Mindshow is a 3D animation production company built upon proprietary software that merges cutting edge video game technology, visual effects, and machine learning. Their software allows animation to be created and shot at the same speed as live action—it’s an entirely new category of content in entertainment.
Founded in 2016, Mindshow started as a consumer facing app with the goal of making animation creation accessible to everyone. That app was initially available on Steam, allowing users to don their own VR suit and create an animated video that synced virtual characters to the user’s movements and speech.
After earning an Emmy nomination for interactive media, Mindshow pivoted to professional content creation in 2020, stemming from the arrival of the creative Sharon Bordas, who now sits as the president of Mindshow.
Bordas has more than 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry as a writer, producer, executive and entrepreneur. She is a long time champion of female directors and diversity in content, and was most recently VP of Programming for Scripted Series at Lifetime Television, and before that a Founder/EVP at Mar Vista Entertainment.
I had the opportunity to join Sharon to discuss the accomplishments of Mindshow and the industry that they are blazing a trail through.
CC: Where did Mindshow start?
Sharon: Mindshow started as a consumer facing video game: you went into the headset on Steam and made your own animation. By the time they met with me, they decided to pivot and use the tools they had built to make professional animation. I joined in 2019 and hit the ground running.
CC: You have a unique and creative background. When you joined Mindshow, how were you able to change the direction and style of the company?
Sharon: Gil Baron, our CEO, already knew that he wanted to make a change and had a vision for how the tech could work. I really came in to marry that technology with content. For example, when I started they imagined a pipeline as a circle. My response was “No no no no, we can’t do that, that’ll never work, we need an offramp!”
CC: You wanted to move forward!
Sharon: Absolutely! Production is always contending with time and money against creative. That’s what I tried to bring to the table. As I result, I like to think I’ve had a pretty big impact on where they’ve built the tech to support production and make it more accessible to live action creatives, as well as the connection to the entertainment industry
CC: There aren’t a lot of other companies out there doing this, are there?
Sharon: You know, real time animation is a space people have been trying to crack for some time, but we are definitely coming at it from a different angle. We have a unique way of using the technology that allows us to produce animation in a different way, but still deliver quality for the end result.
CC: You and your company, Mindshow, encourage women to enter the industry and to pursue their dreams in this field. How do you make this outreach to women?
Sharon: When I started at Mindshow, I was the only woman on staff and it was an engineering focused game company. But as we shifted our mission, so did the makeup of the company.
Part of that was me reaching out to people I had worked with before, pursuing new relationships with women I wanted to work with and naturally being open to a broader set of skills. I’ve also had some females actively seek us out because in animation and tech, there aren’t as many female leaders as one might hope. They know there’s someone making big decisions that’s got some estrogen, which can be helpful.
CC: …and someone who is going to be supportive of these women.
Sharon: Sadly, yes I think it’s probably true that many of them have not been supported in the past. I find that the women I interview ask very different kinds of questions than the men, having to do with childcare and work life balance and reporting structure. Hopefully that will evolve over time.
CC: I was intrigued to see the process behind the making of Enchantimals, in which the actors put on a mocap suit, with various sensors attached to their bodies to catch their movements. Then these actors go into a virtual reality world created for Enchantimals to act out the script.
Then recently, I caught the Storybots debut on Netflix, which is also a Mindshow creation. As I was watching Storybots, I was imagining how you had put this together. Especially because on each one of the bots, the top of the head is separated at the jawline.
Sharon: We use a variety of inputs to capture performances that include mocap, facecap and VR puppeting. StoryBots required very different tech than Enchantimals so we adapted for what was best for the show. We are now working on a show that includes a lot of cars, so we are building a driving system. The tech is always working in service of the creative.
CC: Of the various sensors that are attached to each actor’s body to pick up their movements, I’m curious, do you connect them to the eyebrows (laughs)?
Sharon: We did not mocap the eyebrows on StoryBots. This time. Who knows what the future might bring? Eyebrow expressiveness is very very important for those Bots!
CC: When the actors are in the VR world, can Mindshow put the script inside of the VR experience so that the person is reading off of what’s in front of them?
Sharon: We sure can.
CC: In the backgrounds, for example, in StoryBots one of the bots is sitting at a desk with his computers around him, is that traditional animation?
Sharon: StoryBots is an unusual show that includes 2D animation, live action and CG animation. We used whatever the best and smartest way we could find to get the job done because we were on a super accelerated timeline. From greenlight to delivery we only had 10 weeks.
CC: Wow! That’s pretty fast!
Did you and your team write all of your software?
Sharon: We write what we need to create ourselves and use what already exists when it serves us. But we really can work that fast–just like live production.
CC: Do you use any mainstream software in any of your creations?
Sharon: Our stack is proprietary, but it’s built on top of the Unity engine. We also use a lot of other software your audience would be familiar with in our pipeline: Maya, Premiere, Zbrush.
CC: So how does the acquisition process work? Does a company or a representative approach Mindshow to say, “I have this idea, and I would really like to use Mindshow to make my show”? Do you interview people? Do you pitch entertainment companies?
Sharon: We develop projects from ideas and/or scripts; we partner on shows with studios; and we service shows with partners. We do it all!
CC: Do you have things coming down the pike that you’re able to talk about?
Sharon: We have a couple musical projects that I think are incredible and interesting. We are in talks on several preschool shows that I would love to see come to pass. And we’re doing an animation test for a project right now with Paramount+ /Comedy Central that’s an adult, comedy, female superhero show that I like to describe as Bridget Jones meets Deadpool.
CC: It sounds like it will be funny!
Sharon: Yeah, darkly funny and strange and super awesome.
CC: Do you see your company having a role in changing the future of the industry?
Sharon: Absolutely, Brie. What we just did for Netflix with StoryBots, the speed of that was unprecedented and I’m proud of the end result. I can’t wait to see what we do next!
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