Jam3 + Fathom Films: “The Defector”

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  • Objective

    The companion site to the documentary film “The Defector: Escape from North Korea” (Ann Shin, Director) is based on the true stories of six North Korean defectors.

    Working with Jam3 and Fathom Films, Psyop created animations and transitions throughout the journey. The site won an FWA Site of the Day Award and an FITC Awards for Best Motion Graphics.

    Agency/Site Production: Jam3
    Client: Fathom Films

Psyop’s Creative Technologist talks about Unity

Psyop’s lead Creative Technologist, Brian Kehrer, doesn’t fit many molds. He studied Film at NYU (with a minor in Math), but he’s spent most of his professional life building games and interactive experiences using Unity, a powerful real-time 3D engine and development platform.

Brian’s a lefted-brain right-brainer — or a right-brained left-brainer — and he’s making all sorts of interesting things happen at Psyop. We caught up with him to find out a little more about Unity and his role at Psyop.

Psyop is doing more interactive work, and Unity has become one of the primary tools we’re using. Why is Unity a good fit for Psyop?

At a high level, Unity is a 3D game engine that integrates well with our existing pipeline, is intuitive for our artists, and is capable of very high quality output while keeping development costs reasonable.

More specifically, though, Unity is amazing tool for rapidly prototyping interactive experiences, which is critical for Psyop.  It allows us to experiment easily – either building demos for a pitch, or quickly vetting creative ideas.  Developing high quality interactive work requires an iterative development cycle, and Unity allows us to focus on the creative aspects of development, rather than spending time reinventing technology.

What is your personal experience with Unity?

I’ve been using Unity since 2006, when I was working on a 3D, browser-based virtual world.  At the time, we were pushing Unity to the absolute limit, and their dev team went out of their way to help us out.  You could tell they really cared about their product.


Still from Guns of Icarus Online

In 2008, I co-founded Muse Games, an independent game development studio focused entirely on Unity-based development.  Most recently I directed “Guns of Icarus Online,” a 32 player competitive airship combat game, which launched on Steam in October of 2012, after about 2.5 years of development.

For “Guns of Icarus Online,” I jumped between my roles as lead game designer, product manager, and Unity programmer. Some of the systems I developed in Unity included a completely custom UI system, a dynamic music system, character movement systems, and the character animation system.

The character movement and animation systems were particularly complicated, due to the need to synchronize and verify state between clients and an authoritative server, while still offering immediate responsiveness to the client – all on a moving and rotating airship, which, was also being synchronized across the network.

At Psyop I’ve been working in Unity non-stop.  Although most of the projects I’m working on here are still under wraps, I’ve been focused on mobile development.

One of the advantages of Unity is that it can publish to multiple platforms. Is that something Psyop is pursuing? 

Definitely. Frequently, the term ‘mobile’ gets thrown around as a single platform, but it isn’t.  It’s iOS and Android.  And even then, it’s iPhone, iPad, and 31 different flavors of Android, each with their own peculiarities.  Unity doesn’t solve all of the cross platform problems for you, but it can solve about 95% of them, if you’re careful.

Of course, Mac, Windows, and Linux standalones are also something I think we’ll pursue once the right project comes along.    Building a standalone version of a mobile app is only a question of UI / UX differences – it’s very straightforward.  Even for our mobile projects that aren’t targeting desktop, we build desktop versions anyway simply for the purpose of capturing video.  It’s that easy.

When publishing to iOS, there are some limitations when it comes to real-time 3D. Which of these has proved relevant to Psyop and how are you addressing them?

The biggest limitation is fill rate.  The latest iOS devices have competent processors, lots of memory, and a whole lot of GPU vertex transformation power – but when it comes to drawing transparent pixels, we really hit a wall.  This limitation has all sorts of side effects artist’s don’t expect.

Lighting, shadows, complex pixel shaders — all of these suffer.   So we find ways to cheat to achieve the effect we want.

Having creative directors with a strong vision is really helpful.  By finding a few reference frames early, we can focus our attention only the iOS limitations we actually need to work around.  Sometimes the boards I see have such a unique look that we literally have to discard all the assumptions graphics hardware makes about lighting and rendering.  That usually means we need to write all the shaders from scratch, but it also liberates techniques that would ordinarily be too slow on iOS.

What else do you want to tackle in the realm of Unity? What’s next?

I’m into interactive storytelling opportunities in rea-ltime spaces.  To me, the beauty of an interactive narrative experience is the part the user controls.  You can unlock a whole new set of emotions with an interactive medium, like pride and guilt, which can lead to a sense of participant responsibility.

There are places traditional media can’t reach, and that is exactly where interactive media should be. I think there is a lot of great interactive narrative work being done in video games (as well as a lot of bad), but it isn’t getting the attention it deserves, probably because most video game plots are based on space marines.



Friday Eargoggles: Opossom “Electric Hawaii”


Spring hits early with Opossom’s debut album, “Electric Hawaii.” Sporting a sound The Guardian describes as “upbeat psychedelia,” this sunshine-infused sonic seltzer is the perfect soundtrack for a mental picnic in the dead of winter.

