Tim Phillips is the co-founder of Artificial Artists, a new creative technology company providing CG content at scale for brands and agencies.
Econsultancy caught up with him to find out how the company is aiming to make visual effects more accessible, the skills and tools he uses to get the job done, and his advice for young creatives starting out in media.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
Tim Phillips: I’m the Co-Founder of Artificial Artists. Ben Cyzer and I started the company late last year to explore how we could apply new and emerging technologies to help simplify complex VFX content creation techniques.
The current pipeline for VFX creates amazing visuals, but with a significant cost in terms of time and money. We want to make the technology accessible to more people and organisations.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
TP: Ben and I are a partnership. We worked together for quite a few years in the largest global VFX studio before we decided to go it alone. We bring a pretty complementary set of skills to the table, with Ben overseeing strategy, design, marketing and sales while I tend to focus on operations, production & finance – which mainly entails working with the devs and artists to create our tools and the work.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
TP: Production and development generally requires tenacity and patience. There are a lot of ups and downs on the way to delivering anything, from a TV ad to a software package. So you have to find a way to hang in there, and get the right amount of time for yourself and the team to deliver.
Tell us about a typical working day…
TP: Ben and I usually arrive in the office at 8:30 and generally use this time to catch up on everything: progress on build, the team, marketing opportunities, sales news, general industry news.
Once the team is in, we’ll usually have our 3dctrl software team meeting. 3dctrl is our real-time 3D content creation toolkit. This is the chance for everyone to review progress, talk about issues and offer up new features or changes to the existing plan. The MVP is pretty advanced, as we needed to hit a pretty high benchmark for this system to stand a chance in the current VFX/3D content space.
Following this we are usually out of the office meeting with potential clients. There is a lot of interest out there from brands and agencies looking to have control over their own creative assets. 3dctrl offers them the freedom to create multiple films using 3D content, and then deploy them at speed through digital/social channels.
Equipping brands with creative agility is a huge part of what we use 3dctrl for. If a client finds that one of their CG films is successful, we can use our system to quickly replicate it in multiple languages and aspect ratios, or with multiple new products. Changing features like background, camera movement, lighting or titles can be done in a matter of minutes, making things like deploying reactive CG content a possibility for the first time.
I usually try to get away from the office around 18:00 to see my kids before bedtime. Sometimes we’ll be in the office later of course but we tend to operate very flexible hours at Artificial Artists. Ultimately, it’s about letting people work in ways that ensure they remain happy, fulfilled and productive.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
TP: I have always loved working with CG artists. This part of the process, building something from nothing, is pretty astounding. The challenge of finding ways to help get the look right is always interesting. We are constantly looking for tricks to achieve this without overstepping what the computer can handle. We have an unbelievably talented group of devs and artists here to lead this process.
Having our own company gives Ben and I freedom to plot our own course. The downside is, of course, the worry about the future and whether we’re making the right decisions day to day. But being free to make choices without the need for a committee is very refreshing. Working as a duo always helps by enabling us both to have a trusted sounding board at all times.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
TP: Our early goal is to create a business that’s viable and exciting, and to validate our proposition. Beyond that we’re obviously looking to scale, as we put this new tech into the hands of more people. But right now, we try not to look too far ahead, so we can focus on getting the next six months right.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
TP: Like everyone, I’d struggle without my iPhone. During development, we’ve relied heavily on Trello and Backlog to manage the process, and these are great. That said, I always revert to scribbling awful diagrams on scraps of paper when we’re all trying to get our heads around a problem.
How did you end up founding Artificial Artists, and where might you go from here?
TP: Ben and I spent a long time working on high end advertising, in a range of companies and roles. We saw the rapid growth in digital media but felt unable to service it using traditional methods. We felt there was an opportunity for a new way to approach VFX, making it quicker and more efficient, without the need for expensive studios.
In terms of the future, we want to establish 3dctrl in the marketplace, and start to work on new tools to roll out to complement it.
What creative/design has impressed you recently?
TP: The Heretic: Unity GDC 2019 reveal. Unity recently released this film at GDC; I think it demonstrates perfectly what’s now possible with real-time rendering, and where new technology is taking us.
What advice would you give to any young creative starting out in media today?
TP: Creative technology has exploded in recent years, introducing new choices to help creatives and artists express themselves. I would advise they experiment with different technology to find a repertoire of tools and a workflow that suits their talents and skills.