Welcome to the 12th installment of our new RebusFarm Business in Arch Viz series. Over the next year we will be featuring two articles every month. Each new article will discuss the business side of working in and running businesses in the visualization industry. We will feature articles from some of the top studios in the world and have in-depth answers to questions that every studio and artist in the industry should know.
The goal of this series is to provide a long-term resource for not only new artists and business owners entering the industry, but also long-time industry veterans. The topics will range from contracts and IT infrastructure to hiring and business strategy.
Studios participating in this series include: 2G Studio, ArX Solutions, Beauty and the Bit, Cityscape, DBOX, Designstor, Digit Group, Inc., Factory Fifteen, Kilograph, Luxigon, MIR, Neoscape, Public Square, Steelblue, The Neighbourhood, Transparent House, Urbansimulations and many more. Collectively these companies generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue, and have decades of experience running some of the most successful businesses in the industry.
We hope you enjoy the series!
We would like to also like to sincerely thank RebusFarm for supporting this series. Through their support they are helping better our industry and contribute significantly to future generations of visualization businesses in our field. If you are looking for one of the best rendering farm companies in the world, we highly recommend checking them out here
What do you look for when you hire a new artist? How much of your decision is based on personality vs skill vs training/experience?
ArX Solutions: Depending on the position. Traditionally when I am searching for a 3D Artist, the portfolio is the most important part and then the background. In ArX Solutions we established a metric in a few parameters and we can quickly evaluate candidates. It is very important for us because in same cases we received several applications at the same time and you need to classify them.
Beauty and the Bit: Obviously training/expertise is important but for me the most important thing is the personality of an artist, the interest to grow, motivation and how things flow. I think this is really similar to playing in a band. When you jam with somebody immediately you know if things flow and if your creative language is pointing towards the same direction.
Designstor: We look for fundamentals: understanding of architecture and design, communication skills, artistic ability, collaborative skills and personality. Personality is usually one of the highest ranking factors. Fit with our team is of utmost importance.
Factory Fifteen: It used to be more personality based. I’d say now it is much more skill based now that the office is a little bigger. When you are 4 people, hiring a 5th is a huge deal in terms of sharing the space and talking with people. When you are 12-13, hiring number 14, the studio has splinter social groups already and skill becomes more of a driving factor.
Kilograph: Experience, good attitude, creative thought. Depending on the position I would say we are more prone to hire based on training and experiences these days.
MIR: We are looking for creative persons that understand meta-communication. The challenge is to find people who are virtuoso in other ways than technically. Education or experience has never been that important to us as long as the portfolio is strong. “Portfolio to get through the door and personality to stay there”.
Neoscape: I think that attitude, personality and drive are three very important qualities that we look for in artists combined with raw talent and experience. I would rather have someone who exhibits drive and ambition, has raw talent and who loves to learn new skills and techniques. If we have that combo we can train them for more job specific duties. We tend to shy away from brilliant jerks or people that feel as though they have have worked hard for other people/companies and now want a more established 9-5 role. The creative work that we do often does not keep regular hours. I tell people who want a strict 9-5 to go sell insurance. We also try to balance how hard people work and the long hours with perks and good benefits package and regular recognition.
PixelFlakes: When hiring artists, we look for a variety of different skills based on the level of artist we require. For Junior artists, we tend to look for a good eye for colours, values and composition over technical skill. Technical skills can be taught quickly, whereas artistic principles are often developed over time and are thus much harder to instil within Junior artists. Enthusiasm is also another key factor for Junior artists, candidates who live and breathe this stuff excel, whereas artists who see it more as a ‘job’ often develop at a lower rate. As for Seniors/Middleweights we look for well-rounded portfolios covering a variety of lighting conditions and viewpoints. A good 3D base and great Photoshop skill is a must, we often look for artists to join and be completing imagery on an independent basis within around 4 weeks. We also consider personality as much as we can, which isn’t always easy to do in the first few interviews. An artist’s personality can have a strong influence on their development and training.
Pure: In the end it's a gut feeling. The skills must be without a question, but more important is the personality. He / She must fit into the team.
