As the CEO of Pixelhunters, a global leader in 3D content, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality, Metaverse, and game development, Dr. Ani Atanasova is well-versed in animation, 3D design, anamorphic content, and user interaction. With a Ph.D. in Quantum and Optoelectronics, she has been involved in research, teaching, and various patented projects in the EU pertaining to lasers, laser amplifiers, laser applications, and magnetic field management. She is on the advisory boards of several universities in the UAE and is the UAE correspondent for the Young Business Leaders France and chairwoman of the UAE Chapter of the International Game Developers Association. Additionally, she has been a judge for the International Business Awards, Stevie Awards, and “A Design” Awards. Dr. Ani is also a frequent speaker at conferences focusing on technology, women’s leadership, AR/VR, innovation, game design, and gamification.
We recently got the chance to sit down with Dr. Ani to learn more about how she is leading Pixelhunters to exceed customer expectations by binding future technology to their accomplished artists’ visual imagination and knowledge.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Q) Ani Atanasova, first of all, thanks for your time from the suitcase of your busy schedule. Enlighten us, as a businesswoman, what was your mission at the outset?
Dr. Ani) “Pixelhunters is not just a business for me, but my life.” It is a label of love, not just because am passionate about the work, but also, I run the business with my husband Iliya Atanasov.
I came from a science background before Pixelhunters. The reason for shifting to the creative field is actually my husband. We are 24 years together; for him creating digital art is a passion, he started in the CGI field as a hobby that he turned into a profession. Almost 14 years ago, he convinced me that we could have an exciting journey with Pixelhunters, and thus the story begins.
We merged our interests, and expertise to build Pixelhunters. A lot of people are curious about the name – we hunt pixels to create beautiful things.
I am a very tenacious person that doesn’t give up easily at obstacles; my mission was and still is to make Pixelhunters a recognizable brand that stands out with quality that brings value to our customers. In the beginning, I had to learn fast about the industry, but I was motivated to introduce science into the art, which we successfully did.
Q) Shine some light on Pixelhunters. What are its key services/products?
Dr. Ani) We create content in any format – 2D, 3D, films, games, combined with any latest technology available – AR, VR, motion captures, sensors, screens, holograms, and robots, empowered by Data and science to create digital experiences that matter.
Q) What is the change you are bringing with your brand today? Tell us about the clientele that can benefit from Pixelhunters.
Dr. Ani) We bring immersion to businesses and education. Our mission is to excite the audience’s interactions with brands, creating experiences that attract, educate, and entertain at the same time. We work for governments, large corporations, and SMEs.
Q) Please enlighten us on how did you build your team.
Dr. Ani) Teams are the essence of any business. Pixelhunters is a family-owned business. My husband is the CTO and the creative director. Our team is more than work colleagues – it is our family. We accept our team’s strengths and differences; we are trying to work in harmony while always enjoying the creative process. Most of our team members are many years with us. For our business, creative portfolios are essential, but they are something easy to build. We value most ethical skills and loyalty; this is what we reward in team growth.
Q) How did you deal with the challenge of acceptance? What were the other challenges you overcame?
Dr. Ani) My first challenge with Pixelhunters was related to conveying to the market who we are. We built a top team of recognized artists; we have been creating award-winning videos, but then you realize quality is not enough. Developing a business is building your reputation – everything is important – quality, leadership, production speed, understanding the values of the countries you work in, pricing, competition, customer service, flexibility doing changes, and working on last-minute projects. In the challenging economy nowadays, more stuff is added to this list. Business is not given; it must be earned. It is not guaranteed that if the company is old, it will sustain itself forever. We need to add value to it every single day.
Q) What has been the development path of Pixelhunters?
Dr. Ani) We started as an animation & VFX company; we became the first indie game developer in the UAE. We were within the first designing AR & VR starting with the early developer versions of these technologies; we experiment with every new tech on the market to see how to make more exciting digital journeys. We have developed a couple of VR & AR platforms related to education & training. We have done hundreds of experiential marketing projects, and lately, we have been very much involved in metaverses (for clients and with our metaverse platform). Creating immersions for every industry with proven engagement has always been paving our path to the future.
Q) How is your company synchronizing with the latest advancements in 3D designs & animation?
Dr. Ani) We must constantly learn and follow the trends and the latest innovations. Most of our team members are engineers, so R&D is the essence of our success. Improving the speed of production while increasing the quality is our top priority. We are proud that we often work on projects many others don’t dare to accept due to impossible deadlines.
Q) If you were to answer a young female executive’s question, ‘How can I be a good leader?’, what would you advise?
Dr. Ani) Most important is to know yourself well – your strengths and your weaknesses. Amplify your skills every day, and don’t be afraid to fail. Learning for life should be your motto, and keep going if you believe your actions are valuable for you, your team, and your customers. Success doesn’t come overnight. It needs persistence and hard work. Thus with time, all your weaknesses will turn into strengths.
Q) What is so exclusive about Pixelhunters that has brought so much success to the company? What business/people problems have it successfully solved?
Dr. Ani) Some people work to live, while we live to work. We love so much the creative process and seeing how our efforts turn into beautiful content and experiences. We do not perceive work as something we must do because it pays the bills. We accept every project as a challenge, and we always try to put ourselves into our client’s shoes, understand their pain points and align with their goals. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing our clients happy with the projects we did together and especially seeing our work in use for many years. Nowadays, there is so much content around us that sometimes it takes effort to focus. Must have outstanding quality, idea, something different, unseen before. Making the content interactive involves users in personalized experiences that they tend to memorize longer.
We are also well-known in the educational field, especially in game-based learning and gamification. The power of games is that they make people follow the rules voluntarily to achieve a game goal, so we use that as an advantage to make learning more fun, engaging, and lasting. We are leaders in multiplayer learning based on competition or collaboration to speed up studying, saving time and effort. We have our own game-based multiplayer platform, as well as our own metaverse, to experience learning and team interactions even better.
Q) What are your views on women’s entrepreneurship?
Dr. Ani) Women are less risk-takers, but women-led businesses are proven more sustainable in the long run. Women have more patience in achieving long-term goals, hearing often, and dealing with the “NO” word, and I believe this comes naturally from our motherhood.
I often speak worldwide about women entrepreneurs, women in technology, and women leaders, and I feel happy to witness and meet the growing number of great women professionals with successful businesses.
Q) Please highlight the achievements and accolades attained by the Company by far.
Dr. Ani) We have worked on several platforms that are worldwide innovations. For example, a VR platform for visualizing youth’s future; another is a unique hazard perception training and testing platform that evaluates driver’s performance to hazards in real-time; and the other is an AR-enabled multiplayer learning platform. We also created hundreds of game-based marketing & awareness tools, many immersive rooms & experiences, and we made a giant step into the metaverse last year for client projects and our own.