Says Consequence of Sound:

The shimmering waves of melody wash over easily, minor alterations to the expected formula producing ripples of excitement in their midst.

The pure bubblegum joy on Opossom’s debut is cavity-inducing, staggering, but the ingenuity and vision are equally powerful.


On Spotify | on Rdio

Psyop welcomes a world class CTO, Jean-Francois Panisset


We are incredibly happy to announce that seasoned visual effects engineer Jean-Francois “JF” Panisset has joined Psyop as our Chief Technology Officer.

Panisset earned a reputation as a world-class engineer and coder during his many years at Discreet Logic and then Auodesk, where he was instrumental in writing the code for the first version of Inferno. He then moved to Sony Imageworks and worked in their high speed compositing group.

Old friends, new horizons

Panisset worked with Psyop’s COO, Mark Tobin, for several years at Rock Paper Scissors and a52, where he was part of the team that built the first end-to-end digital solution from camera capture to final delivery for a major Hollywood studio film with director David Fincher. Panisset and Tobin worked together again at Moving Picture Company, where Panisset helped define the technical infrastructure for the MPC offices in both Los Angeles and New York.

Panisset will be working closely with Psyop’s technology teams on both coasts. Panisset will also collaborate with Psyop creative directors to explore non-traditional, integrated campaign work. Panisset’s reputation as a bridge builder and enabler between technology and creative teams suggests the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Psyop.

“Top-Notch Viral Marketing” for Bethesda’s Dishonored

For gaming luminary Bethesda, we partnered with agency Rokkan to create a series of three artful prequels to hype their forthcoming title, “Dishonored” (Arkane Studios), due out on October 9th. The first chapter, “The Awakening,” launched on YouTube today, and it’s already getting tons of love.

Here’s what the press is saying.


Four stars for this one. Or two thumbs up. Or 10/10. However ad/webisode critics rate this sort of thing, I give it high marks.

PC Gamer:

It’s slick and stylish and seems spoiler free, with Chloe Moretz [of “Kick Ass”] on narration duty and “Dexter” composer Daniel Licht handling the music.


[Psyop] produced this Dishonored webisode with nearly all hand-drawn animation. The team added some computer effects in post-processing to give it that painterly look, but otherwise, this is traditional, hand-cramping work.

It’s refreshing to see a company get creative with its marketing opportunities.

Gaming Examiner:

This is a webisode you should not miss. Not only does it explain the history of the town of Dunwall but it also introduces the backstory to some of Dishonored’s leading characters. The dark animated stylings combined with a solitary narration from a young girl, makes the episode a sure-fire hit.

Stay tuned to the Bethesda blog for the next two webisodes rolling out tomorrow and Thursday. We’ll share much more about the series on Thursday.

Augmented Reality Demo App

Here’s what we do when we have a few days to play around. The image target is one of our plain ol’ business cards. The graphics are real-time 3D objects with an animated texture thrown in for the little birdie. (There’s even a cute chirping sound effect that you can’t hear in this video.)

This is only scratching the surface of what’s possible, of course. It’s just a quick prototype made for fun and to prove that yes, we can build this sort of stuff. Quickly.

NOTE: This app is an internal project and is not available for distribution.

Psyop Softimage ICE Workshop

Back on May 25th, Psyop hosted a star-studded (in our eyes) summit of Softimage artists. Knowledge was shared. Secrets were divulged. Beer was consumed.

Now if you don’t know what Softimage ICE is, there is very little chance you will find this interesting. You will be especially annoyed by the quiet audio and near absence of editing.

If, however, you do know what Softimage ICE is, there is a very good chance you will find this riveting. For this select group of visitors: you’re welcome.

Presenters included:

  • Vladimir Jankijevic, Elefant Studios (Zurich, Switzerland)
  • Andy Jones, Massmarket (LA, USA)
  • Jonah Friedman, Psyop (NY, USA)
  • Fabio Piparo and Eban Byrne (NY, USA)


Psyop Softimage ICE Workshop – Part 1 – Vladimir Jankijevic, Elefant Studios (Zurich, Switzerland).

More videos after the jump…

Friday Eargoggles – Hot Chip: In Our Heads

This week’s Friday Eargoggles post comes to us from Adam Coffia in Psyop’s NYC office.

When my friends and I heard that Hot Chip would be playing in Prospect Park in July we immediately snatched up our tickets. Who wouldn’t want to dance around like a fool outdoors in the middle of July with fellow sweaty audience members?

Hipster House

In Our Heads, the band’s latest album, recently dropped, and I for one cannot stop listening to the electro pop dance beats that some bloggers are labeling “Hipster House.”

Highlights of the album include “Flutes,” “Night and Day,” and the opener, “Motion Sickness.” Just be careful where you listen to it — it may cause you to breakout some uncontrollable (and questionable) dance moves.



Listen to In Our Heads on Spotify | Subscribe to the Psyop Friday Eargoggles playlist on Spotify