In 6 years, Amine Alameddine & Nadeem Ghanem two dynamic Lebanese Entrepreneurs built up Caustik into one of Lebanon’s most creative and service-oriented animation studios. Even though the animation industry in Lebanon was still fresh, that didn’t stop them from holding on to their passion and earning the trust of big companies while handling their works, creating & delivering fresh concepts.
In 2012, a year after Amine started Caustik, Nadeem joined as a Co-Founder and both of them started crafting digital goods for an impressive portfolio of International clients used to the highest standards : Chiva’s Scotland, Alfa, Cadbury, IDM, HSBC, Mashrou’ Leila and many others (videos & stills below)
Today, Amine & Nadeem are determined to maintain Excellence, always challenging themselves to bring the best out of the narratives they’ve been crafting.
Kamsyn sat with Caustik‘s brilliant founders as they took us through (i) the Process of starting your own Tech company from scratch in Lebanon, (ii) how a young studio empowers communities that are new to animation, (iii) how great stories can be told through Animation.
When were you first exposed to the Animation world ? What made you love it?
Nadeem: Our generation has been extensively exposed to animation as kids and I was no exception. But for me, what had an extremely strong impact was the birth and commercialization of 3D animation, when « Toy Story » first came out. We were about 9 or 10 years old, and I remember very well trying to explain to my friends, with little success, that it was not a filmed puppet show, but animated characters that are brought to life in their own environment. A few years later, I started getting myself acquainted with primitive 3D software
It was only until later that an Oscar winning polish animation director named Tomek Baginsky The Cathedral (2002), Fallen Art (2004) truly inspired me to venture into this industry and be as passionate as I am today.
What most challenged you both when you first launched Caustik?
Getting clients to trust you with their products and brands. For anyone in the industry, all they have to show for their talent is the previous work they’ve done up to that point. That’s their portfolio. In our industry we call it a Reel.
If a project needs skills that are present in your reel, you have a better chance of winning that project. So for someone freshly starting out, they’re thrown at the back of the row; they barely have anything on their portfolio to show and it becomes a vicious circle as no one will give work to someone with no reel, and that someone can’t build a reel without work.
That’s the situation we were in. We knew we were good at what we do, so we created fictitious work. We researched the client’s needs, what the major or typical kinds of jobs were, and we created our own. We slowly built our portfolio, alternating between typical jobs and self promotional pieces.
Then we hit the road. We knocked the doors of the major Ad Agencies in Beirut. We were relentless, not taking no for an answer. You get a lot of rejection, a lot of people undermining the values you’re trying to bring. You get discouraged, feel you want to quit. It’s only natural to feel this way: why would anyone put their product / brand in the hands of an inexperienced studio? But if you truly believe in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it (and voice it out) you’re bound to find someone who would take that leap of faith with you. And that’s all you need, that one opportunity to prove to clients they can trust you with their brands.
And it’s an advice I give to all the fresh talent out there. Don’t spend your time looking for work. Spend it creating your own work driven by your own passion. Work will come on its own, because believe it or not, we are looking for you. We don’t just post openings and wait for the applications to rain. We go after you. And if you have done amazing work, we will contact you and want to work with you.
What kind of things should an animator keep in mind, or watch out for?
At Caustik, we frequently deal with portfolios to find artists with whom we can collaborate. There’s plenty of work out there but also plenty of competition and we’re always on the lookout for fresh talent. My advice to whomever wants to be an animator, a 3D modeler or a visual effects artist is to prioritize quality over quantity and start your reel with your best work. a short 15 to 20 seconds animation that is well done is worth much more of 2 minutes of average content. We can spot talent in the first 10 seconds of a reel.
What appeals to you more: Traditional, 3D, 2D animation or stop motion? And Why?
