GCAP: Democratizing The Animation Pipeline

Back in October of 2015, one of our favorite contractors (Dan Gies) reached out about an idea that his company (E*D Films) was flushing out; they had grown at this point to be a well-known boutique animation studio in Montreal, but they needed our technical backing to bring the idea to life. The plan was to apply for [pre-production] funding through the Canadian Media Fund and wanted us attached that application.

When the CMF gave the go ahead we were stoked, mainly to be working with Dan again, but it was a chance for our rarely talked about “advanced development” side to work on a fringe-industry project. Within a month, we had completed a prototype of the concept; it recorded the entirety of a scene’s gameplay in Unity, and then dumped it out to a Maya file. The idea was that an animator/movie director could puppeteer a scene in Unity and then take that output, tweak it, and then render it out in Maya at a higher quality. This however is not where the story ends, as the idea caught a few people’s attention, and it became clear that there was a viable market for the product.

Another round of funding was sought from the CMF by E*D Films, again listing us as the technical backers of the project. This time around the plan was to really push the technical side of the project and create a rather unique backend system to house the data real-time, while simultaneously creating a disk copy as well, without any performance impact. We are very ambitious when it comes to creating new things, and always strive to achieve greatness. One of the major hurdles we all faced this time around was the timeline. When trying to get a product to market, in a field where new things are popping up daily, delays are your enemy. The application process took far longer than expected, and we started to see competitors making gains in a similar space. Either way, when the application was finally approved (October 2016) it began an incredible journey of architecting and developing one incredible piece of technology.

At first, I wasn’t sure about how incredible what we were making was; but when every animator who saw the tech working was floored and I got to see first-hand the jaw-dropping lightbulb moment they had, it started to sink in.

Our team spent 4 months re-developing SceneTrack into what is now formally called GCAP (Gamifying Cinematic Animation Production). It was a happy, yet sad day when our final milestone was reached and approved. We poured our heart and soul into the creation of something that fundamentally could change the way data is stored even outside of the target application, but it was time to hand the project over to E*D Films. We had created a multi-platform, multi-facetted system which used an open source model for its input plugins (so users can easily write their own), a centralized threaded data store system, and a multiple export (FBX, MIDI, XML, MP4, etc.). We felt like surrogate parents, handling over the child that we had loved and cared for since birth to its future parents.

We wish our very best to E*D Films with their new GCAP baby.