How Animation Studio Atomic Cartoons Achieved Growth by Using HP Anyware in a Pandemic

November 9, 2022
HP Teradici

HP Teradici is the inventor of the PCoIP remote display protocol and develops the Engineering Emmy-Award-winning HP Anyware (formerly Teradici CAS) to deliver the best virtual and remote desktop experience in the world.

When COVID-19 restrictions sent staff home in 2020, animation studio Atomic Cartoons didn't miss a beat. They successfully transitioned to remote work using HP Anyware (formerly Teradici CAS) and stayed on deadline for all projects.

We spoke with Robert Crowther, IT manager, Ben Beavan, line producer, and Tim Llewellyn, studio digital effects supervisor at Atomic Cartoons, about how the company and the animation industry works, the transition to remote and hybrid work, and expanding during a pandemic.

Can you tell us about Atomic Cartoons?

Robert Crowther: Atomic Cartoons is an animation studio. We work with a bunch of different clients. We're very artist-driven and we're very proud of that fact. We have about 800-ish people in Vancouver, about 120 in Ottawa, and about 60 in LA. 

Ben Beavan: Atomic Cartoons is a 2D/3D animation company. It's been around for 20 years or so. We're an artist led studio, mainly focusing on kids TV shows. We also have a some of our own properties which we are developing. And the ultimate aim is for the studio to have a sort of 50% balance of client-led work as well as Atomic-owned property.

Could you explain what 'artist-driven' means for Atomic Cartoons?

Beaven: The philosophy here, that works very well, is that a happy artist is somebody who's going to perform stronger and better for you. What Atomic Cartoon tries to always strives to do is to put an artist where they would like to be. We talk to all the artists regularly about what their aims are, what their goals are. And then we try and help them attain those goals. They actually are able to achieve what they're looking for and they're able to get some career progression, as well. Hence the growth over the last five years or so, it's been so monumental.

How would you describe the work you do at Atomic Cartoons?

Crowther: I'm the IT manager.

Beavan: I'm a line producer. What that means is I'm a project manager. So, I take a project from the beginning and see it through till the end, maintain the schedule and the budget, and deal with the crew and making sure that everyone's happy, and then we get the work done for the clients. There are some development projects that happen at the same time. But generally, they're much smaller projects. So, my current project has been, it's been a huge project, it's been going for two years. A development project will probably only run for a month or two. But generally, it's one project per producer.

Llewellyn: I'm the studio digital effects supervisor. Mainly, that's looking after the pipeline and workflow aspects of what we do here that allows us to create the images that we do. I work across all projects here. Currently, I'm working on five projects. What I end up overseeing is the whole CG (computer graphics) division that is there. So, it's looking after all of the departments that start with assets, through rigging and layout, through look-development, all the way through animation, lighting, rendering and compositing. 

How did the pandemic impact Atomic Cartoons?

Crowther: Before HP Anyware, we had issues where there were departments that were moving spots a lot. That was taking up a lot of our time. At the time, the option was, if we start looking at HP Teradici, it’s just PCoIP® Zero Clients. Artists just move desks, and it doesn't matter. Now with the pandemic, obviously, that's changed. We had to get everybody home, so that took us about two weeks. But we got everybody in every studio home, with using remote access, and we started using HP Anyware. And thankfully, it was easy enough to get set up within the two weeks, so we could get everybody home and safe. Nowadays, we have maybe five artists come into the studio per site.

Beavan: Right at the beginning of the lockdown, our CEO, Jennifer Twiner-McCarron, made a very quick and wise executive decision to get people at home up and running working as fast as possible using the HP Anyware software. And it was incredible. In two weeks, we had 600 people set up at home. If they didn't have a computer, we supplied it, if they didn't have a keyboard, we supplied it. I can't speak for the other shows at the studio, but from my personal experience, we didn't skip a beat. 

What were some of the Atomic Cartoons' priorities when moving to remote work? 

Crowther: With using software packages like Maya, Harmony, Storyboard all of that, we need the best of the best that we can get for our artists. The biggest, unique factor for HP Anyware was honestly the WACOM support. There's a lot of other solutions that we can remote-in, use low bandwidth for the connection, get the connection stats, but no one else had the WACOM support like HP Teradici did. And it was critical for us at Atomic because pretty much all of our 2D artists use Cintiqs.  

[Artists] need that driver to work 100% of the time. The latency needs to be ultra-low so that when you're drawing, you're not seeing the pen lag behind you. No artist likes that! 

Llewellyn: User Experience is at the top of the list for Atomic Cartoons. It’s one of the main concerns as we're an artist-driven facility. 

At HP Teradici, security is a huge priority. Can you share with us the security needs for Atomic Cartoons? 

Crowther:Crowther: Yeah, for security reasons, we only allow people to remote-in with HP Teradici. If they're using an offline workflow, we have a file transfer system that's secured for that. We have a HP Anyware license for each artist. We monitor how many licenses we're using at one time. We do use the PC-over-IP statistics viewer to see the general details of somebody's connection… [It] really assists us with being able to troubleshoot people's home connections, as well as our own. 

