10K NFT Collection Introduces Adorable Characters, Rendered with Conductor
Digital artists often take on passion projects alongside their day jobs. Some successfully transform those side hustles into a full-time gig, but securing production financing can be tricky, no matter how talented a team or inspired the idea. However, the emerging Web3 space is helping artists bypass traditional roadblocks and open new revenue streams with non-fungible tokens (NFT) sales in cryptocurrency. Though the market is volatile, it remains healthy among avid enthusiasts, as evident in the sold-out Claynosaurz debut, a 10,000 piece NFT collection offering 3D animated ‘Claynos’ released in November 2022. Imagined by Nic Cabana and Dan Cabral and realized by a small team of globally dispersed artists, the NFT collection featured an adorable lineup of dinosaur characters, and laid the foundation for bigger brand aspirations.
“In animation, it’s rare that you can build an asset that you can monetize, but that’s changing with the crypto space. We’re also seeing a lot more focus on digital identity,” said Cabana, who has served as an Animation Supervisor on a range of high-profile feature films. “By releasing Clayno NFTs, we’re able to create short form content in a low friction way, with the hope that we’ll extend into other areas as more people discover the brand. We’re essentially reversing the narrative and building out the characters first. You monetize early in the process and build unparalleled brand loyalty, rather than take on risk over a long production stretch for something you don’t know will stick, which is the traditional IP buildout model.”
Instead of simply jumping into the perceived NFT goldrush, Cabana and Cabral focused on collecting NFTs on their own and building ties in the community, which they continue to prioritize. Intent on building a brand versus making a quick buck, the pair took their time developing their designs and slowly grew their team, who are all company stakeholders, with Cabana and Cabral serving as co-creative directors. Their firsthand experience helped shape their approach to their own NFT collection and inform creative decisions to ensure optimal value for their collectors, while sustaining brand interest.
Claynos are colorful, stylized versions of recognizable dinosaur species, designed to spark imaginations and evoke the wonder of childhood. They were inspired by Cabral’s side project, a whimsical concept thoroughly embraced by Cabana, who explained, “Everyone loves dinosaurs; I’m in the film industry because of ‘Jurassic Park.’ We wanted something universally appealing, and they’re culture and gender agnostic.”
From Concept to Creation
The general attraction to and value of NFTs comes from their unique aspects. Clayno NFTs stand out for their distinct skin patterns, unlike other collections that rely on traits. The first 10,000-piece collection featured six dinosaurs, minted in different poses, animations, and color combinations. Artists primarily used Autodesk Maya to create the animations, which were rendered in Arnold. As asset creation for the collection progressed, the team faced challenges in figuring out how to render such an immense amount of work quickly and economically.
“We explored real-time rendering with a game engine but didn’t have any game developers on the team, and Arnold gave us the look we wanted while also allowing us to repurpose the assets in production. We looked at cloud-based rendering solutions in almost every major region, with questionable results, then found Conductor through a recommendation. It ensured we didn’t run into any issues in terms of render quality, deadlines, or licensing,” said Cabral, normally a lead animator for VFX studios, who took on the Claynos’ render management with help from his brother Alexandre Cabral, a technical director specializing in rigging and scripting.
While some NFTs come with attached intellectual property (IP) rights, the Claynosaurz team retains those aspects of the Claynos, allowing them to continue using the assets for content development. The team’s future plans for the IP also make it imperative for renders to be done by the book with appropriate creative application licensing. For enthusiasts, Claynos’ draw is in collecting and being an early adopter, whose feedback helps shape future NFT releases. In many ways, having a Clayno in your crypto wallet acts as an access key to additional exclusive content, collectibles, events and experiences.
Rendering the Vision
Each Clayno NFT includes a randomly minted character with an animation cycle and a profile picture, requiring the team to render 20,000 jobs. After finding Conductor in April 2022, Cabral focused on fine tuning the settings for the final renders and optimizing the cost settings. Encouraged by their progress, the team set a launch date of November 26, 2022, then dedicated October onwards to final renders. They leveraged Spot Instances, which provided the cloud provider’s spare compute at significantly reduced pricing, but with the caveat that those resources could be reallocated for a higher paying customer at any moment. To mitigate risks, the team executed renders in batches, running a few hundred tasks at a time.
“As a technical director, I can code, but that’s not my professional role. Conductor was simple enough to use and well documented so I could get up and running quickly,” noted Alexandre Cabral. “The customer support we received was also much appreciated. They were very patient with us, and the API was friendly so we could build the tools we needed easily.”
Once all assets were rendered on Conductor as .png sequences, the Claynosaurz team turned them into GIFs with embedded metadata verifying the asset’s species, color family, and facial expression using a custom script. The script also re-ordered the GIFs, so that when minted, the NFT generation would be random, a process that took almost ten hours. Finally, the collection was uploaded to Metaplex for minting, then posted for secondary sales on the hyperspace and Magic Eden marketplaces. Incurred render costs – easily tracked in Conductor, informed the initial sale price of each NFT, along with current market conditions.
To date, the Clayno NFT collection has generated more than $30M of value for the Claynosaurz team, which is already implementing plans for new asset drops and gear, including ‘phygital’ (physical plus digital) offerings that combine real world items or experiences with digital incentives. Proving the viability of new content production approaches is just the beginning for the Claynosaurz team, as Clayno popularity continues to grow alongside the self-raised funds to bring their tales to life. For other artists interested in exploring similar paths, the team emphasizes quality.
“Digital collectibles’ value comes from emotion. People need to care about your assets to engage with them, and that’s hard to achieve if you’re in the NFT space for the wrong reasons. Quality sells, so take the time to do it right,” Cabana advised.
Added Alexandre Cabral, “Now there are so many tools available to help artists work in new, interesting ways. Conductor was essential to our process. We’re not render wranglers, but we were able to use it successfully, without knowing what we were doing, then they helped us optimize.”
“It’s not feasible for most artists to buy a bunch of thousand-dollar GPU cards, which makes producing passion projects at a high level unrealistic for many 3D artists. Conductor provides an alternate path with access to affordable cloud-based resources that could lead to new opportunities, especially in short form content,” concluded Dan Cabral.
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