When Directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi teamed up to create the animated short film "The Dam Keeper," they were already busy working long hours at a major film studio. As a result, they had to find a way to not only maximize their own off-hours availability but also to harness an equally busy team of 70-plus artists, animators and production people, all at variable hours.
The filmmaking process relies heavily on reviews, a process in which artists, animators, editors and other crew members submit work to the directors for immediate feedback. In a studio setting, directors give in-person notes multiple times a day, allowing the artists to return to work and keep the production moving. "The Dam Keeper" production sought a way to replicate that process outside the studio environment and structure.
In "The Dam Keeper," each frame is a colossal, layered Photoshop file, and the finished 18-minute film ended up requiring 500 GB of data. In other words, Kondo and Tsutsumi had massive storage needs.
Another issue with giant media files: downloading and viewing. The directors almost always needed to check submissions frame-by-frame, so previewing wasn’t an option. But manual downloads would have sucked up precious quantities of time.
As an extracurricular project, "The Dam Keeper" required volunteers to work late nights, early mornings, lunch hours and weekends. Given that so many crew members were squeezing the project in where they could, finding mutually available times to meet would have been close to impossible.
Despite their unflagging commitment to the project, Kondo and Tsutsumi obviously couldn’t be at their desktops 24/7.
With such a labor-intensive and treasured project, protecting intellectual property and preventing content leaks was a top priority. As they were uploading the final cuts of the film, Kondo, Tsutsumi and the producers didn’t even want the crew to see it, because they wanted it to be a surprise.
"The Dam Keeper" production team was aware of various cloud storage systems, and Tsutsumi was already working with FTP on his personal website. But they were concerned about both storage space and functionality. When some friends who’d been working on a side project of their own had “nothing but good things to say” about Box, the production gave it a trial run. Box easily handled their files, so they went with it.
“Box gave us so much flexibility in our production schedule. We didn’t have to be available at any given moment for individual contributors. They could just upload to Box, and when we were available, we would get to it.” — Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, Director, "The Dam Keeper"
With the comments feature on Box, the review process went virtual. Members of the crew uploaded submissions and tagged Kondo and Tsutsumi, who received instant notifications and could view and comment. As a bonus, the comments feature left an easily auditable record of notes — notes that would have otherwise been recorded by hand and tracked manually. That saved time and greatly improved communication.
The directors opted for an enterprise account on Box, which gave them unlimited storage. After that, they never had to think about the issue — or whether any single file they uploaded would be too large.
Box Sync kept the crew and directors’ desktops synced with the cloud at all times, allowing them to view everything in detail without fussing over downloads.
Because Box served as a central “office” for production, holding submissions and comments until recipients were ready to handle them, the need for real-time meetings was all but eliminated. Everyone was free to work on their own time, without stalling the production process.
“We practically made the whole movie using the comments feature on Box.” — Duncan Ramsay, Producer, "The Dam Keeper"
The Box iPhone and iPad apps allowed Kondo and Tsutsumi to stay on top of submissions no matter where they were, pulling up a background or an animation and making a quick comment. Not only was that good for workflow, it was also exciting, helping to keep the directors and crew inspired and delighted throughout the process.
Box security features more than satisfied the production team’s need to protect their content. Even better, the granular permission controls allowed them to give the right people the right access at the right time. For example, the film’s narrator is a Danish actor, and the production wanted to share a rough cut of the film with him. They sent him a secure Box link with preview-only permissions, set to expire in a couple of days. He watched the film over a weekend and headed into the recording studio on the following Monday.
When Kondo and Tsutsumi launched the project, they weren’t sure it was even possible. Now, with a completed 18-minute animated short — which made its world premiere at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival — they both feel that it couldn’t have happened without Box.
The comments feature vastly improved communication — so much so that many participants wish they could bring Box into their day jobs.
Box had some unexpected and delightful uses for "The Dam Keeper" production; one was feeding the editorial pipeline. Ordinarily after shots are created, production drops them into a file server for the editor to retrieve. In this case, because Box served as the editorial inbox, the crew could get files to their editor on the fly, even in the middle of a review, simply by tagging him on Box.
The team wouldn’t hesitate to use Box again if they collaborated on a future project.