Meet the Studio: Mighty Coconut

Founded in 2014 as a creative shop specializing in animation, Austin-based Mighty Coconut has grown into a full-fledged media company that produces original content as well as visual effects, motion graphics and VR content for clients across the film, television and games industries. We sat down with the studio's talented crew, co-founder and director Lucas Martell, executive producer Tim Cunningham, head of original content Carrye Glazar and producer Christina Martell, to learn more what makes the unique studio tick.

Why did you start Mighty Coconut?

Lucas: Before we were Mighty Coconut, I created the animated short film "The Oceanmaker" that won a bunch of awards on the festival circuit. Following the film's success, I founded Mighty Coconut in March 2014 with partner Tad Catalano to keep the team who worked on that project together. I knew I was privileged to work with such a talented and creative group of individuals who collaborated so well with each other. Since then, we've grown into a full-service creative shop that specializes in original and branded content. Our bread and butter is animation, but we've expanded to also offer our clients quality visual effects and beyond.


We needed a strong infrastructure to keep our team organized and to ensure that production ran on track and within budget.


What brought you into the ShotGrid community?

Tim: The project that brought our studio to ShotGrid was the all-CG animated series “Kings of Atlantis,” coproduced with Omnia Media for YouTube Red. Based on the Minecraft-inspired YouTube channel “TheAtlanticCraft,” the original adventure series is an epic extravaganza for kids ages six through 12. During its nine-month production, we created 13 11-minute episodes, totaling over two hours of animated content. Overall, we had 150 character assets, 30 environments, over 400 props, and 2,306 shots. We needed a strong infrastructure to keep our team organized and to ensure that production ran on track and within budget.


Rather than hire a software team and build a pipeline from the ground up, we opted to go with ShotGrid because of its project management capabilities and robust Pipeline Toolkit – for the most part, we had a pipeline right out of the box, which was appealing since we had to scale up so quickly.

How many people in your studio are using ShotGrid? Are they based in multiple locations?

Tim: We're about 20 folks at the moment, but we're built in such a way that we can scale our team up or down based on the workload of our productions. When we started using ShotGrid this year, we had a team of around 60 artists. For "Kings of Atlantis", the majority of our artists worked in-house; however, we had a small team of about ten artists working remotely. There's a really strong pool of talent in Austin, so we don't have to go far to build a solid team.


Being able to streamline the review process and have everything in a centralized location is of huge value.


What would you say are your favorite features in ShotGrid?

Tim: The Pipeline Toolkit is one of our favorite features that benefits the team the most, as well as the review tools, like playlist sharing, client sharing (with unlimited clients) and annotated notes. Particularly early on, when we were working on “Kings of Atlantis,” we were able to collaborate with our co-producer Omnia through ShotGrid’s review tools. Being able to streamline the review process and have everything in a centralized location is of huge value.

Lucas: Another bonus is ShotGrid's open API, which enables us to build tools that automate a lot of repetitive tasks for artists. One of the first tools we built when we were integrating ShotGrid was a Maya playblast tool for animators. They'd hit a button and the new version of whatever they were working on would automatically play in ShotGrid and be sent to the right people. The ability to quickly build tools like that was a huge deciding factor.


The artists would probably say the loader is one of their favorite features, which enables them to quickly see their tasks and the latest versions without needing to go through a dozen folders.


Which aspects of the Pipeline Toolkit are most valuable to your workflow?

Lucas: When we were working on "Kings of Atlantis," one of the biggest benefits was the integration with Maya and NUKE – the two programs where most of the show was done. Being able to give an artist a task and have them open it directly from the ShotGrid loader without needing to worry about asset naming, publishing, version control (and so on) was a huge benefit that both saved our team time and streamlined the workflow. It provided a working environment that made the whole team follow the same protocol without having to think twice about it.

What content creation tools do you use in house?

Lucas: Maya, NUKE, Houdini and Photoshop; we use a little bit of After Effects; we use Premiere to edit; and we use Redshift and V-Ray for rendering. Maya really is the backbone. We develop some proprietary tools as well. For "Kings of Atlantis," we built a tool for Premiere that would automatically update our edit based on the newest version of animation available. For the most part, we focus on building custom tools that integrate into ShotGrid.


Without a strong pipeline, you can muddle through a small project, but if you're working on anything of scale and not paying attention to your pipeline, you will fail.


Why is it important to pay attention to your pipeline?

Tim: It's vital we pay attention to our pipeline because of the organization it provides. When you have more than a handful of people working on a project and accessing the same assets, it's critical. Without a strong pipeline, you can muddle through a small project, but if you're working on anything of scale and not paying attention to your pipeline, you will fail.


Lucas: It also lays out a standard way of doing things and allows for large-scale collaboration. Instead of telling artists what to do, how to correctly name files, how to put files in the right places, how to notify the team when tasks are done, and so forth, the entire process is automated. It's a lot easier to get things done when artists can simply update the status of their tasks.

What is your favorite thing about being in Austin?

Tim: There's really good BBQ, tacos... the food is great!


Carrye: We're based in Austin, because everyone on our team has deep Texas ties. A lot of us have worked in other places, but we're all from here, and this is home. There's a creative atmosphere and culture here, the cost of living is reasonable and it's a good place to raise a family.


Christina: There's also a huge pool of talent here. Austin's been a major tech and game hub for many years, and professionals in those industries have similar skillsets for working in animation and visual effects. The city also has a very rich film scene, amazing artists and musicians. Everyone here wants to work and stay in the creative media hub of Austin.


Carrye: For "Kings of Atlantis," we had 30-40 speaking roles and we were able to cast them all here. Not only were we able to keep the production local, but it also helped us stay within budget.

What led you to visual effects?

Lucas: I've worked in visual effects and animation for about 15 years now, but I got my start as a writer and director. When I graduated from school, I moved to Austin in 2003 and started working at a post company. I knew I wanted to do animation, so I created a short film called "Pigeon Impossible" (which is currently being developed into a feature at Fox and Blue Sky). Over time, I grew in the field, and then three years ago I started Mighty Coconut with my founding partner Tad Catalano. Within the first couple of months we added Director and EP Tim Cunningham; he'd been at Rhythm & Hues for seven years, working on large projects, and we quickly realized that we needed someone with his level of expertise to continue expanding the studio and work on larger scale projects like "Kings of Atlantis."


What's next for you?

Carrye: We've got lots of irons in the fire and are working on several things internally. Right now we're in the middle of creating visual effects for a science fiction comedy produced by Rooster Teeth and YouTube Red, called "Lazer Team 2." We've also got a couple of commercials in the pipeline, as well as long form projects to announce by the end of summer. We've also got several development projects on deck like an animated TV series with actress/producer Octavia Spencer, a feature version of THE OCEANMAKER, and a VR video game to be released later in 2017.


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