Chief Artist Officers Workshop: Part 2

CTNx CAO Workshop

Panel at the 2011 CTN Animation Expo for the “Chief Artist Officers, those CAO’s Who Create Companies and Brands” workshop.

(Click here to read CAO Workshop: Part 1) Another valuable workshop I attended at CTNx was the CAO (Chief Artist Officers) Workshop. Running a studio while being a “hands on creative” is not easy at times and it was refreshing to hear how these wildly successful studio heads balanced creativity, business acumen, shaping studio culture, forecasting, and navigating the pitfalls inherent to the animation industry.

CAO Workshop (From CTNx’s Website)
Artist-Driven Companies that are beating the odds, and finding new ways to innovate. With a general concept and stronghold supporting the long lived misconception that artists can not create or run a business CTN welcomes the CAO’s (Chief Artist Officers) of successful studios, brands and companies.

One common topic discussed by all of the studio heads, was the economy. The economy hit Timbuktoons hard in early 2009 and it was interesting to hear the similarities in how these studios dealt with the economy and how it reshaped aspects of their business and creative workflow.

Below is an overview of each company and a list of key statements that I took away from the discussion. As with other CTNx posts (Andreas Deja, Marcelo Vignali), much more was said, but these are things that resonated with me personally or that I found worth noting. They are not exact quotes in all cases but an overview of what was said.

From CTNx’s Website:
Sergio Pablos is a renowned Supervising Animator whose credits include Disney’s “Tarzan”, “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules”, to name a few. Animagic S.L. was born on 2004 as a small Animation service company, and then changed its name to THE SPA Studios (standing for Sergio Pablos Animation) on 2010. Since the beginning, our focus has been on producing high quality work in all things Animation, providing Production and Pre-Production services for such clients as Universal, Blue Sky, Warner and Disney, to name a few. Under his leadership, The SPA Studios has contributed to numerous Animated Feature Films, such as “Nocturna”, “Asterix and the Vikings”, “Despicable Me”and “Rio”, to name a few, as well as a long list of commercials and other short subject productions.

I love the underdog story behind Despicable Me and I really liked the design of the film so I was excited that Sergio was there to speak. It was interesting hearing about how SPA Studios was started and how they also have a long range goal to shed service work to focus on their own IP’s. I caught up with Sergio a short time later and had a chance to talk with him about how they weathered the economic downturn. We talked about how boutique studios all felt the pinch (an understatement) and the lucky one’s weathered the worst of the storm (hopefully). Here are some statements from his talk:

  • We’ve done pre-production and production for Blue Sky, Disney, etc.
  • We do mostly service work for 2D and 3D.
  • Working on Despicable Me was a big milestone for the company.
  • I worked at Disney for years then went back to Spain look for a studio to work at but I ended up starting one because no other projects seemed very good.
  • I had to stop complaining and see if I had what it takes.
  • I bought a company with a guarantee of 1 year production. I figured I had 1 year to sell the company but realized, “Hey, we can do this!”
  • Hoping one day won’t need the service work and can work on our own concepts exclusively.
  • At Disney they had 5 supervisors to tell you a scene was due Friday. We were over managed.
  • I was afraid to take risks.
  • Don’t make decisions based on panic.
  • Plow forward and keep going.
  • Among other things, running a studio means that when things go bad you’re the one who doesn’t get paid.

From CTNx’s Website:
After graduating with honors from Art Center and founding his own Product Design Studio, Scott Robertson founded the Design Studio Press.  As a specialty publisher that focuses primarily on original artistic works and educational books this company takes pride in being “artist friendly” and believes that the more we motivate each other to take part in the creative process the better.

  • Design Studio Press Makes a product.
  • I was an industrial designer. Books have a low barrier to entry if you find the right niche market.
  • We’ve been around for 8 years and will have 46 books in print by comic con next year.
  • We have featured the work of 191 artists 16 countries.
  • We try to link 1 graphic designer with 1 (comic book, visual development, or art direction) artist for each book.
  • I think an artist run business can visualize the end product earlier/better than non artist led studios
  • You have to take leaps of faith. You have to risk.
  • Book publishing is tough. You need 10 titles to get into Barnes and Noble.


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