Woodblock is a studio & production company for animated content. Founded in 2013 by award-winning and Emmy nominated directing team Polynoid, Woodblock has its home base in Berlin. We create and produce commercials and independent short films, music videos and game trailers. With our roster of directors, we offer a broad range of unique styles and techniques.
What happens when five guys bring their computers from home and lock themselves into a tiny room to start an animation studio? Recapping 10 years of animation production, we’ll cover blood, sweat and tears and why it’s still the one thing we love to do.
Many people have started their career and business from a small space like a basement or garage. Where did you start? How did your beginnings look like?
We all met studying animation at Filmakademie in Ludwigsburg, where we started doing small commercial jobs together. We saved some money when we were still in school, so when we graduated, we were able to rent a tiny office and everyone brought their computers from home…
Advertising animation studios like Woodblock usually don’t have the rigid organisational structure. Can you tell a bit us about your approach to this?
Even though (or maybe because) we’re a small scale studio, we are in fact pretty strictly and professionally organized: We do have people in house who care about our accounting and staff matters. We develop our own pipeline tools in order to have projects well organized and save time exchanging data between different tasks. We have fixed meetings and of course there’s a producer and a supervisor / creative lead on every project. We try to avoid having people deal with anything else but creative thinking in both design/storytelling as well as technical tasks.
Each of your projects is unique, has its own story. And there are so many of them. Which projects would you identify as your favourite, most challenging and the weirdest?
Of course the more creative freedom we have, the more fun it is to work on a project. That being said, we’re convinced there’s an interesting aspect or challenge in every project you work on. In many projects there’s a certain amount of client feedback that can be quite annoying, but it’s something you learn to deal with over the years.
Let’s jump to the amazing work you’ve done with Adidas. How much flexibility and creative freedom have you had on their projects and how would you describe the experience of working with such a big and established brand?
As you might expect, the bigger the brand, the more they care about their image, so there’s not that much freedom and it’s hard to earn enough trust so you can freely develop things. That being said, it’s still always “normal” people even behind bigger brands, so working with Adidas was a nice and collaborative process.
Through your work, there are many different design styles, from abstract shapes, classic and 3d animation, and particle effects. Which style is close to your soul and which path would you like to explore in the future?
We definitely tend towards darker visuals that merge organic and technical stuff in a nice way. Storytelling is also really important for us, but besides that – just like said above, we think you should be able to find something interesting in every project if you just look closely enough.
How is it to work with artists around the globe? How do you solve the problem of communication, project monitoring, and pipeline adjustment?
We’re trying to establish continuous relationships with all artists we work with in order to make processes as smooth as possible and not having to start from scratch all the time. We’ve been working with Ivan / DAT for 6 years now and he’s today an important part of our team, working on the biggest part of our assets even though he’s located in another country. In times of fast internet the technical challenge is adapting pipelines to each other – so Ivan gets all updates to our pipeline and things flow pretty smoothly between Berlin and Belgrade nowadays.
This is perfect as you are coming to CGA conference. There is the best coffee in this part of the world waiting for you to taste. I’m sure CGA team and DAT will make it happen.
Yes, some of us have been in Belgrade before, but this is the first time we all travel together. We’re in fact very looking forward to this trip and Ivan showing us all of Belgrade’s culinary treasure – of course including coffee!
While we are at this important topic, coffee, what is the right number of cups a day to say that the project was successful?
Haha, that’s hard to answer – but stepping away from your workstation and getting a nice cup of coffee is a good way to clear your head when you’re stuck with something on your task. Also of course the coffee machine is where people meet and chat at the studio.
Working on independent short movies is usually costly for the studio as it’s not-for-profit or for-passion project. What was your experience and would you do it again?
Working on self- initiated projects needs a proper financial foundation which took us a couple of years to build. We think working on our own projects is super important because of several reasons: it’s the best way to develop your reel and style and it is needed to get break in between commercials projects where you don’t have full creative control. Our experience is that you always get a return on your investment and we’re looking to expand working on our own content.
As we can see, for some time the entertainment consumption is shifting towards new screens and technology. Have you had any adventures in VR, AR, real-time game engines, gaming design or special venue presentations?
Yes, we do have experience in VR and game development (we have our own game), but our main business is still classical prerendered content.
From point of view of a successful studio, if you would start from the beginning, what tipsand advice would you give to younger self?
It’s hard to give any specific advice because you can’t really skip experiencing certain things. It’s the process that brings you to where you are. We definitely learned we should stick to doing the things we like to do the most because obviously that’s what we do best.
We can’t wait to hear your presentation at CGA, can you give a teaser insight of what we can expect?
We’ll talk a little bit about our history and experience building the studio and also how we met and work with Ivan from DAT, who will be on stage with us.