Managing Workflow at Moonbot Studios

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Wed, 01/06/2016 - 12:37 -- Nick Dager

Award-winning Moonbot Studios workflow is managed by GPL Technologies.Shreveport, Louisiana is the home to Moonbot Studios, a six-old-year multimedia production studio with a knack for creating storytelling magic. Founded by filmmakers William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg and Lampton Enochs, the company won an Academy Award in 2012 for the whimsical animated short The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Currently boasting a staff of 50 artists, producers and support personnel, Moonbot has also produced feature-quality animation for television, games, apps, branded entertainment and a myriad of other mediums. Along the way, it’s filled its trophy rack with four Emmys, 12 Clios, 14 Cannes Lions and five Webby Awards.

The company’s output covers a wide scope, but its work is unified by engaging, heartfelt storytelling and impeccable execution. “One week we may be working on a book and the next week on a film,” said Oldenburg, Moonbot’s chief creative officer. “Every project is different, but it all focuses on stories that appeal to the child inside us all.”

Moonbot’s team of master storytellers is empowered by an impressive array of technology, much of it supplied by GPL Technologies. GPL has outfitted the company with everything from artists’ workstations and software to the scalable EMC Isilon storage units that serve as its data hub. GPL also provides technical support and acts as technical advisor, providing Moonbot with recommendations on technology acquisition, pipeline management and other IT issues. “GPL have been really smart in figuring out how technology can enable the creative process, rather than drive it,” Oldenburg said. “Their support on the tech side allows our team to focus on daydreaming up big ideas.”

The company won an Oscar for the short The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.The diversity of Moonbot’s work poses a number of technical challenges. The workflow employed on an animated film is different from that used to create an interactive-web video. Moonbot has to be able to adapt quickly to the demands of individual projects.  “Flexibility is big for us,” explained pipeline supervisor, Brennan Chapman. “We do 3D projects that require big render nodes, but we also do 2D work where they aren’t necessary. Render nodes are expensive. If you use them all the time, it makes financial sense to buy them. But for us, GPL’s rental option is more prudent. It allows us to avoid spending money on fixed assets that we don’t use on every project.”

Moonbot can easily add capacity, which gives them the leverage to pursue a wide range of projects. “We work on a lot of projects that have short time lines, and we have to be able to add resources quickly,” Enochs, Moonbot CEO said. “We are always looking for projects that excite and challenge our creative team. When the right opportunity comes along, we want to be able to say, ‘yes.’ A technology partner who can help us do that is gold.”

Moonbot’s latest project is Taking Flight, a five-minute animated short, directed by Oldenburg, that it has submitted for Academy Award consideration.  For that four-month project, GPL provided the company with a 36-node render farm that it used to process some 178,000 frames of animation. “Using our old nodes, it might have taken as much as four hours to render each frame; the nodes GPL provided reduced that to an hour per frame,” Chapman recalled. “That shortened the turnaround time for iterations. It also reduced costs as the licensing fee for the rendering software is by the hour. We got a lot more bang for our buck.”

The ability to call on technology experts with a deep understanding of animation and the creative process has been invaluable. “We were racing to meet our client’s deadlines,” added Enochs. “We needed to stick to our schedule and meet our goals with no room for error. Without the flexibility built into our pipeline, we wouldn’t have finished in time.”

“There are a lot of IT companies, but only GPL specializes in the technology used in animation and visual effects,” said Chapman. “They are not just a tech vendor; they are a company that we can partner with. We can ask them ‘How should we this?’ or ‘What should we do moving forward?’ That is super helpful to us.”

GPL Technologies