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Feature Profile published in Point of View magazine

All the right moves
Viewpoint Animation

Viewpoint Computer Animation, Inc., was formed in 1988 by Carlo Di Persio and Glenn Robbins, to provide, according to Di Persio, “cost effective, creative, visual solutions in the form of electronic graphics and 3D animation.” The company, located in Needham, MA, opened its doors in August of 1988 in a modest 860 sq.ft., only to move ten months later to a more spacious 2000 sq.ft., in the same building. Both partners are obviously pleased with the growth of the company, but are determined to keep to their initial concept of a small and personal boutique.

“We said, ‘let’s start our own business’ more as a joke. Then we realized we weren’t joking.”

Di Persio, who came up through the ranks of video editors to become an Emmy Award winning master craftsman, and Robbins who became a craftsman of equal skill and creativity in the graphics field, met while working at Vizwiz Film/Video in Brookline, a company that is no longer in existence. Di Persio was Vice President of Operations and Robbins was Design Director of Vizwiz Design. “We were both very committed to Vizwiz,” says Robbins, “But on a particularly bad day,” adds Di Persio, “we looked at each other and said “let’s start our own business,” more as a joke. Then we realized we weren’t joking.” And Viewpoint proves the point.

It was the earlier days at Vizwiz, when the company was small, that both Robbins and Di Persio liked the best. Says Di Persio, “when I had a client who wanted to work with me in an edit they’d call me direct and I’d get personally involved right up front.” It was the same for Robbins. But as Vizwiz got bigger they felt themselves pulled further and further away from what they liked, which was this direct contact with their clients. And it is this particular aspect of business that Robbins and Di Persio wanted to ensure happened at Viewpoint. “We decided to put our money into hardware, and keep client interaction as clean as possible,” says Di Persio. The company philosophy bears out their belief that the more people you have involved in a project the harder it is to deliver exactly what the client wants. States Robbins: “when you’ve got account executives, producers, executive producers, post producers, directors they all come between you, the one doing the job, and the client.” Adds Di Persio, “with all due respect to sales people, the people who are talking to the clients don’t have the on line experience that people doing the work have, so how can they possibly speak intelligently to the client. “And,” he adds, “clients have been complaining that the work costs too much, and they’re right! What they’re paying for doesn’t end up on the screen. They’re paying for all these additional people who are, in fact, hindering the production process.” When a client calls Viewpoint they speak directly to the person who will be executing the project. There are no people in between.

Robbins and Di Persio share very similar attitudes towards business, and they share responsibilities equally, relying heavily on each other. This makes for a very harmonious work environment. Says Di Persio: “we’re both creative, but when it comes down to a project Glenn has the final word, and when it comes to a business decision I have the final word.” This mutually agreed upon relationship has worked very well so far, but a sweet problem they’re struggling with now is success and growth. In March, 1990, Brian Dram joined Viewpoint as Art Director. He came to the company from Digital Images, Editel/Boston, where he was Commercial/Corporate Design Director.

And as recently as July of this year they hired Matthew Hausman, as Animation Director. Hausman was formerly with Videocraft, Boston, as 3D Designer and Technical Director. In parallel with the creative people Viewpoint also added Liz DeBonis to its staff to handle the administrative and public relations side of the business. But while it’s now no longer just “Glenn and Carlo” both partners emphatically maintain that they want to stay small. “I wanted to go into business for myself so that I would not be working 100 hours a week,” states Di Persio. “I want to be able to devote time to my family.” But he believes that if an owner knows when to let go and give the employees the ball, they will run with it, and learn that they are all in business “not only for the owner’s financial freedom and security, but for their own as well.” It’s this attitude, shared by both partners, that will ensure not only an ongoing personalized nature to their business, but freedom to pursue personal interests.

“If an owner knows when to let go and give the employees the ball, they will run with it.”

Viewpoint prefers to boast of its people, nonetheless the equipment they work with is impressive. They use a Silicon Graphics Superworkstation to run Alias/3 software and a dedicated Abekas A60 digital disc recorder. A recent addition to the stable is a Silicon Graphics Compute Server which allows them to render 36 hours a day. Says Di Persio: “it’s smaller, cheaper, faster, can jump over higher buildings, and other things like that.” By consolidating hardware and increasing speed, complex projects are completed in a fraction of the time required only a few years ago, and at substantially lower cost. The company also created a production suite to house a Quantel V Series Paintbox. This new Paintbox offers substantial improvements over the original Paintbox a cordless pen, hardware zoom, larger fonts, a 30% increase in operating speed, and digital video in and out. Images from the Alias, Abekas and Paintbox can now be combined without any compromise in quality. Says Robbins: “we’ve created an integrated graphics environment that’s ideal for anything from a sequence of 2D graphics to live action composited with Paintbox and 3D elements. Because of the speed of operation, and no picture degradation, the system’s ideal for frame by frame retouching of video and rotoscoping.”

Muses Di Persio, “For the kind of work we do around here there’s always going to be a need for graphics.” To prove his point their workload is growing. With virtually no advertising they are consistently busy. Adds Di Persio, “of all the people who come to us about work I’d say 90% of them end up doing a project with us.” He also sees that a lot more work will be coming their way from companies who currently prefer to transfer their film animation to video. If it’s a film look that companies are looking for that’s one thing, but if it’s animation they want then Di Persio firmly believes that transferring film animation to video is a waste. “It adds nothing to the quality,” he says. “In some cases it even degrades the quality because you’re limited by 30 frames per second. We can provide our clients with animation at 60 fields per second with proprietary software that we’ve written. It costs nothing more and they get vastly superior quality.”

“We don’t pester our clients,” says Robbins. “We don’t call them every week and ask them why they’re not working with us.” “And we don’t try to sell them services,” says Di Persio. “If they come in and they want paint we don’t try to sell them 3D, unless there’s an element that we feel would be good for their project and fits within their budget.” Adds Robbins, “Clients don’t have work every day. They may have a project once a year, and when they do they know who to call.” Di Persio added that the couple is working with clients who stopped working with
them at Vizwiz. “They know they’ll be working with Glenn and Carlo again, and that’s what they want. They know we’re going to take care of them.”

“We decided to put our money into hardware, and keep client interaction as clean as possible.”

Most of their finished projects are under 30 seconds, and production time can run anywhere from 1 day to 3 weeks. Says Di Persio: “we don’t touch the hardware until we know the client is happy with what we’ve designed on paper. We’re happy to get into the loop anywhere the clients wants. They may come to us with an idea, or a script and a storyboard, or only a script and expect us to come up with a storyboard we don’t care, it’s whatever the client wants.” What Viewpoint doesn’t do, however, is spec work. “We’ve had people call us and say: “we don’t know if we want to do this project with you, but if you’ll design it for us and do the animation, then we’ll tell you if we do.”“ They both feel that too much design hinders a client’s ability to envision the finished product. Projects have included an underwater rescue simulation, an architectural preview of office space yet to be developed, a satellite program open, and realistic bone structures for medical use. Other recent work includes 3D animation for the Arts & Entertainment cable network, and “SST,” a pilot ABC program that aired recently. These last two were designed and produced for Target Productions.

Where does profit fit into all of this idealism? Well, according to both Di Persio and Robbins, profit comes when you service your client. “Profit can’t be the driving force,” says Di Persio, “but it can’t be forgotten. We’re a business, not a toy.” “We’re a little different to most other production companies in Boston,” says Robbins, “since we focus on graphics and animation.” “We’re not trying to do production or post production,” adds Di Persio. “so we rarely butt heads with them. There’s plenty of work for all of us.”