2G Studio: We usually see the personality. We test them through whatsapp. If they really want the job badly, they will always answer our question right away. if they do not answer right away, then we will not choose them. Personality is 90 percent, the rest is 10 percent for us. We have a very good training system.
Ricardo Rocha: We are looking for people who love visualization. We greatly appreciate the personality and enthusiasm with which they talk about their artistic work.
Wants to learn.
Wants to work as a team.
Decision is on a case by case basis. What someone lacks in one area may be outstanding in another so we review the person as a whole.
Urban Simulations: Motivation, learning skills and flexibility to adopt new creativity and brand. style 5 points, personality 3, skill 2 training, 1 experience.
Image Courtesy Beauty and the Bit
What are the hardest positions to fill and why?
Beauty and the Bit: Artists in Beauty and The Bit are really complete, I mean that anybody in the office can model/put cameras, light, sketch and (post)produce so they have to be balanced. Also, I think the most difficult thing is to find somebody that has the sensibility and keen eye to post produce/paint.
Designstor: Project managers are hardest. They need to know how to do the work they are managing, as well as possess excellent communication and negotiation skills.
Factory Fifteen: Everything lol. Maybe the production and management roles as there is no clear route into producing an arch vis film. It’s learn on the job.
Kilograph: Senior artist. They are extremely rare in the US. Anyone good is either working for themselves or with a competitor. They are also bringing different workflows that might not sync up with our existing teams.
MIR: Artists that can also handle management. You need to be able to «talk images», which is a rare quality. In the Norwegian Art and design education, this is all you are taught; speaking of design and images in a meta-perspective. 3D artists do usually not have a grasp of this at all.
Neoscape: Sr. Creative talent. Finding creatives with the right mix of real estate, architecture and creative ability is not an easy task.
PixelFlakes: As our approach to imagery is a little more 2D based than most, Middleweight/Senior positions can be very tricky to fill. We often find that applicants rely too much on render engines and 3D settings rather than colour theory and compositional basics. Often, we lean towards artists whose portfolios show understanding of these concepts; potential, rather than the ‘finished package’.
2G Studio: Project manager. Most of the time they are not someone that can do renderings and has never been in production.
Ricardo Rocha: 3D artist. In our days everyone have the tools to learn how to do a render but not everyone has the real skills for all the 3D process.
Steelblue: Interesting question for us. I would say director level would be the hardest to fill, someone that excels at their work, but can also manage clients and staff and direction of the company. I find the question interesting as these were not the most difficult people to fill on our team. We were lucky to have the right people at the right time in the right place. That said, if we had to replace that level of talent, that would be the more difficult challenge.
Urban Simulations: Sales, cut room for movies.
Image Courtesy: Factory Fifteen
What is the hardest part of managing creatives and a creative business?
Beauty and the Bit: In our company is not that hard. We ensure that everybody here is nice people with zero egoes who want to be part of a family/team.
Designstor: Creative production doesn’t necessarily have a fixable time limit, and that’s the most challenging aspect. More time can always be spent making something better.
Factory Fifteen: Staying creative, investing in R&D, holding onto your identity as a studio.
Kilograph: Keeping them motivated through difficult projects. There is an ego associated with excellent creative talent. This is not a bad thing. It is however hard to manage and place expectation on. In the end it is a business and like it or not the customer is always right.
MIR: Staying true to your aesthetics and taste without being stuck in a constant quagmire of conflict and stress.
PixelFlakes: Cultivating an exciting office culture is something we are spending a lot more time on as we expand into a new studio and is not without its challenges. Ensuring artists are provided with an environment in which they can learn, grow and most importantly, enjoy is an important part of building a successful creative business. Often this culture is born from everyday interactions, however investing time into various initiatives has helped, and with the development of the new studio it should become much easier. On a more work focused note, ensuring quality across a team of 10 artists has been our biggest challenge of all, as a studio grows it is very important that the structure of the studio evolves alongside it. What once worked 4 years ago will only ensure quality over a few images. Now with anywhere between 8-13 images being produced on a weekly basis other measures such as Art Direction need to be put into place to ensure consistency across work.
Pure: Balance between Artistic mission and Budget and client.
