Animation Vertigo: outsourcing in the video game industry
In this podcast episode, Outsource Accelerator’s Derek Gallimore welcomes returning guest Marla Rausch, founder and CEO of Animation Vertigo Asia. Animation Vertigo’s portfolio of video game industry work includes widely familiar titles like Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat X, and many more. Marla’s claim to fame is pioneering the specialized service of motion capture animation with the company.
About Marla Rausch from Animation Vertigo
Derek interviews Marla about the beginnings of her studio on Philippine soil, Animation Vertigo’s tight business approach in the face of fierce competition outside of the region, and lastly, what people all over the world are starting to see in the Philippines, beyond its known business process outsourcing (BPO) competencies of call center and customer service work.
Marla and her Filipino workforce are out to take the world by storm, one title at a time. With the work Animation Vertigo has garnered, the mission seems to be a success. “I’m the reason why your children don’t study,” she jokes. “That’s what I like to say.”
Outsourced, specialized, and proudly local talent
Derek opens the session that Animation Vertigo is a fresh offering to the conventionally known outsourcing landscape in the Philippines, a more standardized operational business task. “Do you consider yourself as an outsourcer, or are you just really a kind of specialized service provider?”
“I think both,” Marla answers, “because we [are a] specialized service provider for those that like to see us as their partners in their pipeline; it helps their business grow, it helps them push the boundaries of the animation that they want to produce, and push the content that they create.” On the flipside, other clients perceive them as outsourcers because of the one-time, big-time arrangement for the fulfillment of a particular business task. Regardless, she says, “I see it both, I treat it the same, I treat them all as my partners. We work together, and our goal is to create amazing content.”
Derek brings out Animation Vertigo’s beginnings in 2004 within the context of the Philippine outsourcing sector, which had experienced a growth spurt at least 10 years prior. “It was predominantly call centers,” he observes, “so you were at the cutting edge. … Did your clients know that you were powering this whole thing by people sitting in the Philippines?”
“Absolutely. That was the first thing that I said—that it was going to be a studio in the Philippines [where] I was going to do their work,” Marla says. The company assured its clients that they would follow due process with data, to keep and protect all the proprietary information.
“It was a big start—I mean my first client was Sony. So you had to really put your ‘A’ game in there. So while we started slow, making sure that we were thorough and detailed and careful, we also were looking around. Word of mouth spread, and I had other calls, and it became steady business from then on—but they were well aware that it was in the Philippines. Their constant joke was we need to do it with due diligence and proudly see the beaches—I mean, the studio.”
Lessons from Animation Vertigo
1. Perform well against stiff competition
One main concern that was brought up was the issue of competition arising in the industry. According to Marla, at around the time that Animation Vertigo began its venture in motion capture animation, a few companies likely mushroomed in Europe and in India—but, as far as she knew, they were the only company of its kind in the Southeast Asian region.
“To be perfectly honest, I was more concerned about making sure that we were going to be at least a competitor in the field at some point,” she confesses, recalling that they began by training 6 people to support the demand that they had created. “What people don’t understand when it comes to services like what we do is that if you can do well, and you can communicate well, and you do have the skill and talent and a complete understanding of what the client needs and what they’re looking at—it actually becomes a trust that is easily built.” That aforementioned trust launched a network of new commissions via word-of-mouth, and soon, Animation Vertigo’s workforce ballooned to about 50 employees.
Then, the challenges became about knowing the tasks better than anyone else and closely guarding the tricks of the trade. Marla shares that clients often asked after software packages that would reduce the waste; if the process was something the company had developed internally, they would be very careful about where the information went. When it was Animation Vertigo’s own work, however, the partnership would be fruitful and a learning experience for all parties. She details the starting image of an animated black box that people seek to ‘toss things in’—“then, something comes out, and it’s what you need.”
Now, on the flip side of things, clients know how to distinguish between a task that they can do, versus a task that they can ask her about, likely something she has seen that they hadn’t. “It becomes a true partnership,” she says, “which is nice.”
