Nenad got his first character animator job in 2004. Since then he’s been involved in a wide array of roles on productions in Serbia, UK, Netherlands and Austria.
In 2015 he took what was supposed to be a temporary position as a layout artist at Arx Anima studio in Vienna, quickly got obsessed with the work and soon became the department supervisor, spending around 3 years working on Talking Tom and Friends animated tv series.
His affinity to explore all aspects of the production process subsequently landed him the position of production manager, leading the final 11 months of the project, to its completion. Currently based back in Belgrade, collaborating on new projects locally.
We can see Nenad’s talk “Cheating in Layout” on November 17 @ 19:00 – 20:00 at CGA2018 conference
So great to see you on CGA speakers list this year. What’s new in your world?
Glad to be a part of the conference! I’ve recently moved back to Serbia after some years working in Vienna. The project there was quite long and challenging so I’ve decided to take a bit of a break and spend a while at home to regroup. Quite enjoying it to be honest, it will allow me to start whatever is next with maximum energy, especially since an opportunity to have time off is not always there, for me it was almost always a direct transition from project to project.
Freelance Animator, Layout Supervisor and finally Production Manager, that are quite different roles in the animation production. How did that happen?
I’ve always struggled with keeping one career path. I’m interested in too many things, and we were taught growing up that you want to find the thing that you’re good at, and stick to it, but that direction has never worked for me. Animation is the one thing that I managed to keep going for longest, just because it’s such a versatile field. Every time it’s a different approach and different challenges. Still, I don’t like doing any one thing for too long, and moving to layout was just a fortunate coincidence. Arx Anima studio in Vienna was starting work on season 1 of “Talking Tom and Friends”, and the layout department was a bit short on staff.
Kris Staber, the CEO of Arx Anima and my long time friend and associate asked if I would temporarily fill one of the positions, with the idea that I would switch to animation later, and I went for it. Didn’t take long for me to get addicted, and a couple of months later I became the supervisor.
Now, even though I’ve always been involved and interested in multiple roles (rigging, motion graphics, TD work, etc.) all of them were in the creative sector.
The production side of things always sounded too serious and responsible, not the words that I find too appealing, but again, the way that events turned during season 3 of Talking Tom, brought me the offer to step in as production manager, and I accepted it.
“In season 1, episode 37, we introduce a character Will Z, who is a skater. Since I skate in real life, I kind of overstepped and almost did the blocking in all the sequences with this guy.”
From previous experiences in these roles, can you compare them in relation to responsibility levels?
There is a lot of difference. As an artist you are the creator and you want to take care of your shots, to try and keep the supervisor and directors happy but still have fun doing it. The supervisor role is a bit different in that the scope is greater, instead of a shot or a sequence the whole episode being shown to the directors and then to the clients, you want to make sure it looks as good as possible, while still allowing your team artists’ creative freedom to come through. It’s tough but a lot of fun also, no doubt.
Production management, on the other hand, brings the challenge and stress factor to a whole new level, the margin for error is much smaller, and the decisions you make now have an impact on the company itself, there is a lot of politics and diplomacy involved. You start tackling things like hiring new people and also letting some go, and that is never easy.
Finding the fun aspect in that line of work is much harder, but it’s possible. You have to remember you are still making an animated show, and at the end of the day the accomplishment you feel is much greater, so like everything else, it’s just about finding the right balance in how you deal with the good and the bad of any given day in the studio.
What is layout and where does it live in the Animation TV series production?
In 3d animation, layout, sometimes also called previz, depending on the level of detail the project requires, is the step between hand drawn 2d storyboard/animatic and animation.
It’s where you set up the shots in 3d environment, using the actual character models and assets, and you get to see how your shots will actually look like, for the first time. It’s extremely important because the issues that are solved there can save a lot of time down the line. Putting enough time and people on it is essential on any bigger production, like a series of a feature film. It’s digital cinematography in a way, you are dealing with composition, staging, flow of shots, and start to see the limitations of what the script or the storyboard require. It is also directorial to an extent, because you design each of the shots, even though they are defined in the storyboard, they don’t always work the same once you switch to 3d, and that’s where you can get really creative, not just making it work but also making it better.
Relationship with the directors is super important, you want to provide them with the best way to tell their story.
Your CGA 2018 talk is all about cheating. Is this about being street-smart or something else?
Cheating is essential. Every department cheats to an extent, but I feel animation and layout do it the most. It’s not about deceiving your audience or lying to them, in the most basic way to explain it, it’s about manipulating the elements of the shot to give the audience a stronger telling of the story, accentuating the right things at the right time, pushing the composition from a physically correct one to an esthetically better one and making sure no one can tell that you did it. Goes without saying that this is super fun.
“Episode 38 is also interesting, because I was approached by the director, who knew I’m making music as a hobby, to try and create a soundtrack for the “thermostat universe” part.We worked on it together for a few days and the final result actually made it into the episode. I don’t care much for credits but was happy to be listed as music composer on this one.”
Judging by YouTube views numbers, Talking Tom is hugely popular with young parents and their kids. How long did it take and how many episodes are there?
The Talking Tom brand was already quite developed when we began work on the series, and the quality standard that we went for was quite high, so it didn’t take long for the show to become popular. I don’t have the actual statistics but within the first couple of weeks of airing, the view counts per episode were already in the millions.
There are 104 full 11-minute episodes, and a few smaller “webisodes”.
Have you had any special tools to help you speed up the production?
Like every bigger studio, we had our pipeline and development team, who worked hard to build countless proprietary tools and scripts. These tools definitely have a very high spot on the list of things that made the whole project possible to pull off.
Back to Belgrade? Can you compare your experience of working in 100+ artists facility and working locally in Belgrade?
Belgrade is my home, I’ve lived in a few different countries over the years but somehow always end up back here. I just feel most relaxed and there is just something about your birthplace that you don’t feel anywhere else. That said, the working structure here wasn’t as organized before as it is abroad, but has been picking up a lot in recent years, and I believe we are quite close to being equal to the rest of Europe in this regard, if not already there. The atmosphere in the studios here is totally unique though, and I enjoy it a lot.
Is there a particular talk at CGA Belgrade that you are looking forward to sitting in the audience as an artist?
I’ll be a bit biased here and say all talks held by local speakers. I’ve been away for a few years and out of the loop on what’s been going on in our industry here so I’m looking forward to hearing their stories and talks.
Thank you, Nenad!
See you at the CGA2018 conference!
You can see Nenad’s talk “Cheating in Layout” on November 17 @ 19:00 – 20:00 at the CGA2018 conference. Register for the free tickets below.