The Intersection of VFX and Storytelling
Founder and Creative Director Ian Kirby and Executive Producer Dan Sioui know that their small team and roots in motion design make The Sequence Group a bit different than other VFX studios—and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Located in Vancouver, BC and Melbourne, Australia, the studio works with big brands, producing everything from broadcast show openings, film titles, game trailers, and short films to game cinematics, animated series, and traditional advertising.
Whether working on a branded animation for Slack, an announcement trailer for the latest Star Wars: Commander game, or an animated adaptation of a Halo novel, Sequence brings the same creativity and attention to detail to each project.
Adobe creative tools have been a part of the studio’s pipeline since its inception, and today they rely on Adobe Creative Cloud, including Adobe Premiere Pro CC, After Effects CC, and Photoshop CC to help them maintain their strong visual aesthetic and narrative style.
Kabam’s Contest of Champions
Adobe: How did you each get started and eventually team up?
Kirby: I’ve drawn on computers since I was a child and as computers evolved I evolved with them. I got a book on how to become a computer animator and some friends and I created Broken Saints, one of the first motion comics in the world. It won a few awards, including the 2003 Audience Award at the Sundance Online Film Festival. That opened doors and I did some work with Warner Bros. on the Inception and I Am Legend motion comics and with Disney on the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time motion comic prequel.
Prince of Persia: Before the Sandstorm
For me, it’s always been about working hard on projects that might scare me, but also help me to grow my understanding of the medium. Eventually I got to the stage where I wanted to expand, and that’s when Dan and I teamed up.
Sioui: My background is the opposite of Ian’s. I never had a computer at home so I wasn’t exposed to digital technology until I attended Queen’s University. A professor who was at the forefront of creative digital technology showed me that it’s possible to deliver Star Wars-like effects without spending millions of dollars. I learned as much as I could about Premiere Pro and Photoshop while in school and then went to work in live action TV as an animal wrangler in Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Eventually CGI came along and allowed directors to do anything they wanted with any kind of animal. I realized that people could create whatever they wanted without being bound by the limitations of real life. I was eager to try something other than TV work and Ian was working for some big companies doing tons of interesting projects, so I joined him.
Star Wars: Commander
Adobe: What makes The Sequence Group different than other VFX studios?
Kirby: Lots of big studios have a set way of doing things and individual artists are part of a huge pipeline. We take a much more hands-on approach that gives our artists more control and ownership of the projects they work on. A key part of this is using After Effects for all of our compositing and VFX work, which enables us to be nimbler throughout the creative process.
Adobe: How is your team using Creative Cloud?
Kirby: Sequence has used Adobe tools from the beginning and as we’ve grown it’s stayed in our pipeline. Every single project we do starts in Photoshop and ends in After Effects. We create original artwork in Photoshop or take existing artwork, separate and redraw it, and add motion using After Effects.
Transformers: Forged to Fight
Sioui: Our artists also use Illustrator and Photoshop to create style frames to propose to clients when we’re developing concepts and pitching.
Adobe: What benefits does Adobe Creative Cloud provide?
Sioui: Adobe Creative Cloud has leveled the playing field for studios like ours. We’re a 20-person shop but we still create work with a lot of big brands and recognized IP, including Avengers, Star Wars, and Halo. Creative Cloud lets us produce the kind of high-quality work that enables us to compete against bigger corporate studios, which says something remarkable about both the tools and the artists. We’re small but we create work that reaches a large audience because our artists are smart about how they use the tools available to them.
Adobe: How do you approach projects from a workflow perspective?
Kirby: Every project is different, so we don’t have just one approach. We just completed an NHL opening show for the Dallas Stars that was projected on an 85-foot ice rink. It was purely a design piece built to get everyone jazzed for the game. We used MAXON Cinema 4D, After Effects, and Premiere Pro all the way through, as well as plug-ins like Element 3D from Video Copilot, and then rendered it at 4K.
For the 3D and compositing we did for a recent Slack project, we concepted in Photoshop, used Maya for the 3D animation, lighting, and rendering, and composited in After Effects.
We also adore producing title sequences and we’re seeing more of those projects coming our way. We create designs in Photoshop and then take them into After Effects to do everything else.
Adobe: What type of work do you do for the Halo video game?
Kirby: We do a lot of backstory and narrative work for the Halo franchise. 343 Industries has a huge library of comics and novels and recently gave us a novel, Eric Nylund’s Fall of Reach, and asked us to make a movie of it.
In 6 months, with only 35 people, we worked on scripting, character design, environments, animation, rendering and more for Halo: The Fall of Reach – a huge, 65-minute piece of branded content. We comped it in After Effects and painted the 2D backgrounds in Photoshop. The style is based on work that we did in our comic and illustration days and honors the concept art style gamers appreciate.
Halo: The Fall of Reach
When it came to lighting, rendering, and compositing the 980 shots, we decided to put After Effects to the test. In fact, our Straight Outta Comp-ton blog post is about the comp work we did for Halo. We took raw renders and did all of the lighting in After Effects. We were able to complete the work in three weeks using the Normality plug-in and simplistic lighting in After Effects. This helped us keep the painterly look, emphasizing the brush strokes, while moving through shots quickly.
Adobe: What is unique about your team?
Sioui: Our core team is our core team and there’s a lot of value in that. We have a really cool mix of artists, painters, animators, designers, and compositors, and everyone is treated as part of a family. The variety of skillsets means we can produce a wide range of work, and the variety of projects keeps artists challenged and engaged because they always have new opportunities to make something cool.
The Sequence Group studio
Adobe: What’s next for The Sequence Group?
Kirby: Our work is getting better every year because we’re always pushing ourselves. We’ve talked about creating our own content, but right now we’re focused on growing our studio before taking that step.
Sioui: We’re very conservative and right now it’s about learning from our past and present projects. The Halo feature demonstrated to us that even as a small group of people, we’re capable of creating something much bigger than what you might believe possible. We were able create visually stunning results using 2D backgrounds and engage people through strong character development and great storytelling. We delivered visually stunning results using 2D backgrounds and engaged people through strong character development and great storytelling – all with just a 20-person team.
Frankly, we love telling compelling stories and revealing unseen worlds. This is at the core of everything we do, and it’s going to continue to be our focus in the coming months.
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