In late 2021, artists Nic Cabana and Dan Cabral came together with a new approach for bringing an original intellectual property (IP) to life. Founding boutique creative studio Claynosaurz, the pair began building the world of Claynos, with funding from digital collectible sales and a growing team of distributed artists.
Approaching its two-year anniversary, the studio just released its first animated trailer, offering a more in-depth look at Clayno characters – colorful depictions of recognizable dinosaurs – and teasing the stories to come. We recently chatted with Cabana, along with Claynosaurz Lead Animator Sebastien Bruneau and Head of Lighting William Liu, about how the trailer came to be and what’s next for the Claynos.
Tell us about your backgrounds
Nic: I’ve been in animation for 13 years and an animation supervisor for five. I’ve worked on a wide range of projects, including “Game of Thrones,” “Paddington 2,” “Fantastic Beasts 2,” “Suicide Squad,” “His Dark Materials,” and a bunch of music videos. When I started Claynosaurz with Dan, it was a small passion project. Now, we have a core team of 12 super talented artists, and also work with around 25 freelancers, so creating Clayno content is my primary focus.
Sebastien: I’ve been an animator for more than 20 years. I’ve worked at smaller scale studios and at large ones on projects like “Rio,” “Hotel Transylvania,” “Captain Underpants,” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” Most recently, I did the animation supervision for “Ugly Dolls,” and worked on Netflix’s “The Monkey King.” I joined the Clayno team earlier this year to work on the trailer, and it’s exciting to essentially reinvent how entertainment is created. We’re not following the traditional path.
William: My experience in animation runs the full spectrum. I’ve been in the industry for about seven years, and have worked on animated feature films and episodics, and VFX. I’ve also done some cinematic work for game developers. I like jumping to different projects. I found Claynosaurz first in the digital collectibles space when they were first starting out. Now I head up all lighting and comp at the studio.
Why did you create the teaser trailer?
Nic: We’ve already built a strong fan base for the Claynos through the digital collectibles, but those only provide a tiny glimpse into what we’re building. The trailer provides a more formal introduction into the Clayno lore for a broader audience. It lets people experience the characters and environments in a narrative setting. The entertainment landscape is so competitive and fragmented; this approach enables us to engage with fans early on and they can watch the brand grow, and we retain control of our IP.
What inspired the look of the trailer?
Nic: We structured it into two parts, with both realistic and fantasy elements to underscore the imaginative nature of the Clayno realm. We wanted it to be inviting and convey a feeling of discovery. The trailer starts in the attic, where a child is building a T-Rex out of clay. For this first world, we wanted warm, nostalgic tones from movies like “Hook” or “Up.” The second part is super colorful and vibrant, and we drew from many different animation styles in developing that look. It’s more whimsical, but still very polished.
William: Detailed realism was a priority for the first sequence, then we took a more graphic, yet painterly approach for the second sequence. This provided a strong contrast to reality, while maintaining the beautiful look of the Claynos.
Sebastien: The Claynos were meant to feel like toys that have come to life, so they have squishy feel. They’re hypercartoony but also highly detailed. We focused a lot of getting the Claynos’ eyes and eyebrows just right, so that the characters are funny and relatable.
How did you decide how the Claynos would emote?
Sebastien: The general design and feel of each Clayno is well established from all the digital collectibles, so we used them as a guide in determining the animation. We didn’t necessarily follow one specific path, but instead let the Clayno shapes inform how they move. Creatively speaking, we wanted to evoke mystery and provide space for fans to get excited about this new adventure.
Nic: Community is a large aspect of the Claynosaurz brand, so we released various animation tests via social media, then gauged fan feedback to make sure we were on the right track.
How long did it take you to create the trailer?
Nic: From inception to delivery, it took about six months to create the trailer, with roughly four months of CG production. Our schedule was really fast paced and pushed us to refine and build out our production pipeline. We still have a lot to do, but we couldn’t have asked for a better stress test. Up until then, we were making 2-3 second animations and this trailer is nearly two minutes.
What technical challenges did you encounter creating the trailer?
Nic: As a lean startup, technology can be a challenge. Rendering locally can cannibalize resources and limit what creatives are able to do, and we can’t afford the high cost that comes with building a farm. Fortunately, we use Conductor so we don’t even have to think about render times. Its APIs are simple to understand, and it’s easy for a team to manage it remotely. We can iterate, quickly and efficiently, which is massive. Usually, if you’re a small company, you can’t afford to make mistakes. With our setup, sometimes we rendered shots 20x to get the right look. We don’t have to be cautious with the amount of iteration we go through and that keeps us flexible to achieve our vision.
Sebastien: We all have different backgrounds, so we combined talents and learned from one another. We’re working with artists daily across time zones, and through this process, establishing best practices for future projects. Conductor allows us to work in parallel. If an artist is still working on an animation, we can still send a rough animation to Will and his team so they can start prepping. The animator isn’t trapped by a deadline, and collectively our work is better as a result. We expect our tech and pipeline to continue to improve as we work better and more efficiently.
William: At first, I was worried about working with artists in different time zones, but it actually was super easy from an infrastructure standpoint since we used Conductor for rendering. We never had an issue with installs or submissions. We had lighters ready to submit work on day one, which is pretty incredible as there’s usually an adjustment period. Also, it was a huge help to have access to various CPU and GPU resources depending on our render requirements. In most cases, we received our rendered assets back in less than ten minutes, even the more complex, bigger shots, since Conductor distributes that load in parallel.
Tell us about your workflow
Nic: We’re using an industry-standard pipeline with Autodesk Maya and Arnold, with rendering on Conductor. Conductor and CoreWeave are part of our DNA. They allow us the speed and flexibility we need to prioritize making great creative. We chose this workflow over other options, like using a real-time engine, because we wanted hyper control over the experience.
Sebastien: Lighting and compositing are often the bottleneck in productions, so those artists feel like they have to work overtime to provide adequate time to render. We had tight deadlines and lots of frames to render, but not pressure. Conductor gave us the flexibility to iterate and make last minute changes, without any issues. For example, the decision to add armor to Rex was made at the very end of production and it paid off.
William: For our team, it was a huge relief to have Conductor. We always knew that we were going to render our shots and time, so we could focus on the creative look 100 percent. I could give notes on a shot at 4pm and have a new version ready for review at 6pm.
What are your plans for the Claynos moving forward?
Nic: Our master plan is to build beloved character brand that can extend into other verticals in a way that we retain ownership of the IP. Digital collectibles are life changing for artists in this respect. We want our Clayno fans to feel just as engaged and invested as we do, and aim to foster that community. What we’re doing is like the opposite of some brands, which are built around popular characters after a successful feature film or episodic release. Our fans are part of our journey, and we want them to feel included; we gauge metrics from our social communities daily and use that insight to inform our next steps.
Watch the trailer in full below and be sure to visit https://claynosaurz.com/ to disover more!