We were recently featured on the ftrack website as part of their customer case-study series. The articles showcased our innovative business model and how ftrack has played a part in helping us organise our international and domestic projects. See the article below or read it on the ftrack website.

ftrack reaches for the Skyhouse

Skyhouse Studios is an independent animation and VFX studio, working in the TVC, film and online media industries. While there’s a physical base in Sydney, Australia, the studio actually operates with artists working around the entire world.

This cloud-based work environment is one of the main reasons why Skyhouse adopted ftrack as its production management solution in March of 2014 – and there’s been no looking back since.

Robert Grbevski, founder and production manager at Skyhouse, explains: “I chose ftrack over other project management tools like Shotgun because it was simple, easy and powerful to use.

“It allows me to schedule, budget, quote and manage projects all in the one tool – plus I also found freelancers could learn how to use it very quickly because of its intuitive interface.”
With ftrack at its core, Skyhouse produced ‘Spider’, an animation featuring a beautifully-animated creepy crawly and its adventures while a man tries to wash his car. The advert for the Gerni Titan, created in just three weeks, required a photorealistic spider across five shots – something that required a solid base to keep everything organised – and ftrack proved ideal.

“ftrack helped us to identify problems in our schedule,” Grbevski explains, “Sometimes things take longer than first estimation so you need to be able to assess the problem and resolve it quickly. How well you do that can be the difference between making money or losing money and looking unprofessional.

“ftrack allowed us to monitor the hours worked on every task and shuffle things around if needed, or request more time from the client. It also helped us stay professional when scheduling client reviews. There is nothing worse than showing something half-completed to a client just because you have told them you would have something ready at a particular time!”

As with all projects, there were challenges to overcome – not least of which the tight deadline. But Skyhouse was able to put together a production that ‘blew away’ the agency and director. Why? Simple, as Grbevski explains: “It was important to establish with the client what was achievable and then exceed that internally.”

The creative process itself was, as is often the case, a collaborative effort: “I took lead in creating the spider which included lighting, texturing, modelling and rigging,” Grbevski says, “While our freelance animator, Bachir Kazzi, handled all of the creature’s animation. We collaborated closely with the director, Tim Glastonbury, and his production company, Citizen, who handled all the editing and final grade.

he original vision for the spider was to give it more of a cartoony look with a face to portray more emotions. “We even had some brilliant concept designs painted up by the very talented Jan Vidra, notes Grbevski. “It would have been so much fun to animate a more cartoony spider, however the final decision was to go with a more realistic one.” In fact, the final broadcast version was something of a middle-ground between realism and cartoon.

Making a creature look as fantastic as Spider’s arachnid also required a few different tools, again all centralised through use of ftrack. “The spider’s base mesh was modeled in Maya and then sent to Mudbox to sculpt out the finer details and have textures painted,” Grbevski explains, “We then exported the new spider as Ptex Textures for rendering in Vray for Maya. We also used Vray’s built in fur system for all of the spiders fur. During this whole process we uploaded stills of the spider to ftrack for approval before moving onto final animation and rendering.”

Skyhouse wasn’t always an ftrack studio, but as Grbevski says, the other platforms just weren’t up to the standards the studio required: “We tried using Shotgun before finding out about ftrack. Shotgun turned out to be too complicated for our needs. We also tested Arc9 and other third party tools that integrate with Google Apps, but they lacked the flexibility offered by ftrack.”

That flexibility, bleeding into all elements of the platform, is what has kept Skyhouse using ftrack: “Given that Skyhouse Studios is a cloud based studio, we need tools that are simple, intuitive, accessible around the world and easy to deploy,” Grbevski says, “ftrack ticks all of these boxes. It works right out of the box, does not require any further development and takes about 5-10 minutes to get new artists operational.”

Skyhouse’s love for the platform doesn’t stop there, though, and Grbevski is all too happy to fill the world in on just why he’s so smitten with it: “Our favourite feature is the ability to create custom attributes for tasks like freelancer day rates or studio rate.

“It allows us to treat the ftrack project view like an Excel spreadsheet. This efficient workflow allows us to simultaneously quote and schedule a job. When the job is approved, we simply leverage off the initial setup for final production.

“Our clients love the client review tool; being able to review and annotate on the project at a time convenient to them,” he continues, “The tool is especially useful when we need to obtain feedback from more than one stakeholder who may not be in the same location. It also allows us to document feedback and eliminate any communication discrepancies.”

But probably the most important question of all – does anyone on the Skyhouse team suffer from arachnophobia? “No,” Grbevski laughs, “But the shot of the spider crawling up the actor’s back got a few people creeped out!”