2G Studio: I think the story telling part. Each project always have a unique angle which we need to keep improving. Sometimes the client just doesn’t want to follow and dictates what we need to do.
Ricardo Rocha: The hardest part it is to maintain a balance between our creative team and the client.
Steelblue: Balancing that the company is a business and needs to function as one while providing creative freedom.
Urban Simulations: Since you own a company you have to motivate your own signature, keeping a soul of the brand inside.
Describe the early days of your company and how you grew the staff (which type of people did you hire first)
ArX Solutions: At the beginning we only hired 3D artists to help us produce our renderings/animations, then when we continued growing and we had to hire a middle management team.
Beauty and the Bit: The early days were just me and Lina at the beginning . After that, one other guy came through and things started to get crazier. Then my sister Eva came by and she grew creatively fast in one years time. After that we had more new people coming and although it is a daily act of self criticism and decision to improve what we do, we managed pretty well. We are 7 people at present day and counting.
Designstor: The first two employees we hired were women, which was not on purpose but notable in an industry where there are (or maybe were) so many men. They were hired for their passion and raw abilities. Our first employee violated all our stated rules for application but proved her abilities and passion immediately. She is still with us after 15 years.
Factory Fifteen: 6 started from Uni, all architects, 3 of us turned it into a feasible business, a 4th (3d focussed architect) joined soon after, focussing solely on the profit making side to the business which allowed the identity of the studio to grow creatively. We had 2 very distinct sides of our creative and profit work at the beginning. What is nice now is that those 2 sides have merged and we have kept our identity. We hired mainly people like us (architects with a 3D and design bias) but we later employed more strict 3D bias employees, still architects mostly, but less on the concept design route as we came from as we had too many designers and not enough visualisation focussed employees.
Kilograph: We hired anyone who knew 3ds max. I was the only artist and we had 2 computers. Quickly we hired a few more people. When you are small and have no money it is tough to find talent!
MIR: We were just students who worked in our rented office after school. We did some marketing images for local builders, and some presentations for furniture designers. Our first employee Vegard, was there just part time helping us with this or that. He is now co-owner and partner in our office.
Neoscape: We were told early on when we started Neoscape to always hire people who were better than us and it's something we’ve always tried to do. This was easier when we were a three person start up, but we do always ask the question - how will this hire make us a better company? I’m also proud of the fact that we have many, many long term employees - including our very first hire who has been with us for over 20 years. He was and still is one of the most gifted artists I’ve ever met. His knowledge of traditional art and art history was very helpful in the early days in helping to elevate the quality of our work. When I look back I can tie major breakthroughs in our work to key hires who had the drive, ambition and talent to lead us to new ground. When you find those kind of people it can dramatically propel your studio and and provide a bolt of energy and inspiration.
PixelFlakes: Pixelflakes was originally set up in the spare bedroom of a family house by Marvin and Matthew who had been friends since the age of 16. It quickly expanded from two (terrible) PCs connected by a lone patch cable into a team of 4 in a London studio within a year. Early interest was initially spurred on by the production of tutorials and a unique Photoshop style which was under documented 5 years ago. The first hires were integral to the growth of the company, finding someone with a strong portfolio, great communication skills and the ability to overlook the fact it was two nerdy 20 somethings in a room no bigger than a bathroom was crucial. Pedro (Associate and first full time employee) has been with us from the beginning and has been integral to the growth of the company. We looked at our initial hires as people who could help to grow the company, becoming integral components of an ever expanding and evolving team. Ensuring they have strong leadership and social skills alongside portfolio with potential were the key trends visible in the portfolios of our first employees.
Pure: We started with 3 people. And the first I hired was a Project Manager.
2G Studio: The first artist that we hired (and still here up to now) was a mid artist with a very good sense of art, but his technical side is not that good. However, he had a very solid understanding of Autocad and could read CAD drawing very well. The second artist was only a sketchup modeling artist, but he had a very solid understanding of Autocad and could read CAD drawing very well. We only had 2 artists back then to support us, and they only helped on scene preparation, so myself and Evan could focus on lighting and post production. Then we started to add several more artists. Being able to read CAD drawings is a must. The other things we can teach them.
