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Episode 123 — Tomasz Wyszolmirski — Dabarti Studio Director
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 123! I’m speaking with Tomasz Wyszolmirski about his studio Dabarti in Poland.
Tomasz came from Evermotion. Dabarti does a similar thing but more on a micro level and custom animation. It was really cool to talk to Tomasz about his background and about building his business. When you speak to owners of studios, it’s interesting to hear about the evolution of recognizing business needs.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[-1:00:26] We will have a Bootcamp coming up. In the mean time, check out The Productive Artist e-book at www.allanmckay.com/productiveartist/. You can download the free book there. It’s a 50-page of actionable techniques to maximize your productivity and output as an artist; how to be efficient and productive. A lot of this is pulled from my Podcasts and articles.
INTERVIEW WITH TOMASZ WYSZOLMIRSKI
Tomasz Wyszolmirski is the Founder of Dabari, a Polish studio specialized in high quality CGI stock footage and images for a variety of subjects like industrial processes, transport and animation.
Since its founding in 2009, Dabarti has grown a team of five people and produced over 3,000 clips for various clients. In addition, Tomasz has written Dabarti Capture, an in-house tool for generating Surface Normal, Albedo and Depth textures from multiple photographs.
In this Episode, Tomasz talks about his experience launching and managing a successful studio, the tools and software they utilize and the importance of scripting for visual effects artists.
Dabarti Website: http://dabarti.com
Dabarti on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/dabarti
Dabarti YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPrjlEQEbIvT-n0YrRyncEA
Dabarti on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DabartiCGI/
Dabarti Capture: http://dabarti.com/capture/
Article on Dabarti by Thinkbox Software / Deadline: https://deadline.thinkboxsoftware.com/dabarti/
[-57:49] Allan: Do you want to quickly introduce yourself and what you do?
Tomasz: Yes, my name is Tomasz Wyszolmirski. I’m the Founder of Polish studio Dabarti. I’m basically doing everything in the studio, from coding to managing it. Our main domain is microstock production. We create many animation shots and we sell them to various outlets. It’s quite a relaxed work. It’s not for demanding clients.
[-57:09] Allan: Yeah, I was going to say you don’t have clients breathing down your neck, telling you [things] had to be done yesterday.
Tomasz: Yes. We are living in a quiet, isolated place from the VFX world, in east of Poland. But it’s cool to talk to other artists from time to time, like yourself.
[-56:39] Allan: Do you know Szymon Masiak? He did some work for VFX Motion. Szymon and I have known each other for a thousand years. He does a lot of stock stuff.
Tomasz: Oh, yeah. I know of him. I’ve seen his stock animation and it was really inspiring for me. His background was crazy VFX worlds. He has a huge talent. After some years, he moved to Poland and started this work. It’s another way to do it. You don’t have to go for these big productions.
[-54:56] Allan: It’s kind of funny that your region seems to be focused on really great stock stuff. I think it’s really awesome to see other artists going and starting these successful business endeavors. A lot of us as artist think, “We’re artists. We don’t want to run a business.” Especially now, it’s important we all find what we’re passionate about.
Tomasz: It’s really tricky to balance out these side businesses. Projects don’t come with financial safety. When I started doing stock production, I was actually freelancing and I had a lot of free time because the projects weren’t steady. Once I was back in Poland, I was stuck with a lot of free time and I started experimenting with stock production. The market was not heavily saturated. It was inspiring to start! There is still a niche for high production videos.
[-52:19] Allan: Do you find that a good way to validate your ideas is to see if similar product is sold?
Tomasz: I’d say it’s not the best way. You can judge what kind of subjects are more popular. But if you create similar videos to what’s already on the market, you would be too late. Those videos have already been promoted by the Search Engine because of the huge number of sales. We try not to do that. We create a new subject and try to think about a nice video to have without seeing what’s selling at the time. That way we come up with unique videos that sell. You need to be creative and come up with something that’s unique in order to break through the other 3,000 videos.
[-50:39] Allan: It’s a good point. It’s tricky if there is something that’s been around through SEO. I always look at when people are looking for work. Sometimes all it takes is just one shot on the reel. Sometimes, that’s the hiring process. If you have a plane crush on your reel, you will always have work.
Tomasz: The good source of inspiration for me is actually watching new productions and new documentaries and seeing what kind of footage they use. It gives a good prospective on what the market needs as well.
[-49:13] Allan: I remember directing a game cinematic in New York. We needed a drop of blood into a pool. The only thing that was around at that time (it was 1995) was on Artbeats. I forget what it cost but I was blown away by how much they were charging because there were no other people around doing the same work. It blew my mind, especially back then! I’m sure now it’s more competitive than it used to be.
