Since 2002, DIGIC Pictures has been delivering trailers and cutscenes of unparalleled quality in the video games industry. The Hungarian animation studio always had one goal in mind: they wanted to tell great stories, even if they only had minutes to do so. After working on Netflix’s anthology Love, Death & Robots, DIGIC opened a new chapter in its life, with the establishment of DIGIC Productions. We asked Executive Producer Ildikó Takács, Senior Creative Producer Péter Svéd and Development Producer Dávid Lafka about DIGIC’s plans in the film industry:
BPR: When did you start working on DIGIC Productions?
I. Takács – We started working on the Productions branch of the company near the end of 2019. When Andy Vajna and Alex Rabb founded the company in 2002, they’d already dreamed about animated feature films being produced by DIGIC. So thanks to the great achievements of the last decades here we are today, part of the Embracer Group, and ready to make this dream come true.
D. Lafka – We wanted to take our steps carefully. Now we have around 380 employees at DIGIC, so we have grown up to the task so to speak. We started looking for existing IPs, and we also started developing our own original stories, like the one we took to the Annecy International Animation Film Festival last year.
BPR: What kind of feedback did you get at the Annecy Festival?
P. Svéd – It’s important to note that last year we went to Annecy with one very specific project called Another Home, which was made in Unreal Engine with the support of Epic Games. The project has been in development for a long time now and we aim to make it into a full-length animated feature film eventually. We initially created a proof of concept teaser, which we have since extended into a 6 minute short that serves as the prequel to the larger story. We had the opportunity to show the teaser at Epic Games’ booth at the festival last year, while announcing DIGIC Productions at the same time. This year, we’re showing the full short, along with some other surprises, and we’ll be out in full force at our own booth.
I. Takács – The feedback last year was really good, even Epic Games congratulated us. Balázs Kerek, one of the film’s CG supervisors presented the film, and we got fantastic responses from our competitors and major studios alike. We aim to produce the same high-quality content that our partners got used to in our trailers, and I think this was a great opportunity to showcase that. Another Home has really detailed visuals, and the look and movement of certain animals turned out to be really outstanding. We can’t wait to present the full short this year!
D. Lafka – It is always exciting to be there at the festival, and seeing all those industry players whom we respect praise our teaser last year was great feedback for us that we are on the right track. We feel like the teaser has already opened many doors for us. We are having promising discussions about projects with several partners as a result of this effort.
BPR: What are your long-term plans at DIGIC Productions?
P. Svéd – We only have long-term plans (laughs). Obviously, we don’t simply want to make one animated feature just so we can say we did it. Rather, we want to put our foot in the door with a successful first film and then continue making them, releasing a feature every two years or so.
I. Takács – We have a wonderful team at DIGIC and there is also the synergy between video games and films. They are different of course, but the industries are getting closer every single day. Multiplatform collaborations are the future, many video games get their adaptations on the silver screen. However, that doesn’t mean that our success in the gaming industry instantly transfers to the film industry. The players are different, but our history and our future vision complement each other well. Our job is to create a strong presence in the feature animation space, partly based on our previous achievements in cinematic trailers.
BPR: Are you planning to work exclusively with Unreal Engine in the future?
P. Svéd – Not exactly. DIGIC Studios, which is a branch of DIGIC specializing in real-time, AR/VR/XR and interactive solutions, has been using Unreal Engine and Unity for a number of years while working on in-engine trailers, but we are not planning on completely switching to Unreal or any other real-time tool. We can work with these whenever necessary, or whenever it makes good sense to do so. It’s a rapidly improving technology with many promises that we will surely take into account when mapping out longer projects. That’s exactly why Another Home was made in Unreal, because we wanted to explore the possibilities of the engine in a family-friendly animated short that is somewhat different from our usual trailers with heavy action and blood and guts.
I. Takács – Unreal Engine technology proved very useful in our plans at Productions. It’s great that we found a partner in Epic Games and could develop our project with them. Debuting the teaser at the Annecy market last year with the support of a leading company such as Epic gave us a great head start.
BPR: Unreal Engine is becoming a tool for not only game developers, but for filmmaking experts and animation professionals. Besides virtual production, how will this impact the film industry?
I. Takács – This is a really important question, because many people thought that using Unreal Engine has economic advantages by making the work process faster, when in reality, the artists were the ones exceptionally happy about this tool in Annecy. The engine doesn’t make the work simpler, rather easier to follow. The artist’s work will become easier to follow, making iterations faster, changing the previous linear work processes. There are great possibilities in this, but we are yet to see most of it in full swing on an animated feature.
