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

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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.”

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