Meet Startup @TW

Pi Square: Slimming down Hollywood’s animation costs

A quick glance at movie earnings over the last few years reveals that most top-grossing flicks prominently feature special effects and animations. What became popular with the Terminator franchise in the early 1990s is now a commonplace not only in Hollywood productions.

Be it action movies like The Avengers, or dramas such as Ang Lee’s Life of Pie, special effects and full-scale animations are virtually at the heart of today’s movie experience.

One company that is contribution to this industry is the Taiwanese startup Pi Square, whose innovative software was used to render content for Wonder Woman most recently. But rather than solely focusing on movie production, the young team is also venturing into gaming content.

Hollywood adventure: Previs

Initially, Yao analyzed common methods of creating animations for their advantages and flaws. “We all know that you need a script when filming a movie.

For animations it is the same. Since their budgets are usually extremely high, producers need a means of envisioning how the final product would look on the big screen to give the heads up. This is where our solution called Previs comes in.”

Yao explains that in the past, making a single animation sequence would takes at least 20-30 minutes. After rendering and connecting the sequences, you could finally see a continuous animation.

Most animation companies use Rendering Farms, which are high-performance systems for visual effects that manage a myriad of calculations. However, these setups cost at least 100,000 USD or more.

By using game engines to calculate animation content, Pi Square’s Previs can save time and help raise productivity.

Although other companies are also using game engines for similar purposes, Pi square believes that their competitive strength lies in putting utmost effort in ensuring a smooth interlinking between game engines and animation software.

Keeping it simple

According to Pi Square CEO Spock Yao, the company’s solutions help productions save valuable time thanks to their insightful approach. “Saving money, saving time” could be Pi Square’s unofficial motto.

Although their current team consists of only six people, every single person on it, including Yao, has between 5-15 years of experience within their respective field.

Their CTO is Alberto Menache, who has worked for almost three decades in the film and gaming industry. As animation consultant for Spiderman and Superman, Menache has plenty connections to Hollywood and figures as Pi Square’s key person to the animation industry’s heavy weights.

Helping talent

“Taiwan has many specialists in the field of animations, people that excel at what they are doing” says Yao. But establishing an animation company is really expensive and challenging, which is why many talents give up on their dreams. At Pi Square, we hope to offer an opportunity to realize these ideas and help the industry grow.

As Yao explains, “I have been working as a software developer for so many years. Starting our own business really helped me get my head out of the box and see the world. You shouldn't try to do everything yourself. Building a team is the most important thing.”

Asked about what the company needs most now, Yao points to sales and marketing talents to help promote and sell the great products their research and development team comes up with.

Further ventures

For the near future, Pi Square is seeking funding for Previs. With single movies running up between $2 to $5m for animations, the startup hopes to obtain $400m to enlarge their production scope.

But they are not content with serving the film industry only. They also have their eyes set on the growing market for virtual and augmented reality content. Thanks to their expertise with game engines, Pi Square is also poised to diversify their portfolio into mobile and gaming content.