Robyn Haddow is a motion graphics and playback artist with Vancouver-based Scarab Digital as well as an active freelancer. At Scarab, she is presently providing Fantasy User Interface (FUI) and animation designs for the series The Flash and Arrow for the CW as well as for Proof, a new medical drama debuting soon on TNT.
The Flash is known for his distinctive powers. What kinds of animations and graphics are you providing to create his unique look?
Yes, the Flash has very distinctive powers! The Flash’s tech comes from a team of scientists based out of the “Cortex,” which is his lair. One of the scientists is the character of Cisco Ramon, who builds a lot of the tech for Flash. Our job is to create all the tech that comes out the Cortex. We developed the look of the Cortex early on for the pilot; a cyan and blue tone palette with hints of yellow and white for a nice complimentary color accent. The screens are generally comprised of many different schematics of buildings, machine diagnostics, calculations, wireframes of gadgets and all kinds of maps of various locations in Central City.
Once you are given story points from the production team how much creative freedom do you have?
We have almost total creative freedom. We worked hard to establish the look of the Cortex (where most of our screens take place) for the pilot and in turn earned a lot of trust from the production designer.
Can you tell us about your design/animation workflow?
My workflow begins by reading the scenes in the script I am building screens for. After I have correctly understood all the story points, I jump into Illustrator to begin to block out my shots. I take screen grabs of 3D assets I have that I would like to incorporate and begin to rough out my composition with them. I start by blocking out the main elements on my screen and then concentrate on building out the different sections piece by piece.
Once I have a layout I am happy with, I bring in tools such as Adobe After Effects to get my elements working in here. I then jump into Maxon Cinema 4D to work on shading my 3D assets and create the look I am going for in the model. Once happy with the look, I block out my 3D animation, generally as a single asset that I will import into After Effects. I jump back into After Effects to block out my main animation and also focus on smaller detailed elements and animations.
I have a very tight production deadline — typically I am given only a day to work on a screen, but sometimes I am required to generate two or three. Using efficient tools is critical in helping me to maximize my time as best I can.
What are the challenges of creating sophisticated VFX in the fast turnaround time of television?
Great question. Time is the biggest one! Typically I will have a day to complete a build for a scene, and as I mentioned this can include two or three builds. This is a personal challenge because I like to include a lot of detail in my work. I hit the design and animation in broad strokes and with whatever time remains I get to go back and add in extra little bits. As I continue to build up my workflow I am constantly working to improve on-time management, thus giving me more time for all the extra little bits I like to add.
Another challenge is handling the 3D assets that we receive from post. Often times the models are very dense meshes and it can be tricky to optimize them in order to work best for my purposes.
Is there a scene — or show — that are you particularly proud of, and why?
Hmm… The season went by so fast for all the shows, so this is a tricky question! I suppose I can narrow it down to sets. I am really proud of the look of the Cortex in The Flash as I led the design on that as well as the look of the Palmer Tech set in Arrow. I am a big nerd for super hero suits so any screen that includes ATOM’s Exosuit from Arrow or the Flash’s suit is definitely up there with some of my fav builds.
Who are some of your personal sci-fi inspirations?
I am a huge fan of work done by Jayse Hansen. His work is so well thought out, detailed and polished! I also look up to his abilities in design and animation as well as the speed in which he can create. I was first introduced to the world of screen graphics by stumbling upon some of Mark Coleran’s work. And, of course, I am in love with everything put out there by Territory Studio.