“If You Love What You Do, You’ll Never Work A Day In Your Life” . Do you agree with this slogan?
I think it’s a fallacy of thought. There’s a negative connotation with work; that somehow it is a necessary evil to getting by. I don’t subscribe to this idea. I enjoy work; it give me purpose and allows me to take pride in it. It’s not always easy or in a state of play but it is rewarding. Even in the creative fields, there is work if you are pushing yourself and the people around you especially in a production environment.
Some people enter the entertainment industry with the intention of making money and some with a passion for the profession. What was your reason for entering?
I definitely didn’t enter the entertainment industry for the intention of making lots of money. A reasonably lifestyle yes, but not to be a tycoon or anything.
I loved comic books as a kid. I would sit for hours reading them, tracing them, inventing my own. My original aspirations were to draw comics. I eventually ended up going to one of the best and most prestigious animation schools in North America because I wanted to draw comics better. At the time, the better artists were going into the animation program and not illustration so I figured better to surround myself with those artists rather than fellow illustrators. The more invested I became in the program, the more I started to appreciate the complexity of animation and how many more creative opportunities it opened up relative to comics.
After graduation, I worked in animation for a while and moved into Art Directing. I would frequently have to go on set and work with the director and production to strategize the best way to film particular elements for animation and eventually visual effects. Around the same time, I had delved into compositing and was responsible for 2d compositing on various commercials and television shows we were doing at the studio. I always liked this emersion; being onset with all the pressure and activity and then being on the box, tweaking small details to make the comp look just right.
When I came on to work at Iervolino Entertainment, I was hired as a VFX Supervisor and continued working in a similar fashion but with a team of artists to push the work further. It was a natural progression to Head of Animation and VFX with all the projects in production and in development that I could be directly involved with but hand it off to a capable team once the right direction is in motion. I still love comic though.
You crossed the career development from artists to supervisor. How thorny was the road?
I used to teach drawing classes on the weekends for kids for a long time. I was also an instructor at a few art faculties so working in teams and overseeing, critiquing and approving work wasn’t such a big issue for me.
The biggest challenge came internally and not from the outside. I was so accustomed to taking control of my own work and doing what needed to be done, that it was hard (still is frankly), to have other members on my team take over the work and present it to me later. It’s a fine line between making sure that the work you attach yourself to isn’t being micromanaged by you. The byproduct is better though. Working with some incredibly talented artists and team members has allowed the work to exceed my ability and expectations. Being a good supervisor means you empower the artists around you to deliver their best work while navigating the production conditions to make sure everyone is satisfied.
One of the problems in Serbia is that many young professionals emigrate abroad for a better jobs, but you are a Canadian who supervises the studios in Serbia. What was the motive for your arrival and what was your impression of Serbia before your arrival?
My involvement with Serbia was more a matter of happenstance than the mechanisms of a master plan really. Iervolino Entertainment’s C.E.O, Andrea Iervolino was in Serbia to attend some film festivals as the pandemic became much more serious than originally anticipated. He had to extend his stay much longer than he originally planned. Like months longer. Then something special happened. Andrea began exploring animation opportunities in Serbia. IE has always had the mission of European expansion for animation but Serbia now presented itself as a viable and promising epicenter for this.
I was show-running the Arctic Friends and Puffins spinoff series (currently still am) and Andrea, Danielle Maloni (Head of Production), and I had a meeting about this plan and worked on the structure alongside the key people on the ground in Serbia. Within a couple of months, I was in Belgrade helping to put these plans into operation with talent-seeking and building the proper infrastructure to make Iervolino Studios a reality.
My impressions of Serbia prior to arriving were good but I hadn’t really know much frankly. Other than the spotlight in the nineties and the occasional cliché villain in action films, Serbia wasn’t really on my radar. In my career, I had worked with some Serbs who emigrated and they were all great but I didn’t have much exposure to Serbian culture. Our goal is to build the studios, work on productions here and strengthen the animation culture within Serbia so local talent has the opportunity to work on projects domestically and don’t have to leave to look for “better” opportunities abroad.
Can you tell us more about projects of Iervolino Studios?
