Studio Profile: 5518 Studios
Based in America and Russia, the art production company tells Tom May how they create a range of art for the games industry
Based in US and Russia, the art production company tells us how it creates 2D and 3D art for the video games industry.
Today’s globalised game industry is an increasingly 24/7 world. But 5518 Studios is one art production company that has no problem offering a round-theclock service. With studios in Ulyanovsk and St Petersburg in Russia, and a headquarters in Los Angeles (the latter two are 5,518 miles apart, hence the name), it’s able to work continuously on time-sensitive projects across multiple time zones. And that’s helped the company carve out a strong reputation for supplying concept art, illustrations, 3D modelling, animation, cinematics and augmented reality/ virtual reality to the games industry.
Furthermore, there’s another way they’re disrupting traditional business models. As 5518 Studios states on its website, “We are not outsourcers, we are external partners.” Founder and CEO Michael Casalino, who’s based in the LA office, explains what that means in practice. “We want to be a true extension to the team, so we don’t like calling the people we work with ‘clients’; they’re partners. And we want, ideally, to be integrated fully into their process and pipeline, whether that’s their Skype, their Slack, their Trello, their Jira or whatever.”
Since 5518 Studios’ launch in 2016, it’s worked on more than 15 such partnerships with the likes of Google, UBER, Wargaming, Scopely, Oculus VR, Warner Bros. and Electronic Arts. Headline projects have included
It starts off with strong 2D concept art, then we take that image and bring it to life
work on Walking Dead: Road to Survival, WWE Champions, Family Guy, Temple Run, Striker VR, Paladins, SMITE, Snoopy Pop, World of Tanks HD, Rune: Ragnarok, DICE with Buddies and Wheel of Fortune.
As of necessity, the art produced by the studio varies in terms of style. But what remains consistent, Michael says, is “high-quality detail in 3D character modelling. A lot of that starts off with strong 2D concept art, and then we take that flat image and bring it to life.”
Most of the studio’s artists are either 2D or 3D specialists, although they’re sufficiently informed about each others’ disciplines that they can collaborate closely, Michael adds. “So if, say, we’re missing details in the 2D concept art, the 3D artist will say, ‘Okay, where do you see things from the concept side happening on this scene over here?’ Then they’ll work hand-in-hand on patches.”
a world of 3d rendering
There have been so many 5518 Studios projects that hard to know exactly where to start. But one that’s at the forefront of co-founder and COO Maxim Miheyenko’s mind right now is its recent partnership on World of Tanks HD.
“It was a big challenge involving physically based rendering art and real-time physics,” explains Maxim, who’s based in the St Petersburg office. “We worked very hard with Alexey Nazarov, our art manager, and a great team of artists to create next-level, realistic art for Wargaming’s wellknown blockbuster.”
Another project is a mobile game called Snoopy Pop, where the studio has been working with gaming company Jam City and the Charles Schulz Group. “All the whimsical 2D artwork we’re doing for the backgrounds, the iconography, is all in line with the original Peanuts
That we’re working on this iconic brand… I can’t quite believe this is happening!
artwork – and even as I’m talking to you, I’ve just got chills,” says Michael. “I mean, when I was nine years old, I used to draw Woodstock and Snoopy all the time. That we’re working on this iconic brand… well, I can’t quite believe this is happening!”
A positive environment
With more than 60 artists typically working on 12-15 projects at any one time, 5518 Studios is certainly a busy place. But the hectic pace is balanced out by a positive and nurturing working environment, says art production manager
Elvina Antonova, who’s based in Ulyanovsk.
“There’s an informal and creative atmosphere, with a lack of unnecessary bureaucracy and pompous meetings, and we feel like we’re one big family,” she says. “Things are run in a similar way to a company like Google, where people are encouraged to develop their creativity, initiative and talent.”
Most of the artists working in Ulyanovsk and St Petersburg are Russian, along with some hailing from Asia. But 5518 Studios also employs large numbers of freelancers, working remotely from around the world.
Elvina has the following advice for any artist wishing to work with them: “Be ready to learn fast, improve your professional skills every day, and never give up. Play as many games as possible. Learn how to use AI tools for artists, Substance, Maya, ZBrush, 3ds Max, and get to grips with as many new techniques as you can.”
Michael agrees that technical skills are vital, and need to be constantly refreshed, “Our artists have to be ready to reset their skills every year, with every new update,” he says. “But that shouldn’t take anything away from your passion and creativity.
“Here at 5518 Studios we tell stories in every detail of our art. We don’t just create art from polygons and textures, but also try to fill it with life, real history and love. That means being pumped every day, non-stop – we wake up and run to hunt for a new mammoth!”
Art by Mark Makovey, 5518 Studio’s senior 2D artist who’s based in St Petersburg. He was inspired by the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film.
Michael Casalino says that it was a “big privilege to work on the iconic Snoopy universe to recreate famous characters and worlds for next-gen devices.”
Michael says, “We wanted to imagine how VR could be used in a mythological setting. Turns out it can be very scary!” Inspired by Horizon Zero Dawn, senior 3D artist Sergey Tyapkin created a robotic mammoth for an internal R&D project, later to be used by Allegorithmic to promote Substance.
Art for Toontastic: Cars 3, an education app by Google. Michael says, “It was a big pleasure to work with Thushan, Andy and all of the Google team to bring Cars to children around the world.”