Amine: My Immediate answer would be: D) none of the above. You need a good story. But assuming we have a good story, then from an aesthetic and appeal point of view I would say I have mixed feelings (pun alert). I enjoy long 3D animated features more than the other mediums, but I prefer blends of techniques when it comes to shorts. Long features have the luxury of time and possibly budget. Shorts don’t. So they devise ways to maximize story impact by experimenting in every possible way. Mixing 3D, traditional animation with motion design or stop motion is very common nowadays and the things artists are coming up with keep blowing me away and acts as my constant inspiration as well.
Do you see Caustik sticking with animation, or do you think the company will experiment with different media?
With the progress in technology and its impact on how societies communicate, the world of production is changing at lightning speed. Keeping ahead of these changes is vital in this increasingly competitive industry. As passionate as we are for animation, it is part of our day to day routine to figure out how we can innovate by integrating technology in our services to give an edge to our clients.
The big question isn’t how we do things or what techniques we use but why we do it…
We believe in stories. Without them everything around us loses value. So whether we’re producing content for a virtual reality headset using cutting edge 3D techniques, or for a more traditional medium, we are working closely, hand in hand with agencies and other partners to find the right way to tell our client’s stories.
Producing over 80 minutes of concert visuals for Machrou’ Leila’s latest world tour is a perfect example. We’ve mixed footage, motion graphics, 2D character animation, 3D animation, visual effects and a whole lot of editing to create visuals that emphasize the very controversial story behind their new album Ibn El Leil.
As your career attests, following your passion in the visual arts takes tremendous effort, determination and grit. How have you been able to stay true to your creative voice and continue to do what you love?
It is indeed quite common to feel challenged when tackling art in a commercial environment and I can safely say it has been a huge endeavor in the past years.
In order to resolve this contrast, we have learned to involve our clients early in the process with references, sketches, styleframes as tools to communicate our vision of a project.
Today, many of our clients trust us with very basic briefs, that sometimes barely consist of an unfinished script on which we build together a product that would both satisfy us as well as our client. That’s not to say we don’t need our dose of « freedom projects » as we like to call them. We take advantage of our industry’s seasonality, with usual downtime mid-summer, to gather the team and produce a short animated video, Simple Gifs or experiment with new techniques.
What are your thoughts on the future potential of animation industry in Lebanon ?
Amine: The animation industry in Lebanon is fragile yet it has so much potential. We’re trying to build an artistic community that has it’s feet on the ground and is well armed with the newest techniques. The computer courses are not all provided under the roof of education, we’re here to fill the gap and guide the students as much as we can by investing in them.
Students have lot of potential here, but they need motivation and guidance, whereas they tend to pursue other studies, or end up working in another field when they find out how companies look at animation. The companies in their turn should trust the animation industry and the amazing stories that could be told.
If your life can be an animation movie, which would it be?
Nadeem: This is probably the hardest question of all (chuckles) If I could live inside an animated movie I would probably say the adventures of Tintin would be the kind of life I would love to have (as the hero of course). I have always been a fan of adventures and mysteries, uncovering clues and travelling around the world. It certainly is the reason why I loved « Indiana Jones » as a kid as well as the « Uncharted » games. I tend to be more inspired by that kind of hero as opposed to the kind that resorts purely to physical strength to get to their end. This obviously is by no means a reflection of reality. As much of a Tintin/Dr Jones person I would have ideally liked to be, It turns out I put myself in situations awkward enough to put Peter Griffin (from family guy) to shame. I’m still hopeful…
So what are the current projects you’re working on that you’ll be launching soon?
We’re launching a blog in which we will feature the making off’s, industry related articles and a weekly selection of the best animations (some for kids and some for adults) we find online and use in our daily work.
Also, we’re working on a very new and cool concept that has not been done before in Lebanon for the “Escape the Room” game. We’re trying to stay a bit hush about it so that we don’t ruin the surprise.
We can assure you it’s not something to be missed !
For a good dose of Digital Entertainment, follow @Caustikstudios
Kamsyn, August 2016