This is an exciting time for IES as a studio. There have been difficulties in film production globally but animation has done well. After the success of the Arctic Dogs animated feature film, IE developed and created two spinoff series. Arctic Friends, which follows the mis-adventures of Swifty and his friends while working at the ABDS delivery service and Puffins, a hilarious animated series focused around the beloved puffins from the film plus some additional colourful cast members.
Puffins also stars the Hollywood legend, Johnny Depp! IES, both in Belgrade and Novi Sad, will work on those shows as well as a brand new Puffins series that will have a more action-adventure theme. I’m super excited to be working on this new series with the wonderful local Serbian talent.
Iervolino Studios is also working on animation for a selection of IE live-action movies that are currently in production. This work will keep the studio busy for quite a while but our goals are larger than just these projects. IES, in cooperation with our good friends at Archangel Digital Studios, will develop and produce Serbian stories for a worldwide audience. So from script to screen, the entire production will be created with the Serbian borders.
Partner of Iervolino Studios in Serbia is Archangel Digital Studios, how did the cooperation come about and how do you share the work with each other?
When Andrea arrived in Serbia, it was to a festival celebrating renowned Serbian actor, Milos Bikovic. Andrea and Milos had worked together on the film, Beyond the Edge and quickly became friends. While quarantining in Belgrade, it was Milos who first introduced the idea of expanding into Serbia. It was also then, Milos started up Archangel Digital Studios to work on diverse projects and help produce our new Puffins series.
Our working relationship functions well and to the strengths of both companies. ADS is responsible for the directing, sound design and musical scores for the episodes and IES is responsible for the pre-production, production and post-production components.
We saw that you were looking for a wide range of professionals (screenwriters, designers, story artists, animators, modelers, developers, composers, and movie directors) which is quite unusual for an animation studio. What is the reason for such a wide application and how satisfied are you with the quality of talent so far?
Our goal is to have the majority if not all of the talented artists and technicians that make IES be from Serbia. We could have brought in international talent and fill the ranks but our long-term goal is to help facilitate an animation culture within Serbia and we believe that upcoming artists should have strong examples of fellow Serbs who work in their field.
As the company grows and we expand our portfolio we continue to look for fresh talent, encouraging all interested candidates to visit our website for all active job postings or apply by sending CVs and portfolios to firstname.lastname@example.org. Currently, we are looking for people in the fields of 2D and 3D design, animation, editing, compositing, visual effects (VFX), as well as communication and marketing.
When you consider a candidate, what do you pay the most attention to?
It depends on the position that they are applying for but as a general rule, a candidate’s portfolio is the strongest indicator for their capabilities. A degree or certification is nice to have especially if you want to get into teaching or academia, but a strong portfolio speaks louder volumes.
Also, being a good team player. Animation is very much a collaborative effort and being able to gel with your fellow artists and production support really helps decides who should join the team. Lastly, passion in what you do and how you do it is attractive. We look for people who don’t just think of it as a job where you clock in and clock out when the workday is done. Artists should be continuing their improvement outside of working hours and hungry to be better today than they were yesterday.
How is your business developing and how much does the epidemic of Covid 19 affect your production?
The trend right now is in short content. The consumption of short content has exploded, especially since
multiple social media platforms have built their entire business model around it. Our series are made up of five-minute episodes. That’s long enough to tell a small story and not just a gag run but short enough that we retain our audience’s ever-shifting attentions.
Since a lot of our productions are coordinated between multiple countries, we had already implemented A method of working in remote environments before the pandemic hit. This allowed us to get ahead of the challenges in this new working model and even develop better approaches to smart working productions. There have been challenges in building a new studio where there are advantages to working in-house and being in the physical company of fellow artists and team members.
I think the ideal is going back to the original working studio structure but having an emergency work-from-home procedure with supporting technologies that remove any latency or production disruption.
It is unusual and brave for someone to open a studio in the middle of an epidemic and lockdown. What inspired you to make such a move?
It think this is a testament to Andrea Iervolino’s forward thinking. While many companies and production studios scaled down and attempted to protect what business they still had, Andrea knew that investment in new opportunities and territory is the best security in the company’s future. This pandemic is serious and shouldn’t be considered lightly but it’s temporary and will eventually pass. When that happens, IES will already have a healthy studio well into a booming operation and ready to expand into other parts of Serbia.