Ricardo Rocha: We started hiring people that we knew in the community. 20 years ago it was very difficult to hire good people.
Same set of criteria:
Wants to learn.
Wants to work as a team.
Urban Simulations: First, similar guys like you.. two maybe. After that: production, a tech guy, both IT, both tools developer. Now, normal growth depending on the demand.
Image Courtesy: Kilograph
Do you have a dedicated HR team, person or consultant? What sort of things are they responsible for?
ArX Solutions: We don't have any in ArX Solutions but we recently scouted for some consultants.
Beauty and the Bit: No, It is me and Lina who choose the candidates and we make sure to have a nice chat with all the people who want to come by to our office and know their expectations and motivations. It also very important to transmit what we search for. Our values and company culture.
Factory Fifteen: Not really. Our producer / Operations manager does a bit and we share personal tutelage among the directors to ensure employees are progressing as they want to both technically and artistically.
Kilograph: No we don’t. I wish we did!
MIR: Our office manager takes care of everything that has to do with our employees welfare. From getting them to the doctor when they are sick, finding apartments to booking small company trips etc. The partners organize bi-annual appraisal interviews.
Neoscape: We do not have dedicated in-house HR people, but do rely on outside consultants. We’ve tried it in the past and it didn’t work out so well for a number of reasons - our expectations about the role and the individual who was hired were not in sync. Now that we’ve matured a bit as a company it may be time to reconsider but to me the focus should be on culture, talent acquisition and retention and career development.
PixelFlakes: Currently we do not have a full-time HR employee, however we do have employees who cover these day to day tasks as part of their role here within Pixelflakes. General responsibilities such as quotations, scheduling, holiday requests and internal reviews (to name but a few) are split amongst the team.
Pure: No, we are too small to have one. I do it myself.
2G Studio: Yes we do. Each senior artist will responsible for their own team, giving them a score on every task, including the speed of work. Then the project manager are responsible for the senior artist score.
Ricardo Rocha: No, we don’t have a HR team, but we have a group of people in charge for diverses task included HR, marketing, team and project management.
Urban Simulations: Consultant. We define the profiles and they look for us and do the interviews before presenting them.
Image Courtesy: MIR
Do you use employment contracts, NDAs, Non-Competes etc? How important are these?
ArX Solutions: Yes. It is crucial when you work at certain level. The company signs several NDA and all employees must respect them. For certain positions, yes, we have non-competes.
Beauty and the Bit: Obviously you have to protect your company. We want to be for real and treat artists respectfully because we have been on the other side before and we didn't want to repeat mistakes we saw from our previous bosses/employers. Regardless, you will always find people who are not so respectful, so you have to get that part legally covered. To be fair we have not encountered too many people like this in our path.
Designstor: Yes, we have an extensive employment agreement that we feel is very important. We have had to “remind” employees of the agreement terms several times and it has become extremely important when dealing with underperforming staff.
Factory Fifteen: We have standard contracts which are important to dictate the terms of employment as in roles and responsibilities, salary and so on.
Kilograph: Yes we do use NDAs. In California there is no “contract” and non-competes are not binding. The NDA however is extremely important. It protects our clients and us.
MIR: Yes. We need to have contracts because of Norwegian law, but the main motivation for us is that new employees from other countries have a guarantee that they actually have a job when they get here :)
Neoscape: We do not use employment contracts but we do employ strict NDAs and Non-Competes. NDAs are essential for any studio that works on projects or with clients that require confidentiality. As a studio we sign NDAs with our clients all of the time and the responsibility needs to extend down to all employees. We take it very seriously as our client relationships are built on trust and accountability. Non-Competes vary from state-to-state and business to business with regards to how effective they are. I believe they are useful in setting the proper tone of being a professional artist and taking the job seriously.
PixelFlakes: We have employment contracts which are relatively standard and include the usual things such as work hours, general responsibilities, holiday days etc. We also include an NDA which ensures that all confidential information remains that way.
Pure: Yes we do. And yes very important.
