FATface, a boutique VFX and animation studio based in Hong Kong, works on both film and commercial projects and has earned a strong reputation in Hong Kong's competitive marketplace. We spoke to VFX Supervisor Alan Lam and Pipeline TD Daniel Wong about how FATface is expanding and tackling larger more complex projects, and how leveraging ShotGrid has helped support production in their studio.
Tell us about FATFace.
FATface is a VFX studio in Hong Kong. Over the past 10 years, we have created visual effects and animation content for TV commercials and film projects. Currently, we all work out of one studio in Hong Kong, but have plans to expand to multiple locations in the future. That’s why we started to use ShotGrid this year to develop a proper pipeline. In the meantime, the whole team of more than 40 producers, supervisors, artists and coordinators are all using ShotGrid.
Why has FATFace been so successful?
We are still trying our best to improve. It is very crucial that most of our colleagues are very self-motivated. They are willing to learn, willing to adapt to new systems and new working procedures. This allows us to evolve our workflow at a fast pace. Though they feel the slight pressure of imposed changes, most of them realize the benefits given to them, and are open to them.
What led you to visual effects?
Daniel: I enjoy playing video games. After getting a degree in multimedia, I worked at an animation company. I started my career as a lighting TD.
Alan: I was a programmer before. However, I got bored. I do enjoy watching movies. After I noticed that I could use my skills to have more fun in the VFX industry, I jumped into it immediately. After a dozen of years working as a CG artist, I still really enjoy it. Imagination truly has no boundaries and continues to inspire me as I work on future projects.
Alan, what's a day in your life like?
My day starts at 7:30am when my 2-year-old daughter (Hayley) gets up. I usually am woken up by sweet little noises coming from the nursery. I walk into her room and she’s always super happy first thing in the morning, which is totally adorable! I stay with her around an hour to play and read story books. I am out of my home by 9:30. 10:30 is coffee time, a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee is certainly the best way to start my work. At 11am I usually attend a few dailies screenings of the current projects. I then share my comments with the project leaders. Around 2pm I enjoy my lunch with other colleagues. It is good to take a proper break, you will accomplish more in the long run. After lunch I'll spend a couple of hours to study the progress of each project and scribble down ideas to share with each department.
Due to the nature of the VFX industry, there's never really a fixed off-work time. On a good day it's a 8:30pm. Today, I am lucky.
Alan, what are the three most important things in your office?
To me, the three most important things in our office are the culture of knowledge sharing and accumulation, the responsible artists (everyone takes their tasks seriously, seniors take care to mentor junior staff), and the trust in our senior management and their commitment to invest patiently in our R&D efforts.
When you aren’t working, what’s the ideal way to spend a day in Hong Kong?
Watch movies and enjoy delicious food (you'll never be bored).
What inspires you?
Daniel: Users and supporters in internet forums inspire me the most. Everyone shares their experience and knowledge, and brainstorms ideas, which evolves into a lot of fabulous stuff. Colleagues from different backgrounds also have given me plenty of good suggestions.
Alan: What inspires me is simply when the ‘impossible becomes possible’. We are using technology to create visual art. During a tough project, we may think we have already hit our limitation. However, I believe there is always a way to hit our target. We only need to tackle a problem and never give up, no matter how challenging it is.
How did you first hear about ShotGrid?
We initially built our own internal pipeline system. Due to the rapid growth of the team, we were looking into existing solutions to expand our pipeline. After exploring other solutions and collecting suggestions from our colleagues, we think ShotGrid fit our needs.
Can you describe a recent project where using ShotGrid was essential?
Alan: We just finished a complex project, "VIRTUS" in a limited time frame. ShotGrid helped us to organize a large amount of assets and data which passed through the whole production team. With ShotGrid in place, we can focus more on doing the art.
Daniel: The value of ShotGrid is increasingly significant for projects that involve more than 10 artists. For example, we had two sequences to produce for a TV commercial, 90% of the elements were CG, and more than 15 artists contributed to asset and shot creation. With ShotGrid, most of the information can be queried by everyone, which saved lots of resources on data lineup between departments, and avoided so much unnecessary bounce back due to communication errors.
What content creation tools do you use in-house?
Maya, Houdini, Arnold, DDO, Nuke, Mari, Zbrush
What tools do you use in-house?
Most of our in-house tools are scripts for data managing, such as renaming, file importing/exporting.
Do you develop proprietary tools? If so, which one are you most proud of?
My colleagues always give me challenging tacks. I have developed a script for exporting/importing/attaching shaders, simple but critical for our post-production pipeline.
How much effort do you focus on building out the pipeline?
I contributed to our pipeline for about a year. I spend half of my office hours working on pipeline, and many more hours of leisure time reading related pipeline articles in magazines and forums.
Why is it important to pay such close attention to your pipeline?
Daniel: The pipeline is our everyday working environment. High performance of our pipeline system makes everyone work more efficiently. It helps ensure that a group of artists are progressing in the same direction. It minimizes human error and avoids communication mistakes. A solid pipeline helps us focus on “improving” instead of on “fixing”.
Alan: In order to keep growing to challenge some larger scale and higher quality projects, a good pipeline will give us the power to maximize our efficiency and accumulate the required knowledge to face bigger projects.
What are your favorite features of ShotGrid and what do you primarily use it for?
Alan: ShotGrid gives me a bridge to communicate with producers and artists. ShotGrid shows the progress of projects clearly and centralizes all of the updates. I can review and leave comments and feedback, and make sure that it’s being communicated directly to the artists. It makes my day easier.
Daniel: My favorite features of ShotGrid are the publishing and loading module of the pipeline toolkit. It is highly configurable, and adaptable to many common CG applications. Artists can load and share their work with a few clicks. Moreover, each publish can be revised on the ShotGrid website, marked with a thumbnail and descriptions. Information can be tracked easily.
What do you do to stay connected to the artist community?
Daniel: Keep surfing in forums, give comments sometimes, meet other artists on social platforms.
Alan: Sharing is the best way to learn. Forum and internal sharing sessions.
What is the biggest challenge in running a studio today?
It is relatively hard to run a studio in Hong Kong. As everything is fast, you seldom have time to research and develop technology. Most of the studios here stay small in size, and can barely maintain the production standard. Luckily and hopefully, we're one of a few exceptions.
What is your favorite thing about working in Hong Kong?
Daniel: People here work at a fast pace. You'll be trained incredibly fast, too.
Alan: Hong Kong has lots of delicious food!