A dragon descending upon the city, a troll raging in the crowd, or Lego figurines coming to life: the animation and visual effects studio Animatrix has been bringing magical images to life onscreen for more than a decade. In a recent interview producer Dovydas Vilkelis, the head of the studio, told us about the company’s activities and its most memorable projects.
Vilnius-based Animatrix was founded in 2002. Today, the studio makes high-quality animation and video effects for the advertising, entertainment, and game industries, and has collaborated on many projects with foreign clients. Animatrix’s clients include Lego, Kongsberg and other well-known brands and companies from around the world.
“I’ve been interested in animation and how special effects are made already from the school time. I graduated from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater in film management, started my career as an editing director, and worked on various television projects, but in the long run, I realized that I would like to return to post-production. Now I’ve been with Animatrix for almost 12 years,” says Vilkelis.
Today, the studio has two parallel activities: animation and visual effects. “Regarding the latter, our work usually begins when the client finishes shooting and puts together the material. They give us the montage and only after that can we begin working on our tasks – create an animated 3D character or an explosion, or some other effects. What we do is almost the final stage of production, followed only by color correction or sound editing. There are a lot of steps in what we do, it would take a lot of work to list them all. If the client wants to incorporate a 3D character into the footage, first this character must be modeled, rigs, textures and shaders created for him. Then it is animated, the lighting is applied to it, as close as possible to the one used during filming, and only then is the character composed into the footage. Today, thanks to advanced technology, all these processes basically require only powerful computers with the right software, a central data storage and a rendering farm”.
One of the studio’s latest projects is an over 2-minute-long advertisement for the advanced technology giant Kongsberg. The company works in the fields of aviation, space, renewable energy, and merchant shipping. “This was a huge project where we used visual effects for more than 60 shots. We had to do everything in 8 weeks, which is a very short time frame, this is why we hired other studios to help us. A team of almost 40 professionals worked on the project.”
“We have been cooperating with Lego for many years. For example, when the company presented its new Overwatch-themed figurines range, we made a video introducing the set”, says Vilkelis. The team’s effort certainly paid off: Lego Overwatch became one of the most commented Lego videos of all time.
“Perhaps the most difficult part is to assemble the team and meet all the director’s expectations. It happens that the artists fail to take into consideration the budget or the deadline; no wonder sometimes the conversations are quite difficult, and the plans have to be rescheduled. On the other hand, it is the process that I like the most – when you get a team together and see what they can do when properly directed.”
“The Lithuanian market is still very small, so we don’t often get to work with clients from our country. We don’t have big projects, the local scene is dominated by non-commercial cinema and dramas, and they don’t need special effects. Therefore, we mainly work with other European countries, especially Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.”
“Generally, visual effects have become more and more accessible not only to customers but also to the artists themselves. When we first started working with visual effects – I’m talking about the nineties – the computer alone cost 100.000 dollars. For that much, you can now build almost an entire studio. There are more and more people entering this field, so it’s much easier to get started, but at the same time, the competition is much more intense. One can do a lot of work for platforms such as Apple TV, Netflix, however, first one needs to “hunt down” these projects. Large-scale TV series and films require a team of 200, not 20 people. Since the Lithuanian market is small and cannot support growth, it is difficult to contribute to projects of such scope. Thus we have a question similar to the proverbial one about the chicken and the egg: which one should come first, a studio with 200 people working in it or large projects?” explained Vilkelis.
“My favourite film of all time is “The Matrix”. It made a big breakthrough in visual effects. Even though it was released over 20 years ago, this movie still looks amazing. Many jokes that the studio is named Animatrix because of the animated film of the same name, released in 2003, which tells the prehistory of “The Matrix”. This is not true. The company’s name was registered even before the film’s release, but I bought the company from the former owner precisely because of the name,” laughs D. Vilkelis.