2G Studio: Yes, it is very important. Employment contracts are needed to make sure the artist does not easily leave in the middle of a project. An NDA is also very important to make sure they are not sharing the project files, mostly the confidential projects.
Ricardo Rocha: Very important. Labor and IP (Intellectual property) is very important to protect the employee and also the company and the client.
Steelblue: We have NDAs but not non-competes. (of interest, California will not recognize non-compete agreements).
Urban Simulations: NDA + contract + Non-competes, since we are managing real sensitive information for international competitions, huge developments, etc
Image Courtesy: PixelFlakes
Is hiring new staff ever an easy decision or is it always a calculated risk? How did the risk or decision change as you grew the company?
ArX Solutions: It is a calculated risk. Sometimes is an strategic decision, other times it’s because you just need it.
Beauty and the Bit: It is never easy since it is a bet. You bet on somebody else not knowing if it will work, but I think that with a lot of will things finally glue together. At the beginning the decision was more about having more muscle to take on more projects but nowadays is based on the value that new member will sum up to B&TB.
Designstor: Sometimes it’s easy, whether it’s because of a definite need or pace of growth. Often it’s a calculated risk betting on added productivity and future workload. We have always been cautious about growth and rarely hire staff without being relatively sure that they will be permanent additions to our team. This came about after some bad experiences that resulted in needless expense and lost time/productivity.
Factory Fifteen: Always a risk. A few answers above answered this in terms of how we took those risks when we were in a good position financially after big jobs and so on. Or just before big jobs is also a good time. Throw them in in the deep end so to speak, that’s worked quite well.
Kilograph: Usually it is an easy decision. We need talent; someone applies who fits the bill, we only has X dollars to pay. Sometimes however it is risky, particularly when you are hiring support or very senior positions that are not in production.
MIR: Hiring is the biggest risk we take. New people and personalities can make the company unstable. We have decided not to become a big company because of this. We have not found a way to grow without compromising the quality of our workplace and work.
Neoscape: I think sometimes the decision is easy but it is always a calculated risk. Employees are the lifeblood of our company and choosing the right people is paramount to success. Conversely, adding someone who is not the right fit can wreak havoc - this was especially true when we were smaller.
As our studio grew an interesting thing happened - the owners were no longer solely responsible for hiring. Our senior staff would build their own teams. Sometimes I would look around and ask myself - would I have hired that person? Do they embrace our core values? Did hiring them make us a better company or fill a seat? Eventually I learned that I really wanted involvement in the hiring of key staff as I think I’m a good judge of talent and character. My staff may tell you that I’m just a control freak.
PixelFlakes: In the early days hiring was relatively simple, even if portfolios were not quite as strong as we had wished we were able to be more flexible in our workflow, allowing for artists to chop, change and improve imagery on a whim. As we have expanded the need for structure becomes more apparent, meaning the workflow becomes a little more rigid. The need to hire the right artist has become much more integral to the growth of the company. Five years ago, we didn’t know where we would be, now that we understand where we could be in another 5 years the constant growth of the company becomes even more important as we look to build something bigger. Ensuring we bring on the right team members is an ever-growing challenge as we become more selective with the artists we hire.
Pure: It's always a risk. But that is life. I don't think too much about it when I have the feeling that makes sense.
2G Studio: No it’s not an easy decision, the main thing is the personality. We don't really care about their skills as long they can read CAD drawing then its okay for us. There is always a risk to hire new staff. They can easily resign, copy the project files, etc. we don't like opportunist staff that act more like a thief then an artist. Yes, we once tried to hire a mid artist or senior artist, but we found out that for the most part, we don't like the attitude. We need an artist who can work as a team, and be part of the family. So finally we decided to hire junior artist with a good personality, yes, training them will need time, but it is all worth it in the long run.
Ricardo Rocha: We don’t hire unless we need to, since we care for our company values and team develop. We always calculate this type of decisions.
Steelblue: Both easy and calculated risk. Once you have determined, calculated, the need is there and you find the right person, hire. As the company grew, one individual add did not have as much of a financial impact on a percentage bases. Going from 2 to 3 people has a bigger impact on payroll and hardware expenses than going from 22-23.
