Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz 17:35 

We’ll talk about the staffing piece, because when you have these big projects, I’m wondering how you handle the staffing up and down. But on that topic of partnerships and collaborations, I totally agree with you. Some of the best relationships come from just collaborations. You mentioned the scientific adviser. What other collaborations because I know there’s other projects? I can’t remember if there’s a psoriatic one, that you have really collaborated with other companies.

Jason Sharpe 18:06 

Yeah. So there are a couple examples on our website of interactive projects. So we do the animations. But we also do we’ve got a really good interactive development team in-house in design team. And so we’re an integrated team. We’ve got animators, designers, and developers, programmers. And so a lot of our projects like this one here are interactive experiences. So by interactive, I mean, you’re not just watching a video, you’re actually engaging and things are happening on the screen in your like a game, you’re controlling the flow of the experience. This one was really interesting, it was recalled at the psoriatic arthritis simulator. So this was an early example of I’m just gonna call it AR, this wasn’t really, this wasn’t augmented reality.

It was using a motion detection device that we weren’t doing to say, like cannibalized, but we actually used it to detect the person’s hand motion, and we built this box. So you put your hand inside the box, and it picks up your hand and then you see on a screen, a replica of your hand, but it’s your skeleton. And every movement you make your skeleton follows, and then we’re able to show the progression of psoriatic arthritis disease progression over time. And what was really interesting is we controlled the model so you’re watching it, but we control it says the disease progression. As the disease progressed, we actually on the 3d model, we restricted the movements and people said they actually felt like they had trouble moving their hands well, and they watched the progression of the disease over time unfolding on their hand and the that gave them a very kind of immediate experience, like, and you can see in the picture, we had people lining up to try it.

And so that was something where are designers who are doing the user experience, the user interface, are 3d animators who are building the models and rigging and animating them. And then our developers who are programming everything together to work with the technology, in this case, it was we’re using the Leap Motion device to make the experience come together. The other part of this you asked about collaborations is so we don’t actually build these structures. The booth you’re looking at this was built by a company in Massachusetts called AXS TCA. And they’re a fantastic exhibit company that we’ve collaborated with quite a while they do a lot of work in the healthcare medical world. And so they design and build these exhibits, they work in other industries as well. We only know them through our work in healthcare and for big scientific meetings.

But so we’ll send them drawings, concept drawings, they’ll do the engineering drawings for the actual structures. If you go down to that other example, I mentioned the art college year arcade experience. Yeah, so this, we did this retro arcade to explain how a particular drug technology in immuno oncology technology works. And to get the point across and make it enjoyable. These are oncologist, that is a difficult career to be in, holy cow. Yeah. And so we do a lot of work in oncology. We do a lot of exhibits and videos for oncology meetings. And so…

Jeremy Weisz 21:40 

This is most of them. The biggest hit of this meeting of video game was actually.

Jason Sharpe 21:45 

It was huge. It was huge. So we actually in three days, this was at the American Society for Clinical Oncology meeting I mentioned, you’re in Chicago…

Jeremy Weisz 21:54 

I’m really curious about this really quickly, isn’t like, I wonder if there’s some kind of science expert, as you know, my background in biochemistry as a chiropractor. You know, when we visualize things, there’s a direct connection, there’s a Candace pert book of molecules of emotion and what we think obviously happens in our body, from a physiological standpoint, I’m really wondering if you have patients play this video game of eating up cancer cells or something if they would actually increase their immune system or help with the treatment at some. Anyways, keep going. It’s just really interesting, because visualizing something eating something could create a physiological effect in the body.

Jason Sharpe 21:54 

It would be interesting to look into for sure. And that was our motivation behind this. We had to teach a specific drug mechanism This is so you know, cancer cells. When cancer goes bad, it’s often because it becomes evasive. Your immune system is constantly killing cancer cells. We’re not to be alarmist but we are. Cancer cells develop in our body almost on a daily basis. And our immune system keeps it in check. They detect them they gobble them up.

Jeremy Weisz 23:07 

That fact freaks me out every single day. But yes, I’m too well aware of that. Yeah.

Jason Sharpe 23:12 

Good reason to keep your immune system healthy. And when cancer learns to evade, detect just through mutations can evade detection by immune cells that can no longer pick them up. So a number of technologies such as this bite immunotherapy, allow T cells, the body’s immune cells that attack and kill cancer cells to reengage, they facilitate the binding to cancer cells that goes away when cancer cells become evasive. And so we just had to teach that basic principle, but we also wanted to give them something fun, something enjoyable to do in their five day 12 hour a day meeting before they go back to their 12-hour-a-day job, so we made this arcade and people had a lot of fun, we had a leaderboard, we have people coming back trying to beat their scores.

