Visit Tour: Giant Ant Studio

(Guest post by Matt Stulberg, DD40)

Recently, our class had the opportunity to visit Giant Ant, a Vancouver-based creative studio specializing in animation and motion graphics. With a client list featuring big names like Google, Facebook, and Disney, and a reel filled to the brim with jaw-dropping visuals, Giant Ant has a well-earned reputation for being the best of the best at what they do. Admirably, they hand-pick the clients they work with in order to always be involved with companies who want to change the world for the better. In taking this approach while producing impeccable visual work, they have managed to create for themselves a rewarding work-life, and have taken home a wide array of accolades and awards in the process. As young Motion and Interactive designers many of us are new to the industry, so we were all incredibly grateful to find out that Giant Ant would be opening their doors to give us a behind-the-scenes look at who they are and what they do.

After a long walk through Chinatown on a rainy afternoon, we abruptly arrived at Giant Ant, hidden away on a quiet street between an Oyster Bar and a vegetable stand. Walking into their cozy workspace, we were greeted by a small community of designers quietly working away in front of iMacs and Cintiqs. As our visit progressed it became more and more apparent to me what a fitting moniker “Giant Ant” is, as it’s quite impressive how a small studio of fewer than 20 people can produce work that feels so immense.

Once we had not-so-stealthily strained to get a quick glimpse of what they were working on, we headed into the conference room where Jay Grandin (Founder & Creative Director), Conor Whelan (Designer & Animator), and Angel Chen (Studio Manager) were kind enough to give us a look into their world. After explaining to us a little bit about their mission and vision, we had the privilege of viewing an exclusive showcase of their projects, both completed and in-progress. I was completely captivated by the stunning visuals, as Giant Ant has a distinctive art style that seamlessly blends various mediums, particularly beautifully stylized illustrations with 3D worlds and environments. However, I was just as impressed with the insight Jay and Conor gave us into the inner-workings of their creative process from start to finish. Being presently involved in our ‘Big Idea’ project ourselves (where we work in teams to create deliverables for a real-life client) it really put things in perspective to hear that they rapidly create these beautiful works in timelines sometimes as short as a few weeks.

Beyond the benefits of getting a peek into the inner-workings of their creative process, I was also very impressed with the quality of storytelling and creative direction found in Giant Ant‘s work. Jay and Conor showed us a piece they had recently completed and were quite proud of titled “Finding Out You Have Cancer”, an animation intended for children and made for the Imaginary Friend Society. Despite an undeniably difficult subject matter, they succeeded in creating a piece with both substance and style, managing to hit all the right notes and for all the right reasons. Ultimately, it was really inspiring to be in the presence of a group of people working hard, taking pride in what they do, and doing it all for causes they believe in.

Before we left, Jay and Conor were kind enough to stay and let us pick their brains, answering our questions in detail until we completely ran out of things to ask about. It was a great experience, and as we said our goodbyes and headed back out into the rain, there was no doubt that we were all inspired… and excited to get back to work!

On behalf of the entire DD40 class, I’d like to extend a big thanks to Giant Ant for taking the time out of their day to give us a tour of their home.

Visit Tour: EA Games Vancouver

(Guest post by Jade Greggory, DD40)

My name is Jade Greggory and I am part of the incredible DD40 class who had the pleasure of visiting Electronic Arts on Wednesday 16th January. EA is located in beautiful Burnaby and is the center for development of some of their largest gaming franchises, including FIFA, NHL, UFC, Plants vs Zombies and Need for Speed.

I am an avid gamer so this experience was truly unbelievable and pretty epic! Our journey started at VFS, where we met Ana Maria who kindly escorted us to their headquarters which involved taking the sky-train and a bus ride. As we arrived on location, we quickly noticed that this was not like your usual design studio…. in fact it was more like a university campus! As we walked up the steep hill that led us to their palace; the sweet smell of pine trees accompanied our promenade and we immediately felt in touch with British Columbia’s beautiful scenery. At last… we made it to the top and I joined my fellow classmates in the enormous lobby of Electronic Arts.

While we patiently waited for our gracious hosts to come meet us, we stared at our surroundings in absolute awe and disbelief and tried to absorb every bit of detail of their grand entrance! They had this large digital screen showcasing cool motion graphics which featured all of EA’s employees in a fun manner. We gathered as a group to receive our personalized EA name tags and we met Karam from DD33 who was accompanied by Brandon from DD35; both are Digital Design Alumni. They gave us a brief introduction of themselves; Karam is an Interactive Designer and Brandon a graphic designer who also does Motion design.

EA has several different wings within their studio including their Phase 1 FIFA building, Phase 2 FIFA Mobile/ NHL/ UFC/Plants vs Zombies and Phase 3 which consists of their Motion Capture Studio. (We weren’t able to visit Phase 3 as they had a special celebrity guest who was a star athlete but most of their Motion Designers are based in that building.) Our visit consisted of exploring the many different rooftop patios which display stunning panoramic views of Vancouver as well as EA’s outdoor sports facilities which are pretty epic! They feature their very own branded soccer pitch as well as a beach volleyball court which has sand imported all the way from San Diego! We all enjoyed a few laughs and giggles, as we played soccer together and we understood how important it is for the employees at EA to share comradery through their working culture, which offers them a close bond of trust and compassion.

Our group was then met by another fellow DD alumni, Julian from DD32, who is also an Interactive Designer at EA and he concluded our tour by showing us their astonishing indoor facilities; including their fitness centre which is accompanied by personal trainers, massage therapists, physiotherapists and chiropractors. They also boast their own indoor basketball court which comes with a sauna, two theatres and several cafeterias or coffee bars.  The icing on top of the cake was being able to walk down the corridors which featured an accolade of bountiful honorary awards like BAFTAs and Emmys for their respective games.