Tomasz: Yeah, it is. I think everything changed once iStock Photo came about. They started charging a tenth of what the competition was charging.
[-47:59] Allan: Oh, wow! That’s going to hurt. For you, how did you start out as an artist? I love talking about this stuff. Everyone has a different story. When did you find your passion for art?
Tomasz: It was in high school. I was fascinated by the Polish artist Tomasz Baginski (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1313617/). He created this Oscar nominated animation on his own. It was inspiring that one artist could create such animation, with the direction of one production studio. He was from the same city as I am. It was another proof to me that even though we’re from a small Polish city, [the work] can be amazing and somehow awarded outside of Poland. I started creating some basic 3D models, learning how to model, how to render. It was fascinating to me how you can create you micro world inside the computer. You can do anything with it and change it in 3D. 3DS Max helped. There weren’t many video tutorials.
[-46:07] Allan: What year was that, by the way?
Tomasz: It was 2002. Before even finishing high school, I contacted Evermotion and I asked if I could join their team. So right after high school, I started working there, doing 3D models. It was very good for me at the time.
[-45:21] Allan: How big was their team?
Tomasz: Back then, it was basically me and 3 bosses. They didn’t have an office when they hired me. Then, they started hiring more people and established Evermotion properly.
[-44:48] Allan: It’s pretty impressive, the amount of stuff they put out. What’s their size nowadays?
Tomasz: I visited them last month. I think it’s like 25-30 people. It’s not a huge studio, but it’s quite effective.
[-44:30] Allan: For you, what were some of the challenges going from school to 3D to Evermotion.
Tomasz: It was quite an easy transition: basically from doing modeling, it wasn’t a huge change. The biggest challenge was shading and creating photo realistic effects. It was fascinating [to learn] how to do proper shading. I spent hours and hours playing with all the settings, learning what does what. Now we can use simplified methods for GI but back then, figuring out perfect settings for photo mapping was tricky.
[-43:31] Allan: You can be a lot more sloppy now and still get relatively good render times. Whereas before, everything mattered.
Tomasz: I feel that today it’s really easy. Anybody can use default settings and focus on the creation which is good for people who are starting now.
[-43:09] Allan: I definitely want to pick your brain about that. It’s definitely easier. You look at V-Ray 3.6, it has a really good edition and make things almost in real time. I’m really blown away from that. Did you think that Evermotion would have a big impact on you?
Tomasz: Mostly, it was important for me to understand that I could make a living at this. I could do this professionally and support myself. It was hard to understand — especially for my parents — that I could make 3D models with a computer. It was an insane idea to everyone around. Companies like Evermotion proved that it was possible. They’re based in my hometown.
[-41:46] Allan: That’s really cool! With Debarti, when did you start your company? Did you work at other studios after Evermotion?
Tomasz: I worked at Evermotion for 2 years. Then I moved to Ireland because I wanted to learn more. At first, I did architecture at a small company. After 6 months, I moved to Dublin where I worked at an animation company called Brown Bag Films. I worked there for one year. After that, I moved back to Poland and started freelancing. Transitioning to Dabarti took 2.5 years. It was a moment when I was experimenting with stock animation. I didn’t want to work full-time because I liked the freedom of a freelancer. But that freedom was also very tricky [in terms of] making a living.
[-40:21] Allan: What do you think some of the biggest challenges as a freelancer are?
Tomasz: I think constantly looking for work and keeping your schedule full all the time. I had some projects that overlapped so I had to turn down new projects. And then I would have quite a break in between those.
[-39:47] Allan: Do you remember when you had the idea to start your company? Did it come organically?
Tomasz: It happened organically. If you’re living in Poland and you want to freelance, you have to start your own company, just for tax purposes. I came up with the name Dabarti, which means nothing basically. I came up with a word that would be easy to register a domain for. I didn’t worry about the meaning. I thought if Dabarti becomes good, that would mean something. So the name doesn’t mean anything.
[-38:54] Allan: The number one thing people spend so much time and money on is the name, the logo, the business cards. None of that stuff is relevant! Get the website up and it can have one page with your contact. Having a unique name, no one is going to get that confused with anything else. You have to think ahead and think about what people can remember and associate with you. I think that’s great! It makes you unique. It’s also needs to be easy to spell.
Tomasz: I hope Dabarti is easy to spell for everyone.
[-35:25] Allan: It stands out!
Tomasz: If I were to use my last name, it would be hard to pronounce.
[-35:28] Allan: I’m always interested to see when artists do businesses. A lot of us are allergic to it. We all think that we’re going to fail. Did you have any concerns?
