Cloud-based animation platform Artella recently debuted Duel as the signal film for CTN Animation Expo. The project was created on its virtual studio platform launched earlier this year.

Duel was made by 46 artists from 16 countries. Cartoon Brew has the exclusive online debut of Duel, and we also caught up with Artella CEO (and Animation Mentor co-founder) Bobby Beck and Duel director Tim Rudder, a character animator at Studio Soi, to find out more about the opener, which you can watch below:

Cartoon Brew: After you launched Artella, what were some of the things you received feedback about, and what things did you change, or still propose to change with the platform?

Bobby Beck, Artella CEO: We launched Artella in May. When we launched we didn’t have the ability to filter the projects and talent pages. We knew it was coming but we had to draw the line somewhere and say, ‘Here we go,’ and launch it. Filtering was heavily requested and was the first feature we have added post-launch.

Notifications where someone comments on your work [is a feature] in the works, and we’ve had a lot of requests for featured projects and talent pages which should be coming out before the end of the year. Finally some simple, artist-friendly production management tools are being scoped out. We’re doing a lot of testing in this area as we want to make sure they are artist-friendly.

Despite the early days, we’re excited that a project like Duel was both conceived and completed through the platform and pretty darn smoothly, too.

Character designs for 'Duel.'
Character designs for ‘Duel.’

How did Duel come about? Can you talk about the initial ideas and how was it developed conceptually?

Bobby Beck: I reached out to Tina Price, the head of the CTN Animation Expo, earlier this year to see if she would be interested in partnering with Artella to do a show opening original short film for the conference. I’ve always been a big fan of the work that Gobelins does for Annecy and I thought it would be a great thing for CTN to have something like that since the conference has such a heavy focus on animation.

Tina reached back right away and was fully on board. From there I knew we’d need a strong director to do a whole piece from concept through completion in about seven months. I reached out to Tim Rudder, as I’m a big fan of his work, and he came up with a great idea right away, and then he was off to build the team and start bringing Duel to life through Artella.

'Duel' concept art.
‘Duel’ concept art.

Tim Rudder, director, Duel: Regarding the concept, initially we wanted something that represented the coming together of people through their love of animation, comics, and visual storytelling, as we felt that’s what encapsulated the heart of the CTN conference. There was also something about childhood imagination that appealed to me, so the idea of kids coming together and imagining themselves in an action film seemed like a natural starting point. After developing the idea more, we started to realize that it was about more than just people coming together, and that it carried a message that ‘girls can play too.’ I felt that was a more pertinent commentary on our industry, so we started to push the personality of the girl from naive and timid to being the lead role once she’s introduced.

Can you talk specifically about how the artists involved in Duel worked through Artella, citing examples of aspects of the platform that were used?

Tim Rudder: When we first started the project on Artella, we had a one page script, a very rough animatic, and some early concept art. It wasn’t long until we started recruiting people we knew personally as well as people who applied to work on the project directly through our Artella overview page.

All of the production files were stored in the Artella pipeline, which is like Dropbox or Google Drive, but set-up specifically for creative projects like ours for the entire team to access. We always knew where the files were and the template structures that Artella provides eliminated a lot of confusion you’d typically find on a distributed project.

We would use the review tools to do draw-overs, give notes, or just share what we were doing for the whole team to see. That kept everyone going.

Concept art still.
Concept art still.

Bobby Beck: Yeah, it was really motivating to seeing the team post their work daily in the feed [in Artella]. It was great to see how everyone involved would jump in, give encouraging words, feedback, and draw-overs. Since the team was spread out all over the world there was always someone around to help out, even when Tim was sleeping…I think he slept.

In the end, Tim assembled an incredible team of 46 artists from 16 different countries. About 70% of the team was found via the Artella community who had previously never met. It was so cool seeing a global production team hum despite being so spread out. It’s as if language and time differences didn’t matter. Everyone was productive and always had what they needed to move forward and the support from each other when blocks would arise.

Outside of Artella, what were the main tools used to complete modeling, rigging, animation, and rendering?

Tim Rudder: For the most part we used Maya from previs through to final renders. Solid Angle was kind enough to supply us with Arnold licenses and we were helping to beta test Ephere’s Ornatrix plug-in to develop a hair system that could be hand-animated, rather than going through traditional simulation. We also used Slack extensively for communication, along with Google Hangouts for meetings and Google Docs for project management.

A final shot from 'Duel'.
A final shot from ‘Duel’.

Can you tell us about any other recent or future Artella projects?

Bobby Beck: We currently have over 180 active projects happening in the community. Duel is the first completed project through Artella. On top of that, I know India Barnardo’s project, Cat and Moth, is slated to finish up next year, as well as Jenny Harder’s project, Mal & Ava. Jorge Gutierrez, the director of The Book of Life, is also directing a short film that is looking incredible, and Carlos Baena is directing, La Noria, a short animated horror film that is slated to complete next year as well.

Artella is still in beta and free to join, but will ultimately have a monthly subscription fee for users based on the crew size and role on the project.

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