Pi Square is a Taiwan based startup that has built an animation production pipeline platform based on game engines in order to make animation production more real-time and more collaborative. Pi Square was founded in early 2016 by four animators and technologists that have a long history of working together at Taiwan’s top animation and game production companies.
We are fortunate enough to interview the founding team of Pi Square and learn about how they plan to tackle real-time and collaborative animation production worldwide.
KM: Please introduce yourselves.
Pi Square: Pi Square is a company that possesses both research and production capacities. We are dedicated to creating advanced interactive computer animation technologies and to provide clients with next-generation services and technologies that will allow them to produce high-quality animation and Virtual Reality (VR) videos with a thousand times (1000x) the rendering speed but with only one tenth of the equipment cost of traditional animation production methods.
We also provide 3D interactive media, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality solutions and production services. With years of production experience under our belt, we have the capabilities to produce the highest quality 3D interactive applications for our clients.
Pi Square is about half a year old, it is a small team but every member is a veteran of the industry. We have a advisor on strategic and technical matters who is a Hollywood insider specializing in in virtual character and special effects, as well as one of the pioneers of modern motion capture technologies and real-time animation rendering.
Our goal is to become the leader in real-time computer animation technologies applied to movie production, animation production and interactive entertainment.
KM: What brought your team together to start Pi Square?
The most fundamental factor is our passion for animation, games and movies. That passion has driven us to want to leave our mark in this industry.
A practical reason for starting Pi Square is because we realized that game engine rendering has matured significantly and can now be used to produce high-quality animations for a wider range of uses. In fact, the rendering quality is now competitive enough to be used in animation series and movies.
Therefore, we believe this is the future of animation production.
However, the gaming and the animation industries are drastically different in their production processes. For example, animation production typically exports multiple “layers” and “passes” from 3D tools, and then proceed to composite, tweak and optimize in post-production; but in gaming, the export is the final output, any tweaks must be made within the game engine itself without post-production. In other words, game engines cannot be used directly in animation production.
Therefore only by recruiting a team that understands both worlds can we create an animation pipeline platform using game engine rendering, and this has been an innovative move in terms of animation production technologies and methodologies.
Simply put, Pi Square was an inevitable outcome of a team of animators who have experience from both the animation and the gaming world getting together at the right time, with the right knowledge and technical competence to tackle this important problem in our industries.
KM: How did your team meet?
Our team members are veterans hailing from the animation, gaming, movie production and software engineering spaces. Some members of the team have collaborated for years in the past while some are new blood.
It was nothing short of an explosion when the team came together and realized that we have all heard of each other, read each other’s publications, seen each other’s movies, played each other’s games and most importantly, we were inspired by each other even before we had the chance to work together.
KM: As one of most experienced animation teams in Taiwan, what do you see as Taiwan’s advantages and disadvantages?
We don’t think we are qualified to judge in general terms, but we have had some observations and reflections that we can share.
Taiwan has world-class animation production, but to date Taiwan almost never produced a commercially successful animation movie.
In Taiwan, every animator joins the industry with passion, imagination and vision, as evidenced by the massive creative potential demonstrated as early as their college years. Many animators in Taiwan have won titles at international movie festivals and animation competitions. While animation techniques in student-produced animations seem a bit unpolished, there is no lack of creativity and experimentation with storytelling. There is no question that the talent and the passion is there; the real question is whether the ore can be refined into precious gemstones.
Taiwan’s animation schools (in colleges and universities) tend to focus on creativity, but when students graduate and enter the workforce, they immediately notice their lack of “production” experience and are often required to undergo more job training before becoming a productive member of an animation team. Due to Taiwan’s animation industry’s focus on providing production services to international filmmakers, most of the talent are further subdivided and optimized for granular tasks in the animation production process. As a result, as an animator matures in the industry, he or she loses the opportunity to further cultivate creativity. High quality ore never get the refinement they needed to become gemstones.
Animation production aside, if Taiwan wants to create an industry based on original animation, we will need better scriptwriters, branding professionals, franchise strategists and marketing managers, who truly understand how to cultivate different markets for Taiwanese animation products. Right now, Taiwan’s formal education falls short, and the industry has little incentive to move away from outsourced production services.
As a result, Taiwan is in a downward spiral with creative talent depletion, legal inflexibility, and liquidity shortage, making it unnecessarily difficult for Taiwanese animators to create original animation. Most animation creatives in Taiwan are trapped in making shorts that last minutes. There is simply not enough production resource to support a globally competitive animation movie or animation series.
This is a big undertaking that have many puzzle pieces, and we at Pi Square would like to connect with international markets by becoming a competitive technology provider, in order to break away from the traditional animation production outsourcing model.
KM: Going global is a part of Pi Square’s mission, what do you see as your core competence?
Our core competence comes from being one of the first to employ new animation technologies and methodologies, as well as our connection to international opportunities like ones in Hollywood.
Many of our team members have experience creating animation for notable production companies from the US, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Combining our existing network with our strategic advisor’s relationship with Hollywood and the gaming industry, we are in a position to capture opportunities internationally.
KM: What are your plans for the next five to ten years?
Pi Square is an early stage company. The industry moves fast, so it’s hard to say what will happen in five or ten years. But in terms of long term objectives, we will ground ourselves in our technical and methodical advantage, and seek to establish ourselves as the gold standard for real-time animation production. Through strategic partnerships with world-class production companies, we would like to continuously improve on our ability to create animations, not just animation techniques but also capture thematic and cultural essence of successful animations.
The long-term vision is to establish a conduit for Taiwanese animation professionals to collaborate with international productions. As an industry, Taiwan needs not just few lone reeds, but a steady stream of creativity and expertise to empower passionate animators to achieve their dreams.
(Feature photo of Pi Square at work, from Pi Square)