Tomasz: I had to take some time to think about it before doing it properly. I took a break from 3D and traveled. I decided that there would be some issues: I didn’t know about managing a company or taxes. But I could find people to help me or learn it myself. After that decision, the next hardest was hiring the first person. When you hire someone, you have to make sure you can pay that person each month and provide support. It also motivates you to do everything correctly. When you have people working for you, you have to keep them in the loop.
[-33:03] Allan: You have to be accountable. What was the role of the first person you hired?
Tomasz: It was a 3D modeling artist. The first person I hired was an accountant and then I hired a 3D modeler. He is still with us after 5 years.
[-32:32] Allan: What were some of the biggest lesson you had learning to run a company?
Tomasz: Things change really quickly and you have to adapt. It was important to adjust the work flow. We’re still improving things to run smoothly, constantly developing better ways of working. After producing a lot videos, we had to start creating a better pipeline. We started using Deadline instead of Backburner.
[-31:26] Allan: Backburner has gotten better but still. You get some TCP IP error or something like that. Everything should be working but it isn’t. But Deadline I love.
Tomasz: I posted some custom tools but there is just so much you can do. It doesn’t support Python. You can start a web server and log-in into Backburner via several users. There is one thing: All the jobs there have wrong names. That’s the only issue they haven’t used until this day. I gave up on it and I moved to Deadline. That was a refreshing experience. I also started to use Shotgun to see what’s going on.
[-29:20] Allan: I’ve done a lot of scripting with Backburner. I’m impressed that you can use it for different things. I used to work for Frantic Films that developed Deadline. It was one of those tools created for production. The big advantage for custom coding in Deadline, you can use it for anything you need. You can do so much with it!
Tomasz: Many people complain about it being so expensive. I don’t agree with that. It saves so much time, it’s cheaper in the end.
[-27:00] Allan: What are the big difference between what you produce now versus what you produced in the beginning?
Tomasz: Initially, there were very simple scenes. Each video had to take 2 hours of my time max. If I spent 2 days on a video, it would never return on the investment. So if I had to make money, I had to create videos very fast. It also helped me become better. These days, we try to push the quality and the videos are more complex. But because we save time on rendering, we can justify building better models, better shaders in scenes.
[-25:44] Allan: I was speaking with Andrew Kramer from Video Copilot (www.allanmckay.com/29/). Something we talked about was tutorials. In the beginning, I was writing a lot of articles. But then I learned that I could hit record and talk. The big epiphany for me was when I decided that I didn’t want to put anything out unless it was the absolute best. That changed everything. Suddenly by putting in the time, that stuff is able to live a lot longer. Everyone is putting out tutorials, but if you put something out of amazing quality — that’s critical and it makes you stand out.
Tomasz: These days, we try to push it even further because the market is getting even more competitive. We try to stay higher. We now produce 4K footage as well, and our models are better than they used to be.
[-23:41] Allan: What is typically the stuff that you do for your clients? What type of models or assets?
Tomasz: Our bestsellers are from technical servers, quite generic but can be the background to many things. The second would be transportation, different kinds of trucks, roads, etc. We also had some big names using our stuff for their commercials. One of them was HDC 5. It was awesome! It’s quite often I see our footage in random places. If you go ahead and watch any kind of a Discovery channel, there would be at least one video from us in one day.
[-22:12] Allan: That’s so cool! When you see people using your stuff, it’s awesome. Have there been any ways that people have used your stuff that surprised you?
Tomasz: I don’t think I was very surprised. There was one really terrible movie, a comedy that no one would want to see. But they used our video in their trailer four times. They used it pretty effectively.
[-21:14] Allan: You obviously have both a technical and an artistic background. Did you get into scripting and coding, or did you feel it was necessary to learn it along the way?
Tomasz: I did. I was fascinated by it at the same time as 3D. I thought about going to a technical university to learn more about coding. I honestly didn’t expect to code that much after I decided to go toward visual effects. But it proved to be very effective! Whenever I needed some small tool, I would just write it myself, especially after I learned Python. It was of huge help! We’re a small team: 5 people, we’re all generalists. We don’t have a dedicated scripting person. I’m doing it all myself.
[-19:42] Allan: Did you learn it by yourself?
Tomasz: I used an online game called Python Challenge. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn coding. It’s gives you a riddle that you have to solve by writing a code. It’s not pre-defined. You have some clues, but your have figure it out yourself. This way of learning is similar to the way I learned 3D: looking at the documentation instead of watching tutorials. I find it to be an effective and fast way of learning. You have to come up with a creative solution.
[-18:31] Allan: Do you think all artists should learn to code?
Tomasz: It depends if that person is technical. I may be tricky to some people to understand it without a prior background.
