Founder and CEO Nilian Studios Ali Chenari walked us through the company's history, explained their approach to hiring new team members, and discussed the importance of creative freedom.
First off, I want to give a big shout-out to 80 Level for this incredible interview and for their continuous support of the CG community. My name is Ali Chenari, and I've been in the animation industry for over 20 years now. I began my journey as a 3D Generalist, but over time, I focused and refined my concept design skills. Eventually, I discovered my passion for becoming an animation and art director.
Throughout my career, I've worked with Disney TV, DreamWorks TV, Nickelodeon, and Unity Technologies, among others. Three years ago, I ventured into entrepreneurship and started my own company in Toronto. Starting Nilian Studios has allowed me to delve deeper into the business, leadership, and management aspects of the industry while still keeping my passion for producing amazing content.
The History of Nilian Studios
I have always been seeking an opportunity to create my IP projects and establish my own studio, and collaborate with exceptional artists, as I'm sure most do. In early 2019, I partnered as an art director for a large project. The client was incredibly impressed with my work and even requested that I assemble a small team to handle additional production services. Having worked for other companies for over 17 years, this was a major turning point for me to embark on the journey of starting my own company.
I accepted the project, relocated to Toronto, and began the process of recruiting some truly outstanding talent. We began working right away with clients such as Nickelodeon, Mainframe Entertainment, Google, Unity, and many others. As time flew by, we expanded our team, and now we proudly have over 50 talented team members working with us.
Throughout my career, I've had the pleasure of collaborating with numerous artists across various studios. Fortunately, some of them were available and eager to join me in shaping the core team. It all started with our concept supervisor and character modeling supervisor being the first ones to come on board. From there, we gradually recruited more talented artists to cover different departments and roles as we grew as a studio and started taking on more projects.
When envisioning Nilian, my plan was clear: A strong focus on quality, service and communication. We aimed to not only create our own intellectual properties, but also provide top-notch services to major clients in the industry.
The First Project
We have done several projects for game companies, but we couldn't show them off because of non-disclosure agreements. So we decided to create our own real-time render trailer to showcase our team's talent.
There were some tough challenges along the way, like making realistic hair, faces, and creating high-quality visual effects. We wanted the final product to have a sense of realism, but still had to use a real-time rendering engine. The hardest part was trying to make it look like a cinematic masterpiece while still using a real-time engine. Let's give a shout-out to Unreal Engine for its immense support to the industry and for providing such a powerful tool that enables us to create incredible art.
The Team Organization
We currently have to main departments, one for animation and one for video games. The concept team is helping both departments with ideas and designs. The modeling and surfacing team are working together, too. We also have a dedicated Rigging team for each department. We use different frameworks for each pipeline. Our animation team is all about making quality animated series, and trailers for games. The other team is all about dev and render. They put everything together, light it up, render it, to make it look on screen ready. We also have teams for IT, art direction, and, of course, business development. Everyone plays a part.
Hiring New Artists
Having strong and soft skills is crucial when it comes to hiring new artists. At Nilian, we value qualities such as teamwork, effective communication, taking the initiative, and problem-solving abilities. These soft skills play a significant role in our assessment of potential candidates.
We have an onboarding process for all new employees to ensure they are well-informed and guided before diving into work; We want to make them feel like they are at home and a part of the family.
Additionally, we actively promote knowledge sharing within our team by encouraging senior artists to conduct monthly workshops where they impart their expertise and educate junior and intermediate artists so we can grow together.
It's important to match the right task with the appropriate artists. For instance, if we have a modeler who excels in animation modeling pipelines, we wouldn't assign them a task involving game assets or characters that follow a different pipeline.
It’s all about finding the right balance between deadlines and the required manpower. This helps alleviate pressure from the team. While stress and hard work are inevitable in our field, it's important to avoid overwhelming the team with excessive workloads. Providing them with enough time to rest before embarking on a new project.
Thoughts on Creative Freedom
We are always open to feedback from the team and encourage it. We believe that the pipeline should serve as a tool for artists, ensuring they feel at ease in their workspace. Hence, their active involvement in the pipeline's development is absolutely essential.
We strive to provide flexibility by allowing artists to utilize various software options instead of restricting them to solely using the software included in our pipelines. Our aim is to empower artists by offering them the freedom to explore and employ different tools that best suit their creative process.
We welcome individuals with not only exceptional portfolios but people who are passionate about joining our team. We are always looking for exceptional talent, and if you are interested in joining the team, you should reach out here.