Julian concluded our journey by taking us to a large meeting room where we were able to have an exclusive Q&A session with Karam, Brandon as well as two UX associates that are part of Julian’s team. They gave us a unique opportunity to dive deeper into the world of Electronic Arts and understand what it takes to work in this creative environment. Generally, employees are part of a smaller team which embodies a nice balance of Interactive, Motion and UX designers. They source out inspiration as a group and come up with innovative content which must be approved by their project director. Karam was telling us that sometimes they have to generate around 160 assets in a short 2-day period! (like our very own SLAM….but amplified!) Working hours are very flexible as it helps the employees enhance their work-life balance. Overall, EA is a wonderful place and took us down memory lane as if we were visiting Disneyland- our trip was so inspirational and motivated us to keep working very hard and reminded us all that we can achieve anything we set our minds to!

We concluded our epic adventure by having lunch at the EA cafeteria and for a short precious moment, we felt like we belonged to this incredible community of talented individuals.

A big thank you to Karam, Brandon, Julian, Ana Maria, Grigor and Chris for organizing this amazing studio visit!

AGENCY VISIT : POUND & GRAIN

(guest post by Simon Smith, DD39)

Last Friday our VFS Digital Design class had the pleasure of visiting Pound & Grain, a digital creative agency located in Gastown, just a couple blocks away from our campus. After getting buzzed in, we proceeded to ascend up a steep flight of stairs and what was immediately noticeable was that the walls were covered with an endless array of cartoon creatures. This immediately set the tone as Pound & Grain is an agency that strikes a perfect balance between being a rigorous and challenging work environment while still maintaining an atmosphere of creative spontaneity.

 

 

After a tour of their office and a pleasantly surprising meet-and-greet with two friendly border collies, we were able to sit down with one of the Managing Partners, Sandy Fleischer, and find out more about what Pound & Grain is all about. Pound & Grain is a medium-sized creative agency that specializes in finding creative and refined digital solutions to business needs. Founded in 2010, they have offices in both Vancouver and Toronto. For a relatively new agency, they have already worked on projects with some of the biggest organizations in Canada, from Lululemon to Telus to the CFL in the past seven years, and Sandy and his team have built up quite an impressive portfolio.

According to Sandy, a lot of the company’s success comes from its employees that are highly adaptable and like to face new challenges head-on. Despite a relatively small number of employees, they are able to take on and succeed in big projects because while each team member may have his or her own specialty, they are also both able and willing to step out of their comfort zone to pick up the slack when necessary. Jane and Michelle, two designers who also joined us and helped Sandy field our questions added to this, saying that the work culture helps them get through creative block since if they are stuck on a project there is usually a totally different project that they can direct their attention towards to keep the creative juices flowing.

Overall, our trip to Pound & Grain gave us great perspective of what a professional design agency environment is like and now we have a much clearer idea of the bar we should set for each other as classmates so that we can all eventually be able to produce at a professional level and make an impact in the industry. Big thanks to Sandy, Jane and Michelle for being such gracious hosts and here’s to this relationship between VFS Digital Design and Pound & Grain inspiring a whole new generation of Digital Designers!

AGENCY VISIT : GIANT ANT

(guest post by Jack Clift, DD39)

 

 

One of the many things I’ve learned at VFS in the Digital Design program is that “Design is not done in a bubble”, it has to be experienced, shared and discussed with others. Part of the DD program is a sequence of studio visits in which we get to indulge and learn from the best in the industry. It is important for new designers to have experiences like this because it offers an inside look at industry work and what is expected of you there.

This week we had the pleasure of visiting Giant Ant. Giant Ant holds their own and is known for being the best in what they do. The studio is small in size but big in talent, hosting a team of gifted animators, artists, directors, and writers. Although Giant Ant is known for their phenomenal 2d motion projects, what I found most interesting was their inclusion of both traditional and 3d motion as well. They find a way to seamlessly blend the three types of motion in their projects to the point where they are indiscernible from one another. The team is a well-oiled machine that works in unison to create beautiful and creative storytelling through motion. It’s no surprise that they create projects in timelines as short as three weeks.

 

While visiting, we were able to talk to Jay Grandin – one of the founders of Giant Ant about what exactly makes it tick. He offered us insight into several different technical aspects of how things work at Giant Ant. What interested me the most, however, was the heart and soul of why they do what they do. They take on every project with the same passion as the last one because it’s always something that they want to do. They aren’t doing projects because of financial reasons, it’s because they believe in the project they’re given. One of the points Jay made that resonated with me was while they have to turn down a lot of projects, the ones they agree on are the ones they really believe in. A lot of factors come into consideration when choosing a project (do we use the product? can we be creative with it? is there a financial benefit?), but the first thing they always ask themselves is: Would our mothers be proud?

The family is important and that is exactly what Giant Ant is – they aren’t a team; they are a family. This is the heart and soul of Giant Ant, working together as a family, knowing each other’s strengths and using that as a method to reach their goal. With a family of animators, artists, directors and writers that put as much passion into each project as they put into their personal projects, it’s no surprise that they are credited as the best. I learned a lot from my short time at Giant Ant and if I were to distill it into one short lesson it would be this – hard-work and talent are what will push studios to the top, but it’s how you work together that keeps you there.

Thank you to Jay and the team at Giant Ant for hosting our visit to their studio!