[-18:06] Allan: If you approach learning as an artist, the more you’re able to connect the dots and repeat a line of code, after a while you can change values. Bit by bit, you start to get more curious. There are so many approaches depending on how your mind works. It’s more about what way resonates best with you. It think it’s really cool! What do you think are some of the benefits of knowing how to code?
Tomasz: It can save you a lot of time. I feel that if I need to do something repetitive, I prefer to spend that time in automating it. Not only does it help with saving time, but with helping avoid mistakes.
[-15:59] Allan: I was waiting for the finish of that be human error!
Tomasz: I started writing some custom submitters. When we started working as a team, we had too many mistakes. I didn’t want to waste anytime. Those can be easily avoided with some tools. Those small tools help with avoiding human error. It’s better to ask artists to not name any files manually, at all. For that, we use Shotgun. Everything is predefined.
[-14:06] Allan: I think artists shouldn’t have a save and load button. Scripting can save a lot of time, especially when you’re doing it over and over and over. I run a Mentorship, and one of the things we do is learn to code as artists. We learn to make a versioning code. You never need to update your file name. You have to protect yourself from human error, especially when you’re working under stress.
Tomasz: I hope more people start coding.
[-11:57] Allan: For you, what’s a typical day? It sounds like you wear many hats.
Tomasz: In the morning, I review all the content from the overnight rendering; [figure out] which shots are ready to be composited. After that, I do some shots myself — how ever many I can squeeze into the day — and work with the artists. After we finish 3D work, I code something for myself or for fun. I split the day into artistic and coding part. After I released this tool — Dabarti Capture — I have to support it as well. It takes some time.
[-10:53] Allan: What does the tool do?
Tomasz: It’s similar to Photogrammetry. You can capture high quality surface using just one single point, one view. You write your subject with the Flashlight from different directions. When you feed those photos with different lighting into the software, it can calculate the depth. You can later use it in Zbrush. I found it wasn’t available anywhere online. I was always fascinated with doing high quality leaves for plants. I just couldn’t get that resolution right, especially in close-up. With this tool, you’re only limited by the resolution of your camera. You can zoom in and see some incredible details. It’s helps me with understanding how surfaces look up close.
[-09:02] Allan: You have two versions, the free version and the Pro. What are the differences?
Tomasz: Resolution. You can create up to 1K textures in the free versions. In Pro, you have unlimited resolution.
[-08:38] Allan: Do you have any tutorial to get people up and running?
Tomasz: There is one video on Vimeo on how to use it: https://vimeo.com/217827234. I created it in this way because it was meant to be an internet tool. With this automatic version, it calculates everything.
[-07:47] Allan: What tools do you typically use for what you do?
– The main applications are 3DS Max and V-Ray. Those are 90% of our work.
– Depending on the complexity of compositing, we use either Nuke or After Effects. Most stock videos are usually done with After Effect.
– These days, we use de-noising a lot, especially with 4K renders. For that we use Neat Video. If set up correctly, it can generated a detailed video.
[-06:43] Allan: Is that available for all compositing software?
Tomasz: I think it has plug-ins that allow you to use it anywhere.
[-06:26] Allan: Have you ever experimented with other GPU rendering tools?
Tomasz: I tested them. The first GPU render I used was Octane but there was something missing there. Probably not because of the engine but because of the site. I was very limited. After two years, I got new renders from the Maxwell series. I decided to try those. There were some things missing at the time. The good thing about V-Ray, I started sending reports. Those were really quickly fixed. We had someone helping us daily. Overtime, this is what made be stay with RT. We had a lot of input in the model. The guys were implementing everything we asked for.
[-03:40] Allan: They’ve had so much growth, it’s pretty mind blowing. It’s my go-to tool. When it comes to GPU, what kind of hardware do you use?
Tomasz: We have 1070’s in our workstation. In our render farms, we mix of Titans X, 10 ATI and some 980 TI as well. But it’s getting to be not enough for our stuff.
[-02:44] Allan: How much difference are you finding between the 1070 and 1080?
Tomasz: 1070’s are 50% slower than ATI. I don’t have 1080 without TI.
[-02:17] Allan: Where would people go to find out more about you and Dabarti?
Tomasz: Everything is on www.dabarti.com. We also have a YouTube channel and you can see how we work.
[-01:47] Allan: Thank you again for doing this!
Tomasz: Thank you as well!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Episode. Thank you, Tomasz, for taking the time and sharing your insights!
Next Episode, I will be speaking with VFX Supervisor Michael Wortmann. I think he just wrapped Black Panther. He’s also worked on all over the world. I will leave it there for now.
Please share this Episode and review it on iTunes. I would be so grateful!