2. Weave your way into the fabric of things
According to Derek, at the rate things are going for the outsourcing of different business tasks, it would be an option in the future to make a movie and commission different people to do the disparate tasks, such as storyboarding, animation, operational backend, sales and marketing, customer service, and the like—an interesting test case for outsourcing.
Marla clarifies, however, that the tasks behind moviemaking are more composite—and collaborative—than people perceive. She gives the example of when people choose to sit through the credits in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The credits actually give a lot of info on industry practice: “If you do watch the credits, you’ll see so many animation companies in there, and it’s one-after-another production companies, VFX [virtual effects] companies and everything. And that’s because in that movie alone, it wasn’t one company that did all of the special effects. It wasn’t one company that did all of the character actions. It was several companies that they contracted and worked out, and they did all that in various places and for one reason or another.” In other words, it is a collaborative effort to weave things together cohesively and make it all as seamless as possible.
Later in the conversation, Marla speaks about the core work Animation Vertigo does for bestselling titles like Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat X. Lots of motion capture technology is currently being employed in the form of gameplay and cinematics, which is what makes those games so fun to play (“—and, you know, make it difficult for me to call my children for dinner,” she quips).
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To her, the essence of motion capture technology is the ability to recreate real-life human motions and insert them into the 3D world. The process involves a large number of steps, such as the usage of up to 200 cameras on a regular shooting day, and a notation of the movements of up to 19 different actors. But the suddenness of human movement can then be translated, then affixed to a creature such as an ogre or a dwarf—thus giving it a more realistic and relatable, rather than purely fantastic, dimension.
And it’s that knowledge and commitment to rendering things in motion capture technology that drives Animation Vertigo to a whole new level.
3. Look to the strengths and values of your home community
One of Derek’s closing points to this conversation resurfaces the idea that the Philippines is more of a “call-center” kind of country. As a parting question, Derek asks Marla whether or not she’d ever considered hiring people in Silicon Valley to make things easier—or if there were vast, unrealized opportunities for her specialty in the Philippines.
“I always see vast opportunity in the Philippines,” Marla argues, “aside from the desire to want to have Filipino artists recognized worldwide—which is one of the reasons why I started it [this company] in the Philippines.” There was something powerful about seeing her name credited in a video game for the first time, and it’s an experience that she can now proudly share with her Filipino staff.
“I negotiate hard so we can get that credit, and it means so much. A lot of people skim through the credits and they don’t see anything—it’s so tiny, it’s so small,” she notes. Nevertheless, excitement ensues when her staff gets screenshots; “There’s my name,” they think, “and it means something.”
Marla connects this to the idea that Filipino culture is a very family-oriented culture, with unparalleled fiestas and social lives. The environment for business dynamics is wholly different because Filipinos can celebrate this kind of pride together.
Though Marla expected competition from India, China, and North America, she acknowledges that it was easier to expand the business against the cost of living, salaries, and expectations for motion editors abroad—and that made all the difference to Animation Vertigo’s growth.
“I always think of it as letting my partner clients grow their skill set because they’re now spending their money on the highly skilled and specialized animators who are doing what they want to do in the first place,” she says. It balances out the preference for animation partners to focus on the artistic elements, and Filipino collaborators can take on the more technical side of motion capture technology with passion and focus.
Final thoughts: cutting-edge returns and empowerment
Lastly, Derek commends Marla for bringing something out of the ordinary to typical work in the Philippines. The possibilities for greater prestige and lucrative business opportunities are what the Animation Vertigo team has granted to a new workforce, via motion capture technology. Derek declares it once again as “win-win,” and empowering for people in the Philippines and the Philippine economy.
Marla agrees—and states that her foreign clients now actually want to visit the team that helped them toward the success, giving the Filipino community a huge spot on the map. It’s no wonder because, as she says of their experiences here: “They come over, they enjoy the camaraderie that my guys share with them… Everybody is in it, and everybody is enjoying, and the clients that visited us have nothing but good things to say about the team and their experience here in the Philippines.”
Click here to listen to the full podcast of the conversation between Derek Gallimore and Marla Rausch.