In your opinion, will the epidemic change the way films are produced in the future? What lessons about production can we learn from the epidemic and lockdown?
The epidemic has created the necessity to reinvent some of the ways “business as usual” operates. This has hit the film production world much harder than animation productions. Like all course correction amendments to procedures and pipelines; those refinements that work better than previous models will be integrated into new ways films will be produced and those that aren’t will be shelved until necessary again. It’s still too early to tell what lessons we have learned. It’s hard to see the forest from the trees as we still deal with this pandemic and its effects on production but it has prepared us to adapt quickly and reinforce our will to find a way to get work done efficiently and safely.
As an international company, how much of production do you do in Serbia and how much abroad?
Currently, we have an animated spinoff series on our production grid to be done here in Serbia. We are also working on another spinoff series with more of a Balkan flavour that will hopefully also go into production soon as well. As previously mentioned, we are also working closely with Archangel Digital to develop more Serbian-centric projects that will penetrate a more global audience bolstered by the Hollywood talent we work with through IE. We are also actively looking into projects with partnering local studios to next to the next level.
Can you tell us more about the studio pipeline?
Sure. For our new spin-off series, Puffins Impossible, all pre-production work is done domestically in Serbia. All episodes are written by various Serbian writers who work alongside our storyboard team and various acclaimed directors from the ADS stable.
All our storyboards, which are actually animatics are generated in ToonBoom Storyboard Pro. Any new assets that the writers come up with are created by our asset department in Autodesk Maya and Substance Painter. Since this series has a heavy mission/action-adventure theme, we also have lots of motion graphics and 2d VFX. These are also handled in-house at our Novi Sad facility. Most of these are created in Adobe AfterEffects and Cinema 4D. We also have our 2D animatic editors, working in DaVinci Resolve throughout the entire process, refining and tightening the animatic to be as entertaining as possible.
Our production support team keeps track of all data moving back and forth in our production pipeline using Autodesk Shotgun and some additional propriety pipeline tools.
Once an episode is locked to move into the production stage, we export the script, animatic, technical breakdowns, and any new digital assets to our partnering animation studio overseas. We work with them as they create layouts in Maya. The supervisors, episode director, show-runner (me) and production support and both facilities have an animation launch where we nail down the intended performances for that particular episode. Once approved, animation and VFX/CHF happen parallel in Maya and some VFX are generated in Sideffects Houdini. Both versions are sent back to IES for notes, retakes and approvals. If everything works well, the shots are pushed into Lighting, Rendering and Compositing. For this show, we stick to Maya for lighting and all rendering in done in Arnold. Our compositing department works exclusively in the Foundry Nuke. EXRs are exported and packaged up and sent back to our Serbia studios for the final assembly and grading process. We work with cryptomattes in Davinci Resolve which gives us powerful control over the final image grading.
While the episode has been advancing, the sound team at ADS has been scoring, sound designing and adding foley to various scenes. All that sonic goodness comes back and is mixed into the final version of the episode. We then package it up for our various distribution partners and ODT platforms the series will be available for. This process happens on multiple episodes simultaneously so our pipeline is key to among sure the entire production happens effectively and nothing falls through the cracks. It’s also important every team member is efficient and communicates well with everyone on the team worldwide.
Are you familiar with the works of other VFX studios from Serbia and is there any cooperation with them?
I am familiar and met with quite a few of them when I first arrived. I think Serbia has a strong VFX community full of passion and talent, and we look forward to working with some of these studios on some upcoming projects.
How satisfied are you with life in Serbia and what are your impressions? What impressed you the most?
My impressions are Serbia are quite good. I’m a big fan of the places, the food and especially the people. I’m impressed with the level of commitment the local talent has to high quality with an enthusiasm in achieving it. The pandemic made it difficult to fully explore all Serbia has to offer but I look forward to it hopefully in the near future.
Ćevapi or burger?
I make a fantastic homemade burger so my vote stays with the burger until I learn to make Ćevapi!
Rakija or Whisky?
Rakija 100%! My favourite is šljivovica.