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How to Take on the Animation Heavyweights

The Jury President for Animation on how his Brazilian studio competes with global animation behemoths

Illustration by Lauren Morsley

Paulo Garcia is co-founder of Zombie Studio in São Paulo, which specialises in 3D studio animation, animation video, CGI, character creation, illustration, 2D, and photography. He is also a member of Film Brazil. Here, Garcia tells us how his small start-up studio holds its own on the global stage, and why Brazilian studios are uniquely positioned to take advantage of current global working practices.  

Producing animation in Brazil is and will always be a challenge. A good example was our first international animation ‘Dream’ [hauntingly beautiful short for the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (WCFF) which won a graphite pencil in 2017], made in partnership with DDB NY. Talking about this film brings me a mixture of pride and emotion. For a studio in its first year in this market, gaining a pitch against major international producers created a massive responsibility but it also proved to be a unique chance to propel us into the world of animation. 

The process we adopted was to transform difficulties into opportunities and do something unique and totally different, creating a style of its own without surrendering to budget limitations and leaving nothing to be desired in terms of craft. Since circumventing adversity is a specialty that we acquire as Brazilians, we solved the difficulties using design and art direction:

“The render is heavy and expensive.”
“Okay, so let's render at 12 frames per second instead of 24 and save 50% of that value.”
“But the frames are heavy and take more than an hour to render.”
“Okay, we will reduce parameters of realistic skin and bring mockup aspects to the scene and characters and decrease this time to 30 minutes.”

For a studio in its first year in this market, gaining a pitch against major international producers created a massive responsibility but it also proved to be a unique chance to propel us into the world of animation.

The result was one of  the most iconic films of recent times, winning at numerous festivals and awards, including the most difficult and indisputable of all, D&AD. After its release the phones started ringing non-stop, and people and companies from around the world asked how we had made this film, who we were, and what we were doing – not only from the advertising market but also from entertainment. The funny thing is that my answers ended in how we did it – because what were we doing? We had just released a movie, we were so focused on the product that we forgot to think about the after. What would be the next film? What about plans for the future? Would we really become an animation company?

The questions were many and what we found is that the answers were not here in Brazil. Many companies here that had encountered this line of growth and success still struggled with how to develop in the international market. We understood that the best solution would be to accept directing for companies already consolidated that could guide us on this path. For a year we directed for Passion in London, and then Blinkink, also in London, who represent us today.

The process we adopted was to transform difficulties into opportunities and do something unique and totally different

Another challenge that we encountered in this international journey was pitching! In our Brazilian market, conversations tend to start with a budget first, and creative second. In the international pitch model, the creative vision is more developed and valued, along with the choice of studio, with a pre-production process that tends to be complex and long, but fairer, with few directors involved and an open budget. This learning curve – getting to grips with how to present the creative vision in a cohesive way – allowed us to show our talent and passion for the project and in this aspect. This way of working has proven to be a good one for us. In the past year, we have had three great animations that ended up being international successes.

One of the main qualities in Brazilian studios is the passion we have for the films we make. After the first meeting we had with VML in London, when we won the pitch of the film ‘Love Story’ for Viagra, I heard from one of the creatives say, “My God, they love the project, they love what they do.” This moved me a lot since it was not the first time I had heard it, and for me it makes clear our relationship with work in a country where this industry is new. We are all adventurers, passionate about what we do and this passion reflects in the quality of what we have shown the world, building complex films not only in craft but also in our storytelling that captivates the audience.

We are all adventurers, passionate about what we do and this passion reflects in the quality of what we have shown the world

Another interesting aspect Brazilian studios bring to the work, is that our films carry fewer identifiable characteristics. When we watch an animation, we can easily distinguish its nationality. We don't have these established traits and we are always looking at different schools, admiring and extracting the best from them, but trying to mix references and create a unique film with a more global style. This is actually one important tip for other studios that are trying to stand out in the international market: never drink from a single source, look for and be inspired by different works from different places. This melting pot generates innovation, attention, and success.

With the arrival of the pandemic, we were all concerned about what might happen to jobs. To our surprise, this moment became a milestone in this market. Unable to film live-action, agencies and clients resorted to animation as a way to get their messages across, and even with some initial adaptation difficulties, animation has always been feasible to run remotely. Knowing the difficulties of hiring excellent artists only in Brazil, we at Zombie have always maintained 50% of our remote structure, hiring Brazilians and artists around the world, which also applies to most studios here. 

This helped us to adapt quickly, enabling producers to respond quickly to new demand. For us in Brazil, the absence of physical barriers and the remote work also created a unique opportunity for us to work more and better with partners around the world, as agencies and clients understood that a person does not necessarily need to be physically in a place. I remember several times traveling for 12 hours to have a simple face-to-face meeting, something totally inconceivable these days.

With the pandemic, a new market opened up, the world became smaller and more connected, allowing companies like Zombie – and probably all animation producers – to have their busiest year in 2020. With this in mind, I am sure that this will be one of the most difficult years to judge animation in D&AD, since a lot of excellent work has been produced. I find myself at this moment anxious for what is to come.

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