Company Panama Grand Prix
Location Kiev, Ukraine
Nicky Tanner is a dazzling animated epic that would comfortably sit alongside the output of a major American studio.
But Nicky Tanner isn’t coming out of Hollywood or any other post-production hotspot. It’s being made in the unlikely location of Kiev. What’s more, it could very well be Ukraine’s first feature-length 3D animated film.
Nicky Tanner tells the whimsical tale of a young boy thrust into a quest to save the world, replete with a cast of colourful characters in a vibrant fantasy landscape. It hails from Panama Grand Prix Animation, a studio founded in 2011 specifically to tackle the project.
However, given the relative lack of industry and talent in the region, it’s no surprise that Nicky Tanner has been a challenge. Making a feature-length CG animated film is difficult enough on its own, but in a country that lacks the industry and infrastructure to support such projects, a studio needs every possible advantage it can get.
VFX supervisor, Panama Grand Prix
“ftrack is not just integrated: the pipeline of our studio is built on the very essence of ftrack.”
That’s why Panama Grand Prix turned to ftrack very early on, establishing the project management platform as the backbone of its pipeline.
The result is a simplified, reliable workflow that’s bringing the dream of a Ukrainian 3D animated feature ever closer to reality.
Forging a path
Nicky Tanner spent several years bouncing between studios, due in part to the hardships experienced by studios in a country with little industry support. But Panama Grand Prix is on track to finally make it happen.
The studio began with just nine people in a room, says VFX supervisor Kiryha Krysko, and has since attracted leading specialists in the region and grown to about 80 employees.
“Ukraine has not released any 3D animated features yet; we don’t have industry and experience,” explains Krysko. “We have an incredible deficit in CG artists, as the majority of artists leave Ukraine as they become more advanced. Also, our country doesn’t have enough money to afford animation features. Nevertheless, we believe we can make our film in time.”
Prior studios had completed work on Nicky Tanner, but rather than use the existing scraps and try to cobble together a finished product, Panama Grand Prix and the film’s investor decided to start afresh.
“The existing footage had become outdated and ultimately rather impeded our work,” says Krysko. “Our producer Dimitry Belinsky also decided to rewrite the script to make the film clearer and more competitive in the world market. It was a lot of work, but the film is really shaping up!”
Krysko says the team is on pace to finish the film for release at the tail end of 2016. Given the difficulties of producing animated films in the region, that’s a lot of confidence, but confidence well-placed with ftrack at the core of the Panama pipeline.
A new level
In the initial months following Panama Grand Prix’s founding, the team used Microsoft Word and Excel documents to track the very first steps of Nicky Tanner, along with notes on paper. “It was a nightmare even in the early stages,” admits Krysko.
A more robust solution was needed. The studio tested various project management platforms and found that not only was ftrack the most affordable, but also the most intuitive.
“When we chose ftrack, a lot of problems related to the organization of production and communication simply vanished,” Krysko asserts. “Project management in the studio moved to a new level.”
Panama Grand Prix move the entire Nicky Tanner project over to ftrack: characters and environments went first, followed by the full production schedule, including modelling, animation, rendering, and compositing. As the project developed, data on artists and tasks for assets was included. The studio even developed its own tools alongside ftrack, so that any technical information was automatically tracked alongside each task.
Solving any production problem
As Panama Grand Prix has used ftrack since the early stages of Nicky Tanner’s creation, it sits at the very heart of their workflow. “ftrack is not just integrated: the pipeline of our studio is built on the very essence of ftrack,” says Krysko. “It is the starting point in solving any production problem.”
Essentially, Panama Grand Prix built a pipeline focused on automation, cutting out as many day-to-day steps as possible in production to maximize their resources and stay on target.
“The simplicity and reliability of the pipeline automates routine processes, because people rarely think about the technical side of the issue and can focus on creativity,” adds Krysko. “We attained a high production speed with very limited resources.”
Krysko speaks fondly of ftrack’s robust API, which allows for deep custom development of production pipelines. In the case of Nicky Tanner, Panama Grand Prix built Python tools that they collectively call their “Animation DNA”. These enable programs in the Panama pipeline to easily interact with each other. All told, he says the pipeline lets them get the most out of their artists.
And they intend on doing even more custom work in the future. “We plan to make our pipeline more flexible and advanced, and interlink ftrack and the pipeline even more closely. Essentially we want to erase the boundary between ftrack and the project itself,” says Krysko.
Fantasy becomes reality
Nicky Tanner looks to be more than just an entertaining romp, it’s a true achievement – an accomplished 3D animated feature in a country where there simply is no precedent. And ftrack played a big part in making that a reality.
For Krysko, building the studio’s pipeline around ftrack’s toolset allowed the team to get more out of their talent and keep everyone on point. That made a big difference for Panama Grand Prix when launching into what, in many ways, seemed like an improbable task.
“We’re all united by an incredible love for the Nicky Tanner project, and it was that passion that supported us through the challenges we faced,” affirms Krysko. “Alongside that we had ftrack helping the project along. It truly helped turn what was once just an idea into a concrete reality.”