The power of female vigour in the animation industry – interview
Ildikó Takács always wanted to work in film production. It was production management and the business of filmmaking that most interested her. She started her career at InterCom in the field of law and she is now the Chief Business and Legal Affairs Officer at DIGIC, responsible for the growth of the company. She monitors the market and discovers new areas of digital film production, into which DIGIC could enter.
Why did you choose film production?
From very early on, during law school, I was involved in cultural activities. Besides film, I am generally interested in the arts, especially photography and contemporary dance. Filmmaking is one of the areas of the arts that requires the most legal, financial, and economic knowledge, so my curiosity was mostly centered on this. I started my career as a junior lawyer at InterCom, a film distribution company, which represented the major Hollywood film studios in Hungary. And I still believe that one of the most exciting areas in this industry is how to connect films with audiences. The world of film-making, with its complexity and diversity, enchanted me. Some processes are the same in every production, or distribution, but you always face something new. Every film has something specific to it, so because of this constant change, creativity, intricacy, you are never bored. While you have to be aware of the crucial importance of transmitting artistic values, you also have to take into consideration economic sustainability. When I worked in England, as the director of the Hungarian Cultural Centre, I attended an exciting festival called the Psychoanalytic Film Festival. It was a very thought-provoking event because they pointed out that “going to the cinema” is a collective psychological, cultural and visual experience. That’s why I think cinemas will never disappear, even if they are currently closed because of the pandemic; lockdowns affect most parts of the film industry very badly, but animation is a lucky exception.
How did your career path lead you here?
After university, I tried to look for an area that deals with audiovisual intellectual property. That’s when I got to InterCom and worked with television rights for the first time. I started as a lawyer there and became a board member, leading the cinema distribution arm of the company. It is a very exciting field and essentially it’s about getting the films to cinemas efficiently. Besides blockbuster Hollywood movies, many Hungarian movies, like Rokonok or Csodálatos Júlia (Being Julia) directed by István Szabó, or Sorstalanság (Fateless) directed by Lajos Koltai also belonged to us. A minor but amazing detour followed, when I was the director of the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London for 5 years. I did not go far from the industry, though. We organized the Check the Gate film festival, with the aim of getting as many Hungarian movies visible in the UK as possible. There was (and still is) a need to showcase Hungarian films there. Besides screening Hungarian films, the festival provided a platform for various film industry related workshops and exhibitions about internationally recognized, Hungarian film icons such as Korda. We held pitch forums as well as organizing networking events for producers, screenwriters, and directors.
After spending five years in London, I returned to Hungary to work more closely with films and get into film production. I had the privilege of working with Ildikó Kemény, the great producer from Pioneer Pictures, then the National Film Fund (today National Film Institute) approached me about conducting an international research project for them in order to develop a national education and training strategy for the Hungarian film industry. This is how the widely used film industry training platform, www.filmesgyakornok.hu, was born. Another result of the study was a separate, new department that was set up at the Film Fund to improve training and innovation. Afterwards, about 4 years ago, came the irresistible opportunity to start at DIGIC, one of the largest independent animation studios in the world. At that time, I was one of the very few in the company who had knowledge of the international film business and legal background, but absolutely no talent for 3D animation! The company started with highly professional 3D artists almost 20 years ago and the founder-CEO, Alex Rabb, the producer, and his closest colleagues are still with the company. These 4 years have been a very exciting challenge and I participated in the design of important corporate processes since the company has grown not only in size, but also intensively diversified its business lines. As a group, DIGIC has more than 400 employees and from its inception the company has been working almost exclusively with international clients.
What exactly does it mean to be a Chief Business and Legal Affairs Officer? How do you envision your responsibilities?
In my current position, I am involved in high-level strategy and business development decisions. DIGIC now has four business lines:
- DIGIC Pictures, which produces 3D animated content mainly for the gaming industry, though we also worked for Netflix on the episode called The Secret War in the Love, Death, and Robots animated anthology, which has won Best FX for TV/Media at Annie Awards 47th which we are very proud of.
- DIGIC Services, which provides the raw materials for digital filmmaking, such as performance capture and 3D photo scans. We have a huge motion capture studio in Dunakeszi and two 3D photoscan studios (one for the body and one for the face) at our headquarters, in the Graphisoft Park. They also work with live action film production companies, VFX studios as an important supplier of these services.
- DIGIC Studios uses the latest technological solutions, real-time engines for high quality 3D animation, VR and AR content. These engines, which are suitable for real-time rendering, produce 3D animation content faster and at a more reasonable cost that their competitors. The quality of this technology is becoming closer to the traditional rendering every day.
- DIGIC Productions, our youngest line of business, produces its own film content. It’s no secret desire for the company to put a feature-length animated film project on the table soon. This is why we started developing our own content last year. In cooperation with Origo Studios, we are creating a short film in which we want to show what we are capable of, a film that covers the full spectrum of digital filmmaking. Virtual Production has truly skyrocketed in recent times.
Who do you work with closely and how do you coordinate your team?