Beavan: One of the things that HP Anyware has really enabled us to do is maintain our security protocols. We're creating content for various streaming services, for LA-based companies, etc. and we have very strict copyright and secrecy that we have to maintain around the project. HP Anyware enables us to work from home and maintain that level of security because nothing's leaving the building, everything's on the server and protected within the firewall. 

We deal with a lot of sensitive material, developing projects with studios and things like that. And there's a lot of security around that, that is required by the studio to maintain copyright and secrecy around the projects. That has been really a huge win for the production teams here at the studio because you're able to access that material without any issues. We do have the privilege of working with big clients, Disney, DreamWorks and well-known global companies. Anyware has enabled us to be able to work from home seamlessly, which has been fantastic. 

How was the user experience of integrating CAS into Atomic Cartoons systems? 

Crowther: For Atomic Cartoons, it's really important that we have options when we want to start looking to expand into the cloud. We want to be able to make sure that wherever they're connecting to that is the best option for that location. So, if for Ottawa, that location happens to be an Azure data center, then I'll use Azure. If for Vancouver that tends to be AWS, we’ll use AWS. By having the flexibility with HP Anyware means that we don't have to worry about a piece of software not fitting in with the solution that we want to use. 

Beavan: It’s so easy to use, and it really is just signing in, and you have all your programs and you’re on your computer at your workstation in the office. The user experience has been extremely good. The interface is slightly complex when you first look at it. But once you do it, it becomes so much easier. When a show starts, we have a lot of artists joining. Not all of them have worked at Atomic before. So, we're having to guide them through the process and sometimes instructing them on how to do it is not easy using words, but once they do it, it's fine. And actually, the largest issues we've had with the artists has been their personal internet connection, which has actually been a user problem rather than anything to do with the software. They can be working within 24 hours, which is phenomenal. 

What were some of the immediate ROIs you noticed? 

Crowther: We save a lot of time now with desk moves. Because, well, one, many people are back in the studio right now. But two, when they do return, we just set them up with a zero client at a desk and be like, hey, just remote-in to here like you do from home. And there you go. So that saves us a lot of time. Especially with our IT team, in general. They're not moving around workstations as much or gear. Artists aren't frustrated by waiting on the IT team. They can just log in and go. 

Beavan: [Artists] can just do their work. They don't need to worry as much about where the computer is, where they are even, as much as they're in an area with low-ish latency, depending on what they're doing. They can actually be pretty much anywhere. So, if somebody wants to go to Verdun, for example, for a week, I know that the latency is low enough that if they wanted to take their Cintiq and their zero client, they can go to Verdun for the week, and be able to still work at Atomic like they were at home. 

We actually had one of our pipeline guys go to South Korea, and he worked with HP Anyware out of his machine in Vancouver, out of South Korea doing his pipeline work. Now, that being said, he's just a pipeline artist. He's mainly opening scenes, debugging them, working in code, so he's not needing quite the pinpoint responsiveness as some of the other artists, but the fact he was able to even work out of South Korea for us still, and not have any loss and productivity was pretty huge. 

Llewellyn: HP Anyware has helped us grow a lot, even over the last year. It assisted in allowing us to bring everybody home when the pandemic hit. But at the same time, it allowed us to change our infrastructure, so we could actually start growing more at the actual studio. Instead of just worrying about having Anyware set up at people's individual desks, we were able to set up remote stations that would then allow us to add even more artists that technically wouldn't be able to fit in studio with where we're at. 

What are some of the biggest takeaways from using HP Anyware? 

Crowther: HP Anyware has been great for having that visibility of the statistics viewer. Being able to see how someone's connection actually is. Being able to have really quick and easy tools for deployment and licensing. Being able to double-check, very, very easily who's assigned to what workstation, and what their status is, and our Active Directory. Being able to troubleshoot everything that we need to from the different logs that are available. It's all very clear. 

Beavan: When somebody starts with us on the show, like a new artist who hasn't worked at the studio previously, we set up a workstation within the office which they are then able to remote-in to using the HP Anyware software. It's already been set up with all the appropriate software that they require. And literally, it just requires them to have an internet connection from home. And then they can log into their computer and their workstation, and they are up and running and ready to go. 

With workplaces opening up again, do you see Atomic Cartoons staying remote or going hybrid? 

Beavan: I believe the plan is to have a hybrid model. Working from home really has been a huge hit with the studio. And I think productivity-wise, it hasn't skipped a beat. And that's something that the studio is definitely recognizing. We're an artist-driven studio; the artists have really enjoyed working from home. And that's something that the studio plans to take forward post-pandemic, as well. I think we will use a hybrid form because, obviously you do lose in-person meetings. And when people are starting for the first time, if they don't know their team members, there are definite benefits to being in a studio together. If there's big meetings, we can come in and meet for that and share a room, there's massive benefits to that, rather than being on a Zoom call. But HP Anyware has enabled people to work from home with 100% efficiency. 

Schedule a HP Anyware demo today.  

 

HP Teradici

HP Teradici is the inventor of the PCoIP remote display protocol and develops the Engineering Emmy-Award-winning HP Anyware (formerly Teradici CAS) to deliver the best virtual and remote desktop experience in the world.