Magic: The Gathering is the world’s most popular collectible card game, with more than twenty million users worldwide, and more than 20 billion cards in circulation. Its fans have come to expect a certain level of artistic integrity and creative ingenuity from the game and its many expansion packs, and that makes creating a launch trailer for a new expansion set both challenging and rewarding.
The talented artists at UK-based Axis Studios are no strangers to the task, having worked on three previous trailers for the company behind Magic, Wizards of the Coast – but this time would be different. The usual 14-week turnaround – always tight, under the best of circumstances – came with an unusual twist this year, as the Coronavirus lockdown hit ten weeks into the project, forcing the team to make some radical adjustments in the late stages of development.
Wanting to know how they managed to pull it off, we spoke with Axis CG Supervisor Georg-Sebastian Dressler and Head of Rigging and CFX, Will Pryor, both of whom are relative newcomers to Axis: Georg-Sebastian joined in 2018, and Will had yet to celebrate his one-year anniversary there at the time of our interview. Will described the process of working under lockdown as a “baptism by fire,” but both men enjoyed the challenge, and gave credit to their team and the close-knit nature of Axis Studios for their success.
CG Supervisor at Axis Studio, Georg-Sebastian Dressler
Head of Rigging & CFX at Axis Studio, Will Pryor
Teamwork Makes the Game Work
“I quickly discovered after starting work here that you’re welcomed right away, and everyone is so open to listening to what you’ve got to say, and values your opinion,” Will told us. “It’s really refreshing.” George-Sebastian echoed his sentiments: “You build a relationship with a lot of these people, and that’s really what makes them stand out. You feel more like family rather than coworkers, and I think that’s a very great thing for morale and team spirit.”
That team spirit is a vital intangible when it comes to getting the work done, especially for Axis, which specializes in delivering projects with fast turnaround dates – even when the world throws a massive curveball at you in the form of a global pandemic that shuts down whole industries, halts global travel, and forces entire workforces out of offices and studios. That’s inconvenient for every industry, but especially so for collaborative design work, where the entire success of the project hinges on a highly-coordinated group effort.
“It was about four weeks until the end of the project,” Will told us, “and we were delivering our last animations. Major hats off to our IT department, since they pretty much had the entire team up and running within a day of our having to vacate the offices.”
That’s when the entire team leaned on Shotgun to help them coordinate their efforts and integrate their pipelines, creating a virtual workspace to help make up for their lack of a physical one.
“When the COVID crisis hit, Shotgun really helped us come together,” Will shared with us. “Everybody is on there, and all the information you need, and people can give you feedback and commentary. Even if you worked on your computer in the studio, you can still open up Shotgun from your home computer. Without that functionality, it would have been really hard to get all of this done in the last four weeks.”
“Normally, you would just pull up stuff from the server, if you’re in the same studio, and go into a room and comment and review,” George told us. “But all of a sudden, we didn’t have that anymore, and we needed a way to look at the work together. I think that’s where Shotgun really excels: you can just quickly distribute the work and everybody can see it. It’s so fast you can almost have a discussion on it via the comments.”
That same functionality is also very helpful when you’re trying to please a client with their own artistic vision of how the work should turn out. The artwork of Magic: The Gathering is very unique, and both the fans and Wizards of the Coast have certain expectations about what their beloved characters and creatures will look like when brought to digital life. “Being able to collaborate with the client was fantastic,” Will said. “Working with Shotgun, we’re able to get such instant feedback on what we’re doing, and having that close connection with the client on a regular basis really helped with the process and made things much smoother than they might have been.”
And speaking of instant feedback, the team had a gratifying moment, after the project was delivered, when the trailer debuted on a live Twitch stream. “Sitting there watching that live stream, and seeing the people’s positive comments, was so rewarding,” Will told us. “Everyone was so drained and exhausted from working on the project, but watching the comments flood in just renews your energy and drive. We feel very lucky to have another Wizards of the Coast project lined up.”
Visit Axis Studio's website to learn more about what they do and their latest projects.