And we had a full-time facilitator, Justin, who I think is in one of the pictures, who was incredible. These are some other people we collaborate with, as well as the facilitators that work these meetings, who basically bring people in and get them to try these. But it was a huge success we had in three days over 800 people use this. And so it really brought people into our clients booth, and got a lot of conversation started, which is kind of the point as well as engaging them. But back to the collaboration. So this is the company I mentioned AXS TCA. So we came up with this concept of a retro arcade. We did concept renderings in our 3d program and our designers came up with the graphics like yes, we came up with renderings, and then working with the person we work most often with this gentleman was a really at Access TCA. With his team, they would do the engineering drawings, they build it. And then we would go back and forth, make sure everything’s working at the same time, the company that handles all the AV, which is a huge part of this, right the electronics, making sure the TV, the speakers work, we’re coordinating with them to make sure our joystick electronics and everything are going to work with their equipment.

And that’s DNJ electronics in New Jersey, Dave and Rockwell and their team. And so then we get on site ahead of this big meeting. And you probably aware of when ASCO hit Chicago, there are about 60,000 people that attend this meeting. It’s not as big as the auto or the restaurant meetings, but it’s pretty big. And then we get there a couple of days before, and we work with DNJ Electronics and with Access TCA, getting all this stuff set up and running so that when the doctors walk in on opening day, everything’s up and working. So it is a very collaborative approach or process. And when we pitch an idea like this to our client, before we even go to them with the concept drawings, I will call up Joe, I’ll call up for a while. And I’ll say, can we talk about this? Can we actually pull this off in the time and the budget that we need to.

Jeremy Weisz 26:17 

There’s a lot of moving pieces here. This is incredible. I’m gonna have to come to the conference just to see if I can get on the leaderboard. But I’m staffing. So you get a big project. I was talking to someone a couple of weeks ago on the podcast and one of their first couple clients ended up being like a seven-figure project. And they said it was the best and worst thing that happened to them because they had to staff up. And then when that project went away, they weren’t experienced, super experienced at the time. And they hadn’t figured out kind of staffing up and staffing down. And so they had all these people like kind of sitting around after the project was done. So talk about your hiring process. And it’s really specific to an industry right. So it’s not like you can just come and take a will train you for like a week and you’re ready to go here. What is your hiring process look like?

Jason Sharpe 27:13 

So we’ve grown organically right from the start. So we’ve steadily were we just returning 20 this year, we’re at 21 people we’ve gotten, we’ve been up as many as 24. But typically, we’re lately we’ve been hovering around 18 to 20 people. So we hire only when we need to. And we hire to fill specific positions. And we have not taken on projects that require a massive staff up. And I think that’s kind of a function of the type of work that we do. We’re very careful about our planning with our capacity. And I’d say the biggest challenge for us is finding the right talent.

Jeremy Weisz 28:03 

So it’s more like a client selection, but like you’re careful on the projects you take on so it doesn’t, because fast growth can hurt a company as well.

Jason Sharpe 28:13 

Totally. And we do we have worked with freelancers at times. So we’ve had a bit of an upswing in 2023, we brought in some freelancers to work with us and they work closely with our team. They’re all people that we know in the industry. So we’re able to we’re able to scale up and down. We’re fairly flexible that way, what we’ve never done, and we’ve always tried not to do in this part, I think part of the reason we’ve got a good culture is we’ve never laid anybody else off, even through COVID. And so that’s been really important to us. So we’re not in it to grow for growth’s sake, we grow with purpose with intention.

Jeremy Weisz 28:59 

What are the things you do, you mentioned culture, that allows you and the team in the company to maintain a good culture?

Jason Sharpe 29:09 

Well, it used to be that we were all in a fantastic studio in downtown Toronto, with lots of windows, which is unusual for animation studio, but we had breakfast together every Friday for a long time, somebody different would do it, or people would team up and do it. We have team-building events a couple times a year. And we are regularly in meetings. And we use Slack a lot. So we’re slacking each other in teams all day. We’ve got different production teams happening and we meet three meetings a week staff meetings, one that’s all staff. And so that’s a big part of it, just kind of touching base with everybody. And then Sonya who’s our head of HR, my co-founder of AXS, she does regular check ins, with her staff or with our account staff. And then all of our department heads, same thing is we do weekly check-ins. So that’s really important with, in the work from home environment, we still have a downtown office space. I’m working from home today. But we don’t, people have become very comfortable and used to working from home. So that’s been, it’s an ongoing challenge.

Jeremy Weisz 30:34 

I’m curious, also, Jason, there’s a lot of moving pieces here with what you do. And I think for any company specifically agency, there is a major quality control that you maintain, right? Because we’re talking like Big Pharma, there’s a lot of stipulations. What are some of the things that you do measures you put in place from like a quality control perspective that other companies could learn from?

