LAIKA empowers creatives while keeping assets secure on Mattermost

Since 2005, animation studio LAIKA has been the creative force behind some of the world’s finest animated films. Many of LAIKA’s production teams work in the physical world, building sets and props, with no time to spare in front of a computer. Mattermost provides an easy-to-use solution that helps all teams stay connected via both desktop and mobile devices without interrupting their workflow. LAIKA’s IT team has been able to increase support response times and run bots to automate simple tasks. Mattermost’s self-hosted solution ensures that LAIKA’s critical intellectual property stays safe behind company firewalls, ready for the next great film to be created. 

The wild west of company communications

LAIKA’s staff scales up or down depending on each particular stage of film production. At peak times, over 550 people are working in the company’s facilities in Hillsboro, Oregon. The organization also works with any number of contractors around the world.

Prior to adopting Mattermost, LAIKA was struggling to streamline its communications and enable diverse teams and contractors to collaborate more effectively. The company was heavily dependent on email for one-on-one and team communications, and it also supported an all-staff email list for any type of off-topic conversation. With a company full of creatives, this unmoderated list could get out of hand quickly.

In an attempt to centralize communications, LAIKA explored messaging on Jabber. However, users found the Jabber client to be limited and frustrating–it was difficult to simply drag and drop files or share an image within a message. For the IT team, Jabber required too much maintenance and too little administrative control. It was clear that messaging was the right approach, but LAIKA needed a more robust messaging platform.

Steps towards a modern messaging platform

The LAIKA IT team started their search by researching modern messaging platforms and gathering recommendations from colleagues and other studios. They looked into Slack, which offered many of the features that the organization needed, but the user experience seemed overwhelming and not easy to control. Mattermost was one of the recommendations in the mix, and the self-hosting deployment in particular sparked their interest.  

LAIKA first ran a pilot of Mattermost internally within the IT team, and then with the production technology team. Feedback was positive. Mattermost’s user experience felt calmer and smoother than Slack’s, and easy enough for anyone at the studio to pick up and use for almost any communication. Similar to Slack, Mattermost offered a robust feature set that could extend the platform to support a wide variety of use cases, but it also offered the additional security and control of an on-premise solution. 

“Mattermost has brought modern collaboration to the whole organization.” 

David Rowe, Manager of IT Systems Support, LAIKA

Keeping trade secrets is a top priority

For a creative studio like LAIKA, intellectual property is the entire business. Animation is a multi-billion dollar industry and there’s a lot at stake with every production. It’s critical for a studio to maintain total control over its pre-release assets, such as scripts and storylines, characters, artwork, and other elements that make a film unique and compelling. History has shown that it’s all too easy for a competitor to copy enough aspects of a production and release a similar version ahead of the original creators, thus edging them out of audience and revenue. The industry has also learned from a recent cyber attack that leaked confidential data and completely shut down a major animation studio.

Although large studios are becoming more comfortable with using cloud services, they manage security by running their own customized private networks in the cloud. This requires considerable resources, staff, and budget, and for a small studio like LAIKA, an on-premise solution is a more cost-effective approach. LAIKA IT self-hosts as many services as possible, including email and VPN, so they can keep all data behind their firewall. When it came to messaging services, Mattermost fit perfectly into this strategy. 

“Security is a top priority for LAIKA, and Mattermost’s self-hosted solution helps us keep our sensitive data and intellectual property secure.”

David Rowe, Manager of IT Systems Support, LAIKA

Rolling out an intuitive, easy-to-use platform

LAIKA IT began implementation by setting up a channel architecture on Mattermost that matched the company org structure and trained department leads on how to administer their channel themselves. From there, little else was needed from IT. Employees across departments found Mattermost easy to pick up and use—no steep learning curve or cumbersome user experience—making IT’s job that much easier. 

“Mattermost’s UI is self-explanatory and intuitive, so users need little or no support from IT.” 

David Rowe, Manager of IT Systems Support, LAIKA

A bot speeds up IT workflows

The LAIKA team had built a chat bot for IT usage on Jabber and migrated it over to Mattermost using the platform API and web sockets. The bot listens for commands and helps users accomplish a range of tasks faster. It also collects messages in the IT alerts channel and delivers them to a repository channel, which provides a scrolling timeline of things that have happened throughout the day. A Wolfram Alpha extension enables the bot to parse user questions through the knowledge engine and try to find the best answer. Users can even ask the bot what to have for lunch.

“Mattermost has saved us time and money while increasing user happiness.” 

David Rowe, Manager of IT Systems Support, LAIKA

Fighting fires on Mattermost

Some IT support is now done solely on Mattermost, which feels natural and fluid for both users and IT staff. Each week, one member of the IT team is assigned “firefighter” duty. Staff who need help can page the firefighter and immediately get their attention to help troubleshoot an issue. Rather than asking users to submit a ticket and wait by default, this process shortens the feedback loop and enables IT to respond faster. Back and forth discussion happens in real time, and issues are resolved faster. The firefighter can triage simple fixes on the spot or direct users to submit a ticket for more complex issues. The bot helps find information to speed things along. And users and admins can search message histories to find similar past issues and resolutions for easy reference. 

“Having instant notifications and real-time conversations on Mattermost about issues allows the IT team to respond and triage problems much more efficiently.” 

Katelyn Schiesser, System Administrator, LAIKA

Benefits of Mattermost across the studio

For users, Mattermost has provided more control over their communications and improved the experience of connecting with each other. Since implementing the platform, LAIKA has seen email usage drop dramatically. One particular email list has dropped from 30+ emails a day to only one or two. The real-time conversations themselves feel more personal as only those who are interested will participate and those who are not can avoid feeling spammed. In addition, time-sensitive information is delivered more quickly in a way that’s more likely for those not working on computers to respond with minimal interruption to their workflow.

For IT, tracking notifications and timestamps of system-wide events in Mattermost channels has greatly increased the team’s ability to respond quickly and efficiently. If there’s a problem with the storage cluster or an unresponsive service across the entire studio, IT teams get notified in multiple channels and can gauge the scale of the problem immediately. 

For the company, Mattermost has improved collaboration, streamlined communication, and enabled greater control over creative assets. The IT team believes that the platform’s full potential has not yet been realized at LAIKA. As the company continues to push the boundaries of animation, teams will discover new ways to collaborate on Mattermost to make the magic happen.

About LAIKA

Fueled by the vision of its President & CEO Travis Knight, the animation studio LAIKA was founded in 2005.  Located just outside of Portland, Oregon, LAIKA was awarded a Scientific and Technology Oscar® plaque in 2016 for its innovation in 3D printing. All of LAIKA’s four films: Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014) and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) were nominated for the Academy Award® for Outstanding Animated Feature.  Kubo and the Two Strings also won the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film and received an additional Oscar® nomination for Visual Effects.  LAIKA’s most recent film, Missing Link, with a voice cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana and Zack Galifianakis, was released in April of this year. To learn more, visit www.laika.com or follow @LAIKAStudios on Twitter.

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