.
What is your view of the current state of the CG field in Mexico and Latin America? Where is it headed?
The CG Industry in Mexico is in an embryonic state, we’re taking the first steps to get together with other companies in the field and organize a common global strategy. One of the key elements we’re aiming for is showing the world that Mexico has the capabilities for making quality productions. We haven’t been able to enter the US and Canada markets as much as we could, mainly because local companies and the Mexican CG Industry itself needs to mature. We need to have more artists with quality training.
On the other hand, some individual companies have experienced significant growth. And not only in Mexico. Argentina has managed to attract many projects, as well as Chile and Colombia. But the one who is miles ahead is Brazil, due to the huge size and strength of its internal market.
I believe the Latin American CG Industry is headed towards offering quality work with a new cultural and visual approach, as well as the development of new production methods, due to the fact that companies from these countries are used to coming up with great output that’s produced with scarce resources.