Platige Image: The Warsaw Wizards
Ever since Jarek Sawko and Piotr Sikora set up Platige Image off the back of profits they made from flogging studio lights, Polish post has never looked back. Platige has gone on to become one of the industry's heavy-hitters, soaked in awards and nominations from the likes of SIGGRAPH, BAFTA and even the Academy, and staking its claim to be the linchpin of Eastern European animation, VFX and computer graphics. LBB's Jake Otley talks to marketing managers, Maciek Nawrocki and Michał Azarewicz, who take us through the beginnings of Platige to what we should expect next from the Polish masters.
LBB > Platige Image has become one of the best and most respected VFX & animation companies in the world over the past 20 years, but were did it all begin?
PI> It began with the fiery passion of our two founders— current chairmen of the company, Jarek Sawko and Piotr Sikora —who wanted to produce high quality computer animation. They saw that the Polish market lacked a company that would deliver services of that sort and decided to give it a shot. In retrospect, we can clearly say that they made the right call.
LBB > What kind of jobs did Platige secure when you were first starting out?
PI> Platige Image started out doing VFX work for commercials and music videos. Over time, the company got involved with producing short animated films that brought us international acclaim and a slate of awards and honours, including an Academy Award nomination for The Cathedral. Both animation and commercial work are still the cornerstone of our company.
Still from Platige Image's The Cathedral, directed by Tomek Bagiński
LBB > Which job really stands out as particularly significant from the early days?
PI> As I mentioned, our Academy Award-nominated short The Cathedral was very significant. We were so proud of it. The short was proof that the company has incredible potential, has immensely talented people on staff, and is capable of delivering projects that will make it stand out among its competition. In my opinion, we have managed to introduce a breath of fresh air in the industry, at least in Poland. We had lots of great ideas for using computer animation in innovative projects and brought the overwhelming majority of them to life.
LBB> Platige has become a real pioneer in the use of computer animation and VFX in unlikely settings such as the theatre and painting. How has Platige pursued this path?
PI> We have produced some epic projects in stereoscopy, For example, an interpretation of the Jan Matejko painting, The Battle of Grunwald, which depicts the greatest battle of the Middle Ages, an event that changed the face of Europe. It was probably the world’s first stereoscopic reconstruction of a painting.
Another great project – City of Ruins, which was the world’s first digital stereoscopic reconstruction of a city destroyed during World War II. The international world premiere of Sky in Theater Amsterdam, in April 2016, saw the audience give the cast and assembled creative staff a minutes-long standing ovation. Sky was the third theatrical effort developed by Platige Image as part of its 3D Live Theatre concept.
LBB > Polish and Eastern European VFX artists and animators have been particularly successful and influential in the last few decades. Why do you think this is?
PI> Hard work, lots of talent, a willingness to always push the envelope and strive to achieve what seems impossible. And of course a lot of ambition and outrightness.
LBB > What do you feel that VFX artists and animators from Central Eastern Europe offer that artists different regions do not?
PI> A different vision and sensitivity to projects that we’re involved in. We’re definitely products of the culture that we were brought up in. The events that we were a part of as a society are still reflected in our everyday efforts. We can look at a project or a form of expression in a very unique way, but that holds true for artists from all over the globe — everyone has their own unique perspective, and bring something of their own DNA into the mix. Moreover, we’re very keen on learning things, honing our skills, and we like to pull out all the stops in order to achieve success. And I want to add once more – we are ambitious.
LBB > Platige has become well-known as one of the best VFX & animation firms delivering cinematics for video games. How does this work differ from your standard commercial work?
PI> The projects usually take up a lot of time and are resource and labour-intensive. They require a very close relationship with the client and offer broader creative possibilities. The running time of an average cinematic is also much longer than that of an average commercial so we have more time to deliver our story—we can develop it to a much greater degree than in commercial work.
LBB > Is this an area Platige would look to really dominate?
PI> Dominate? No. Of course not. Lack of competition is never good. To catch up to the best players in the field, we always scrutinise our work with a critical eye and keep looking for things that could be improved. Having betters to look up to and catch up with is a good thing — it gives us a constant stream of motivation to make our projects better each time. Obviously, it’s nice to hear that you’re the best or counted among the best, it’s an honour, truly. But it’s always good to have someone motivating you to do better work.
LBB > The Witcher series of games Platige was involved with was a massive critical success. As the books the games are based on were written by Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski, did this job mean anything more to Platige?
PI> Naturally. We’re all (and Tomek Bagiński especially) fans of Sapkowski. Many of us have been raised on his books. Being involved with that project was an honour for us but an immense challenge at the same time. Furthermore, these projects have been an education for us and we owe them a lot—both in terms of experience and skills learned, as well as awards, global recognition and honours we received.
LBB > As the game is based on Sapkowski’s novels, were there any challenges or difficulties in staying loyal to the books and creating suitable looking characters?
PI> We know both the books and the character descriptions very well. The challenge was to recreate them on the screen. We’ve been learning new animation skills ever since the beginning of the project and if somebody watches these cinematics one after the other, they’ll quickly see how far we’ve come and how much our style has evolved.
LBB > Do you feel that the success of The Witcher is indicative of a really bright future for Polish and Eastern European creativity?
PI> We’re counting on it. Our video game developers have been very successful, and Platige has been working with the biggest AAA studios in the world on major international titles (Final Fantasy, Watch Dogs 2, Halo)—this clearly shows that we’re now a major player on the market and held in high esteem.
LBB > With technology now reaching a level where virtually anything is possible in VFX and animation, where do you as artists go next? Has this progression stifled creativity or actually given rise to better work?
PI> There will always be applications for new technologies. There’s no way that they restrict our creativity, on the contrary—they expand it by giving us a broad slate of new capabilities in creating animations or cinematics. One such example would be using 3D stereoscopy in theatre performances. As of right now, we’re the only major company that has produced theatre plays featuring actors working with virtual set designs. It’s an incredible experience and a great new opportunity to produce and deliver new and exciting events. Directors can use technology to shape new worlds at will and retain absolute rule over them. Or even make the animation in real time during the shows or events.
A beautiful gothic aesthetic permeates much of Platige image's work
LBB > Most of Platige’s work to date has been commercial VFX and animation. Do you have any feature films in the pipeline you might want to tell us about?
PI> We’re currently producing our first feature, Another Day of Life. The film tells the story of Ryszard Kapuściński, acclaimed war reporter, and the events he went through in Angola in the 1970s. The film is a combination of animated feature and documentary. We also have a couple of projects in development, including Privisa, an animated feature film about the first Slavic peoples; Fatima, a unique feature film for the entire family inspired by the Fatima Apparitions, and—naturally—The Witcher.
LBB > What’s next for Platige? Anything else in the pipeline that we should be aware of?
PI> We’re keeping everyone up-to-date on our plans through our Facebook profile. I’m sure our upcoming projects will be a big surprise to our fans, our audiences, and our clients. We’re lucky to be doing what we’re doing and that fresh ideas still keep popping up in our heads. We believe that our best days are still ahead of us. We are still working on improving our skills and using them in different, very engaging projects.