P. Svéd – Many companies use Unreal Engine to make short films or even whole series, but not many of them aim to produce the quality that DIGIC has been representing over the past 20 years. Another Home was a test for us, where we really stretched the limits of the engine, to see what we could achieve with it compared to our regular techniques.
BPR: What are you doing right now? Do you have other ongoing projects?
D. Lafka – What we have talked about so far, is the technology we use to transform our ideas into reality. Just like “Toy Story” in ’95 or “Wall-E” in 2008, animation technologies gave studios the means to max out their potential and shape their movies to perfection. Our plan is to finally tell great stories to audiences we haven’t spoken to before: children, families. Whether we tell our own stories or we meet a fascinating story in a video game, a comic, a novel or even in a board game, we can adapt any of them into an animated feature.
P. Svéd – We have 6-7 IPs in our portfolio, which is dynamic. That is to say, sometimes an IP might be put on hold, or may drop out altogether, while another IP might come in. Our current IPs are all at different phases of development. I’ve already mentioned Another Home, but there is also a project called Worlds Apart with a 6-minute proof of concept short. We are still working on the script, while we continue discussions with potential partners and distributors. We have been getting great feedback from some of the best companies in the industry. These two IPs are in an advanced state visually, the others are in various stages of development. We are taking it step by step with each IP, gradually moving forward.
I. Takács – We keep analyzing the market too, since many of these IPs are family stories, but some of them are adult animations, made with different hybrid technologies. We are trying to create a versatile portfolio, while keeping those values in mind, that we represent as a company. Family, climate awareness and diversity are just some of those values that we at DIGIC consider important to communicate in our films.
D. Lafka – Every story is different and we are trying to figure out what themes in a story will have an impact these days. When we do a pitch, we often realize after a few sentences if a partner is interested in that story or not. Some of our ideas might become relevant later, so all of them can find their way eventually. We believe that we tell stories because they enable us to deliver messages which we can stand behind.
P. Svéd – We don’t mean to preach, obviously. A message is always at the core of our story, but we aim to use that to entertain the viewers, not to hit them over the head with it.
I. Takács – We want to make them laugh, cry, to fill them with excitement!
BPR: Besides your own projects, do you get ideas presented to you from elsewhere?
P. Svéd – Every day. Many of the ideas we get could turn into something, and we are open to basically everything. We have an IP that came from one of our animators for example.
D. Lafka – It was exciting to hear about his idea, because initially he thought it was a 10-minute-long story. The more we talked about it, it turned out, it could be something much bigger. We are searching for ideas everywhere, even board games for example. You wouldn’t even think that the games you play with your family can have a deep story underneath it all, filled with adventure, love, drama, and lots of humor. We have a project based on a novel too, so we are really into everything right now.
BPR: Although you’ve been telling stories for 20 years now, you are sailing into a somewhat unfamiliar territory. How is the competition?
I. Takács – The race is tough, because we have amazing competitors. Not necessarily in Hungary or Europe, but around the globe. Finding the right talents for the company is always challenging, and the pandemic did not make it easier, not to mention the always changing technology. We really must be at our best, all the time.
D. Lafka – The demand for animation is bigger than ever. The race is on, but that is only boosting us. It’s a great challenge, because we have to be ready for everything.
P. Svéd – It’s also important that the animated content we usually create at DIGIC is somewhat similar to those adult, R-rated animations that are gaining more and more popularity these days, such as “Love, Death & Robots”. Streaming platforms are increasingly picking these up, and having already worked for Netflix, we are in a great position to use these trends to our advantage.
BPR: Is Productions a priority for DIGIC right now?
I. Takács – DIGIC’s place in the gaming industry is well established and we care about our long-term partners a lot. We intend to keep this balance, so we’re not going to abandon any of our recurring projects. However, yes we are putting great effort into finding our way in the film industry, so in that sense, we can absolutely call it a priority.
P. Svéd – This is where our patience pays off. Many companies in the world tried walking this road with a far smaller team. We only started to seriously think about making a move towards animated features over the past few years, once we felt we are big enough to keep servicing our established long-time partners, while still having time to focus on our individual projects.
D. Lafka – When I came here 8 years ago, DIGIC had 140 employees. Now that number has almost tripled. Stability is truly important for us, but now we are finally ready for long-format projects without impacting our services in the video game industry. Our greatest challenge is also our greatest opportunity; that after many trailers and short films, we can make a feature film for everyone. We believe we are up to the task.