Jason Sharpe 31:05 

Yeah, you’re right, that’s probably more of a thing in our business and it would be in kind of traditional marketing or advertising. We have a very thorough review process that we’ve developed over the years, that has checks and balances, where everything is logged, every change is logged, whether it’s changed to weight, when you talk about dialogue in our animations, or any written text that’s on the screen, that is scrutinized by medical, legal and regulatory teams, before anything is released. So any changes we get have to be very carefully logged and checked off. We just have a really good internal process that we’ve developed. And we stick by it. That and I think the fact that we, I think the training is a big part of it in terms of the medical accuracy. So everybody on our staff has a base level of scientific and medical training to do this work. So they’re coming at it with a base level of knowledge. But it’s definitely, it’s a checks and balances and a QA system that we have in place before anything goes out.

Jeremy Weisz 32:23 

I’m curious. From a tech stack perspective, are there certain software’s are using to monitor those things or log them? I know, people use various project management tools or things like that, what do you use to actually, I know get a little technical here, but I’m always curious people’s tech stack have to actually log it.

Jason Sharpe 32:47 

Yeah. We’re using, it’s a real combination of different things. Actually, we don’t have one platform that does everything for us, we use one platform for scheduling and task management. And we have another for change logs, and QA. And then we have a different CRM system. And so one of the challenges for us as a small business, and we’ve been looking at this for years, is finding a solution that works and some of our competitors, call them competitors. They’re friendly competitors in our business that are a little bigger than us have built custom systems that basically brought in developers to build stuff.

So I’m always on the lookout for something because we would love an integrated system. So I don’t know if any of your other guests or if you’re aware of anything you’ve heard of, we would love a solution for that. There are great project management applications out there for animation production, because that’s quite an established industry. And there’s great stuff out there for the advertising industry. There’s nothing that we’ve seen that brings them together, along with a CRM that does, accounting and stuff like that. So that’s kind of the holy grail for us in management.

Jeremy Weisz 34:04 

It’s tough, because I mean, at least the way I view it, I kind of want something that specializes so they’re really good at it. So somebody who does everything I have found does some of the stuff not that great. So I agree with you. What do you like to use like an industry-specific, like project management task management tool?

Jason Sharpe 34:25 

For project management, task management use something called 5pm. And it’s not really industry-specific. It’s kind of a niche or niche software application that we came across years ago and we honestly haven’t found anything better. And they’re actually very responsive in terms of support. They’re not that big. It’s just called the 5pm no spaces. And it’s actually been quite good for scheduling and task logging. We have to combine it with other things, we use go Google’s Google Drive like the whole the Google Suite. And I think what else, use Salesforce for CRM.

Jeremy Weisz 35:12 

Yeah, we used Asana for many years. And then we switched to ClickUp. So okay, that’s interesting. I’ll check out 5pm and just poke around there for a second I we do like ClickUp, but it’s always good to explore other tools. I wanted to talk about a really cool project that you did. And it actually got a lot of exposure on the internet. And there was a chicken embryo development. I’ll share the screen here. But can you talk about this project for a second?

Jason Sharpe 35:45 

Yeah, so that was a really fun one. And maybe a little unusual for the type of work we do, but the poultry CRC is a group in Australia, that advocates for the poultry industry and this was done for education and awareness in Australian schools. I think it’s probably got to be more than 10 years old now. And it was the first end-to-end visualization of how chicken embryo evolves, from an ovum to a full-fledged chick. And we were, I think, it was a really neat project to work on.

It was fun from an animation perspective, like technically, it was challenging to do this kind of morphing of models through different stages. And it was a good example in terms of motion graphics, like the visual design of the labels on the screen, and also incorporation of music. And this was a, we had a custom music track composed by Zach Callum, who’s a musician, Toronto-based musician that we collaborate with quite a bit. Fantastic artist, and if you listen to it, if if your listeners have a chance to check it out, it’s got kind of a nursery feel to it. So it’s got this kind of delicate childlike score that goes along with the growth of the chick.

And this I say, it was surprising because it’s had over 35 million views on YouTube, which far exceeds anything else we’ve done and it’s I think, because it’s much more mainstream and accessible than a lot of the work that we do. And it’s been copied a lot. I’ve seen it people have done edits from it and recreate it and stuff like that. Yeah, but it’s a neat project. Who doesn’t like babies, right? Or baby animals.

Jeremy Weisz 37:56 

Baby chicks. I just want to Jason thank you. Thanks for sharing your journey your knowledge or stories really fascinating work that you do for these companies. And I just want to encourage everyone check out what they have there. Some of the you go to to learn more, and check out more episodes of the podcast and Jason, thanks again. Thanks everyone.

Jason Sharpe 38:21 

Jeremy, thanks for having me.