Meet the THeam: The Shifting CG Landscape

Meet the THeam: The Shifting CG Landscape

Welcome back to another Transparent House update! Our Project Coordinator Cameron Rosinski recently sat down with Denis Krylov, Michael Shatilov, and Kristoffer Ronngard via Zoom interview, to discuss their background and experiences in the changing CG landscape. Transcribed below is the interview!

Hi guys and welcome, long-time no see! Today I will be asking you a few questions, regarding your backgrounds, as well as where you see the CG industry heading.

To start, let’s go over our background in CG as well as our time at TH. Could you first give us a short introduction of yourself and the role at the company? You start Denis!

Denis: “Hi, my name is Denis Krylov and I’m one of the founders at Transparent House. We started TH in 2004 with the idea to produce highest quality photorealistic CG content for something what hasn’t been yet physically built or manufactured.”

Kristoffer: “My name is Kristoffer Ronngard, born and raised in the southern part of Sweden. During my senior year in college I had a class with our previous office coordinator, Lindsey, who introduced me to Transparent House. There was an opening for a Marketing Intern position and 8 years later I am still proudly working for this great studio. Today I split my time between actively working as a producer on many projects as well as oversee big picture operations and also act as an account manager making sure clients are happy. “

Michael: “Hi I am Michael Shatiov, I have been working in the company for more than 15 years, almost from the time it was founded! I went the way from a coordinator to head of production. Now I am responsible for all high level management of CGI production in the company. The first years I worked in archviz (architectural visualization), but for the last 6-7 years my main focus has been product visualization and animation.”

These last few months have forced a lot of change on all of us. How has it been adjusting to working from home, and what challenges have you faced?

Kristoffer: “I think everyone, no matter where you are in the world, have seen rather significant effects of the pandemic outbreak. While the Transparent House team is a group of social butterflies, I am seeing that our digital transition to an all-remote workforce has gone incredibly well. As a digital agency we were already doing much communication online with our sister office in Moscow and over the last few years we’ve seen a general trend of Zoom (and other virtual) meetings replacing physical in-person meetings which does allow us to be more efficient with our time. While a virtual meeting cannot fully replace the value you receive from in-person meetings, today’s technology offers us pretty much the next best thing. Ultimately our main focus is that we keep ourselves and our clients safe, healthy and sane during these trying times.”

Michael: “It has been pretty good all things considered. Specifically, our discipline allowed us to easily reform to remote work. Even before the epidemic, we had a lot of ways of working remotely, so we already had a base for smooth transition. Now we can spend more time working, not wasting it for a way to the office and back (laughs).”

Denis: “We believe there is a reason why a few years ago AdWeek called us a “Next-Gen Digital Agency”. Since our beginnings we built a company which produced most of the work remotely. Yes, most of us didn’t work from home but rather an office but the majority of our team has always been situated in a different time zone, on a different continent. Working from an actual home was new for us but with some adjustments to the way we communicate with each other we were able to retain our creative and business approach. Slack and Zoom meetings became a norm for communicating and at some point during lockdown, I realized that although I really miss the actual human connection with my employees, we are able to get as close to it remotely as we possibly can. We continue improving our processes and most likely at some point will implement a hybrid work from office / work from home model.”

Featured in the April 2017 edition of San Francisco.

You guys have led countless projects over the years, can you discuss what projects still stick with you that have had a lasting impact on your career?

Michael: “Of course, work with big brands was a great experience that allowed me to become head of production. First of all was our work with Apple. The severity of the smallest details, timings, communication, it allowed me to learn a lot for becoming a specialist and manager. Work on the projects of P+W, Gensler and Fivepoint companies was a great experience of managing a big team and longer timeframes. Sony, HP and Logitech – this was work with talented creative directors and creative teams of clients.”

Denis: “I think we did a lot of “firsts” for many of our clients. [We did the]First Apple Retail renderings for their stores in China and Europe, first product animations for clients like Dell, first VR content for local developers, first AR app for an outdoor equipment retailer…those have been all milestones in our company’s story. We always tried to adapt to the industry and tech trends, especially being located so close to Silicon Valley. There are too many projects to name but the ones which come to mind are our internal projects where our creativity shines through: Anatomy of Apple animation, design of Crescent Moon tower in SF, our Re-Imagined San Francisco campaign which land us on the cover of San Francisco magazine. Those projects brought us the most publicity and as a result the most commercial work.”

