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Studio Sense: On collaboration

Collaborating is a word we’re all more than familiar with. A process we undertake to diversify and grow, often reaching new ground, creatively speaking. Sometimes, you start on a path with an idea or concept and what you end up with is exponentially different to the original vision. However many turns you take, it’s always a journey and hopefully, an exciting one at that. If the relationship is new or the concept is out of your comfort zone, the risk for something to go awry is arguably greater but then, surely creativity should be about risk-taking, pushing boundaries and making waves? So how do you ensure, that when you set out on a new studio project, time and energy aren’t wasted and that the final piece is successful for all involved? We hope to give our insights by reviewing the collaborative process on our latest piece La Perruque Puissante.

Our studio works within advertising, healthcare and children’s media. For over 13 years we’ve produced imaginative and original animation, character design and illustration and whilst the industries vary, we always receive a brief and ensure we have a pre-production meeting before we start. We have stringent processes every project goes through from initial meet to final delivery and we treat our own work in exactly the same way. Planning work that isn’t commissioned is challenging and prioritising it alongside commercial projects even more so. For our studio though, promotional work is essential; we must invest the time to it, as we would with Research & Development; it is key to our continued creative and conceptual development as a studio.

We took three months to think about La Perruque Puissante, from initial concept, to reaching out to a collaborator, to starting pre-production. We almost always schedule this length of time in to preparing a new promotional piece and whilst priorities can change and new work has to be scheduled, we cannot impress how important allocating time to conceptualisation is if you want the process to be smooth when it comes to production.

If you were to ask for our advice on collaboration, we’d say:

Define the aim for your project and have a brief that is clear enough for a collaborator to bounce off from conceptually and input into.

Find the right creative partner for you, someone with common ground where a creative relationship can be developed; someone with a similar approach to their work. Beer helps.

Structure your process taking into account your collaborator’s schedule and availability.

Schedule the project in, structure in feedback rounds and project manage, ensuring clear lines of communication all the way. Collaboration can be a trial and error process so do account for this when you’re scheduling.

It’s not rocket science but for us, underpinning creativity with solid processes and strong project management is the foundation to a successful studio, commercially speaking, and the same structure should apply here too.

The aim with La Perruque Puissante was to engage the beauty industry with digital concept-ualisation; how CG can work as part of a brief, outside the traditional re-touch, post production application it’s known for in beauty photography. It had be a demonstration of both our creativity and technical flair, creating a dialogue with our intended audience, to inspire future work, ideally with our studio!

Hair is not playing safe in CG, especially when the material is composited in a photograph of a real person. When the model is real, the hair has to be, at least to the viewer, so we felt this would be a good starting point for the subject matter and very much in context to the beauty industry. We also wanted a transformational element, giving visual and creative depth to generate a response and bring further narrative.

Hair as a material is flowing, has shape and body. We felt paint would be a complimentary material that would achieve what we wanted; a bold and striking effect in contrast to the subtly of the CG hair. This was our starting point, our brief.

Our studio has the pleasure of being represented by Trayler & Trayler, agents to an array of talented visual artists. The team have an outstanding level of experience and dedication both to creativity and to their artists, so it was natural to pick up the phone and establish the best partner for this particular project. Herein lies our next point; choose your partner wisely. If you don’t have agency representation; use your contacts, get referrals and talk to those who know your craft. You have relationships with plenty of external creatives, copywriters, photographers and so on. If you haven’t set out with a collaborator in mind, utilise your relationships to find one. Ultimately choosing a collaborator can be a process in itself; ensure you give yourself the time to search and select if you don’t have an agent to help you. Our choice was shaped by the project’s aim and direction. We needed a reputable beauty photographer who could do a bespoke shoot and work conceptually with us throughout our entire process.

Elise Dumontet was the natural choice for the project, with a style that’s all about femininity and sophistication within the beauty industry. Elise has shot high profile campaigns for L’Oreal, Pantene, Tony & Guy and Urban Retreat, as well as featuring regularly in magazines such as The Observer, In Style and Vogue. Happily, Elise was up for working on a digital concept around CG hair and so the process began. We met, we talked, we sketched, coffee was consumed and, voila, the beginnings of a beautiful relationship ensued.

Elise’s aim was to capture a retro pin-up look, with soft lighting, warm tones and with model and make-up echoing the 1950s. The model’s hair would be pinned back so we could completely build it in CG. Elise provided us with a prepared image, with full colour re-touching ready for us to start pre-production. When designing the hair, we looked at shape and form to compliment Elise’s composition and ensured there was a good level of contact and review stages as part of our process. After a review and approval stage the design process then continued into 3D production, using the Hairfarm plug-in for 3DS Max to create the hair effect. We created the paint effect through sculpting Mudbox; taking the hair mesh and collapsing it in an editable poly before manually sculpting in 3Ds Max. We then assembled these renders in Photoshop to assess how the 3D renders sat together, as well as doing some early colour passes, with which we achieved a lo-res 3D image that was approved and ready to move into hi-res for final composition. The hi-res renders were then composited together in Photoshop, adding shadows and blending the 3D into the photo.

Working with Elise and Trayler & Trayler on La Perruque Puissante was a great experience and was not without its learning curves but that’s also what is great about collaborating. With each piece, you take something new away, develop new relationships and hopefully create something that everyone involved can be proud of.

Carrie Fletcher, sales and marketing manager, Finger Industries, us@fingerindustries.com 

Studio Sense is CR’s sponsored series of expert opinion pieces. If you would like to contribute, contact emma.underhill@centaurmedia.com

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