Urban Simulations: It's easier when the profile is accurate, then actually it's a calculated risk.
After several tests we found we always hire twice the personnel we hire, then you minimize risks and you can have 5-6 artists that can move forward or manage the company, but it depends more on them than us.
Image Courtesy: Kilograph
How is your company divided in areas of expertise, responsibility, workflow etc. How has this changed over the years? What worked, What didn't work?
ArX Solutions: We try to maximize people's talents. If somebody starts working on a position and we see that they can grow into something else, we try to accommodate those changes. It has always paid off.
Beauty and the Bit: We have some degrees of responsibility, but not being too many people makes easier the fact that everybody is responsible for where we go. Our philosophy is to always evolve and try to sum up to this business. Trying to be the best we can be as artists so in the end that makes everybody really motivated to row in the same direction. For us, having that vision all together is the most powerful weapon and what makes us grow day by day.
Designstor: We have always had a “do it all” philosophy when it comes to staff. Vis artists know how to do all tasks at a certain level. They specialize in different areas, but the goal is that anyone can pick up a project at any point and know how to proceed. We don’t have an assembly line! All employees are given very entrepreneurial positions and encouraged to do more than a simple job description. This has sometimes been difficult in that we lay out too broad a set of expectations for people. Over the years we’ve learned to focus more but still provide positions that are expandable and lateral. What didn’t work for us was pure specialization. We dabbled in it but it was not for us.
Factory Fifteen: Four directors with shared and individual responsibilities, all still in production to a greater or lesser extend ranging from say 5% to maybe 50%. Directors specialise in admin responsibilities ranging from I.T, software, accounts and production. Two dedicated support staff with no 3D training. Seven full -time 3D generalists, some of which are more technically bias. Our freelance network is an extended family. We have a close nit group of either comp or animators who come in for extended periods of time on larger projects.
Kilograph: We tend to hire and train generalists so artists can participate in a variety of projects. Recently we added specialized staff for web design, VR engineering, and graphic design. We tried to have an animation team, a stills team, and a VR team but found the artists getting bored and a bit frustrated with the routine. Mixing up skills throughout the year keeps them fresh and engages. It also allows for more experimentation and cross-pollination of ideas.
MIR: We have always made sure that all our artists work on their own images from start to finish. The only thing that has changed is that the founders have found less and less time to actually make images
Neoscape: Our company is set up by discipline - Film, 3D, Interactive, Strategy & Design, and Project Management. Within the various departments we assign teams to projects based on skillset. This has evolved from the days when all employees did a little bit of everything from building the model to rendering & animating it to creating the final presentation for the client. As we grew we added more specialists. That being said - when it comes to 3D we prefer generalists - artists that can take a project from start to finish. We also prefer using teams in 3D that consist of a senior artist, mid-level and junior artist. It has proven to be a great way to groom talent and to teach our less experienced artists the tools of the trade.
PixelFlakes: Initially every artist was responsible for their own output, which is still the case now however as we have grown we have realised the importance of consistency in terms of style and quality. Over the last year, we have integrated Art Director positions which allow for image quality across multiple images to be governed by an individual artist. A common practice in the industry but one that has taken some time for us to adopt due to the large cost implications of doing so.
Pure: We are still a generalist office when it comes to 3D work. The only separation is the 2D Sector, PM Work and sales.
2G Studio: We have modeling team, they are responsible for both building and organic modeling. The scene preparation team, are responsible for preparing the landscapes, filling the interiors, cars, 3d people. The texturing team are responsible for both uvw and unwrap if needed and do the shaders as well. The Lighting and post production team are responsible for the lighting and post production. Finally, the Animation team are responsible for all the camera path, post production, rendering the animation, compositing, roto, animated water effect, smoke, fire, etc.
Ricardo Rocha: I started in my room doing renders on my own, and know we have multitasking team, mostly artists that love visualization.
Urban Simulations: We try to have human resources with at least two different possible positions. To move between if the demand is too high. The other reason is people needs to move for new interests and to find out themselves what motivates them to give their best. Then a 3d artist focused in lighting can move to a cutting room just to know a new skill or to try a new task.
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