Kristoffer: “One project that I always carry with me, relates to the production of one of the many assets we created for the San Francisco Shipyard masterplan development. To set the scene: it’s the summer of 2013 and Lennar is planning a large ground breaking ceremony. To do so they wanted to feature a 28ft banner behind the podium speaker. The ceremony included speeches from former Mayor Willie Brown and late former Mayor Ed Lee. Being completely green to the industry it was thrilling to figure out how to solve things in a very short time-frame. I had to find a way to capture aerial photography which meant hunting down a helicopter team, negotiating the budget and finding a rare window where our beautiful city wasn’t caked in fog. I then had to work with our talented group of artists to quickly produce this rendering while running simultaneous reviews with the client to confirm its accuracy. Lastly I had to figure out a way to get a 28ft vinyl banner printed and mounted in record time, we finally found a print shop in Phoenix, AZ, who were able to produce this print at this scale and time-frame. All late hours and sweat poured in to the project were so worth it when you got to see this banner on full display in front of some of the true leaders of change in San Francisco. Today, this site features beautiful parks, and condominiums and I am always reminded of this project that in many ways prepared me for this crazy yet so fascinating industry.”

What would you consider the most challenging aspects of working in CG that the general public may not be aware of? 

Denis: “There is no “magic” or “beautify” button on our keyboards. Regardless of the state of modern technology. I always tell our clients that what we do is manual artwork, it’s just instead of paint brushes we use software as our working tools. An artist needs to have an incredible eye for light, color, composition. Otherwise the work will look “cg”, won’t have soul in it, will look dull, and cold..we want people to look at our work and feel emotionally connected to it. That only comes through the combination of artists’ creative abilities and tech skills.”

Michael: “Managing expectations and quality. Producing CGI is always creative work which has no strict frames and box-ready templates. This is always a consideration and it is important to me to balance the ability of managing people, understanding of technical aspects and dosing my own creativity correctly.”

Kristoffer: “Education and knowledge of the world of CG is often something you’ll face as a challenge in this industry. There’s a common misconception that the software is what does all our work, and that as long as you have a powerful computer then the machines will do the rest. In reality any image, any concept, video, or even AR experience is developed from the mindset of an artist. Just like a photographer needs to set the lights just right to capture that perfect image, so do we. Same level of careful consideration and craftsmanship goes for selecting the type of lens, the staging of the set, the composition etc, These rules all apply to CG production just as much as to conventional production, we just created it using different tools. Every single project is unique with their own unique challenges and that intersection of technical problem solving and creative wizardry is what makes this job so rewarding!”

With being in the industry for 16 years, surely you must have experienced many shifts or changes over the years? Where do you the use of CGI expanding in the future?

Michael: “I think that there are 2 most perspective tendencies in CGI. The first is transition to real-time engines, for example, UnrealEngine. Calculating and hardware opportunities allow us to now do such things which were impossible 2-3 years ago. I suppose that there will be a complete or almost complete transition to real-time technologies or technologies connected with them. The second tendency is everything about AR/VR and it is also indirectly connected with real-time. I hope to see real virtual worlds in 4-5 years.”

Kristoffer: “Anyone working in the tech industry knows that it is vital to keep a finger on the pulse and understanding where trends and technologies are moving towards. I am proud of how we have constantly adapted to new technologies and movements over the years to be able to constantly offer our clients bleeding edge product and service offerings. Over the years I have worked with Transparent House, we’ve been actively involved in quite a few major industry shifts. For example,  we partnered with Google to produce the campaign for the infamous Google Glass, we were one of the first developers working on the Oculus, and we were first to market on launching a custom made AR E-Commerce application for the Outdoor Retail Industry. While some of these technologies have come and gone, it is fascinating to see what seems to “stick”. As a rule of thumb, people are generally reluctant to any barriers of content consumption. We’ve seen how non-gaming consumers still are reluctant to VR due to the burden of wearing a headset, we’ve seen how hard it is to motivate shoppers to download a separate application to enjoy things like product configurators or custom AR showcases, we’ve also realized that to enjoy RealTime applications of large scale developments require a fast CPU thus limiting the exposure to in-person experiences at Sales Centers. So it stands to reason that we need to move towards mediums that are easily and natively integrated to the consumer tech-ecosystem. In any scenario, Augmented Reality is here to stay, it’s a medium that is very easily accessible since all of us already possess the hardware in our pockets, and if the trend of WebAR can advance to include more features such as: adding to cart directly within the viewer or being able to manipulate the objects (to a degree) directly in the viewer without a need for a third party download then that will be a huge catalyst to improve the mobile e-commerce experience.”

Denis: “Good question. There are so many fads in tech happening all the time. They come and go. What I feel has lots of potential in our industry is real time rendering and the outputs connected to it – anything related to augmented and virtual reality. I’m super excited about WebAR, it’s still early days but one day many of the things we will interact with online will be seen through the camera screens of our phones. We will make many purchasing decisions based on the 3-dimensional / virtual models we can review in AR. Of course AI will be a huge factor in producing CG as well, and it’s already happening but I do hope that human touch will still always be there.”

Wacom Tablet Mixed Reality Render
Transparent House partnered with Wacom to visualize Mixed Reality, a collaborative design and review tool, another future application of Augmented Reality.

Thank you guys for meeting today! Stay tuned for the next Transparent House Blog update, with more project features and behind-the-scenes interviews with our top talent!