In the beginning, I needed a little time to get familiar with the processes, but even after all these years, there is still something new to learn every day. One minute of animation content is the result of thousands of different tasks, while 3D animation requires a very special mix of artistic and technological skills. I really admire all my colleagues in the production teams. The teams closest to me, however, are the legal, communication and business development divisions and I am also responsible for DIGIC Productions, our own IP development arm. Most of us working in the business support teams have been working from home since last March. Switching to remote work created a lot of new challenges, but, thankfully, we saw opportunities in this difficult situation. So, the coordination of work has changed a lot and we introduced some new business management tools, but we very much rely on our production and communication software, called dProject, which was developed in house.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you?
As I mentioned, it was very challenging in the beginning, but our processes are a lot smoother now than they were in April-May of last year. Previously, we were used to doing all the production in-house. This was particularly important from an IT and content security point of view and it’s much better for a creative team to work and think together, and it’s challenging when this can’t happen. We introduced several new hygiene rules for those who still need to go to the office. We have COVID protocol and testing procedures, which we never had to think about before. In terms of returning to the office, we’re likely to switch to a hybrid system in the future and we intend to keep the good side of this new digital office space, but provide the possibility to meet and interact personally once again. Loneliness is probably the hardest part of this new structure.
The LED wall is a novel technology, how does DIGIC work with it?
The LED wall represents a complete paradigm shift in filmmaking and The Mandalorian TV series is the most exciting pioneer of this. The digital background, however, is not a new idea: there were already screen projections and we all remember these, for example, in the James Bond movies, which look very outdated today! In these days, with the help of highly sophisticated, 3D real-time game engine technologies (such as Unreal Engine), we can produce hyper realistic digital environments, backgrounds and put them on state-of-the-art LED walls to replace real backgrounds, such as deserts or snowy mountains.
Most companies produce virtual production in collaboration: they need a LED wall, a studio space, and DIGIC brings the knowledge that can be conjured as a 3D animation on the canvas. We have expertise not only in producing the hyper realistic 3D content, but also in implementing technological processes that integrate real actions with a virtual background. It gives a lot of freedom to both animated and live action filmmaking and it is quite amazing to see the results. Over time, these technologies will become increasingly affordable. Traveling with the staff of hundreds of people back and forth between different locations is very time consuming and expensive. COVID was, of course, a big driver in accelerating the growth of virtual production, so we are pleased of our collaboration with Origo Studios, as we complement each other’s abilities and capacities.
As the Nostradamus report predicts, approximately five years from now, virtual production will be a key part of our everyday film production process. Location guides already show where such a service or virtual production is available. In my opinion, it will become increasingly important for the country to have this technology and quality of service available in the future. International productions come to Hungary not only because of the location, but also because of the tax rebate, professional crew and great infrastructure.
DIGIC is one of the few studios in the world that is capable of covering all parts of digital film production, from the content, such as making virtual venues, to props creation and VFX and full CGI production. DIGIC doesn’t want to become a live action production studio: we step in to work on the digital parts of films. We also have a team that specializes in the design of workflows, so that real and virtual shooting can be smoothly integrated in the production. Our cooperation with Origo could be very fruitful, since they have the proper infrastructure and also have experience in physical production.
What are you most proud of?
I think one of the greatest achievements in terms of the corporate structure was to effect certain changes in the business support. The formation of the legal and communication teams was a crucial step in embracing our rapid growth. The other highlight I would like to mention is the establishment of our youngest business line, DIGIC Productions. This team will have a significant contribution to make in reaching DIGIC’s ultimate goal, which is to become one of the premiere animation studios in Europe for high-quality animated feature films and series. We are also very proud that we were successfully awarded Epic Mega Grants last year, which has allowed us to develop our first short movie using Unreal Engine – its working title is Another Home.
It’s important to seek new opportunities and challenges, while finding ways to excel the results of the past twenty years. Technology, market demands and opportunities are changing exceptionally fast. Moreover, we work in the gaming industry, where DIGIC has a professional background. Real-time engine technology is the confluence of the two industries. Both industries are competitive, and the demand for new content has increased, especially in the recent period.
Is it tough being a woman in your industry?
Fortunately, I never felt any difficulties or disadvantages being a woman so far in my career. At DIGIC out of 400 employees, we have around 90 female team members – including some who are even bigger gamers than the guys.
I am truly impressed by the incredible talent of our team, regardless of whether they are male or female. Since 3D animation was a new territory, at the beginning, I had to understand both the different phases of production and the mindset of my technical and creative colleagues. I think the key is to respect each other’s capabilities, and being a woman or a man does not necessarily make any difference, when it comes to talent and creativity. Our artists make breathtakingly realistic movies and can perform 3D animation at the highest level. On the other hand, business-minded people like me, have the analytical and management mindset that is also indispensable for successfully delivering a project. We are dealing with serious deadlines and, therefore, we need to ensure that the movies are delivered on time and within budget. Animation production is really a complex and tightly regulated mechanism, so besides creativity, and talent, discipline is a must in DIGIC.
What are your plans for the future?
Definitely to produce a feature-length 3D animation. The goal is to make DIGIC the European Pixar. In order to be able to develop a sustainable animation production company, we have to keep working on a very thoughtful business strategy. Participating in this is a super exciting challenge, and it will be even more exhilarating when we work on a big movie. It is important to coordinate our skills and visions of the future, to follow the market, and keep up with the latest trends.