Tag Archives: animation

Exceptional Minds: Autistic students learn VFX, work on major feature films

After graduation, these artists have been working on projects for Marvel, Disney, Fox and HBO.

By Randi Altman

With an estimated 1 in 68 children in the US being born with some sort of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring, I think it’s fair to say that most people have been touched in some way by a child on the spectrum.

As a parent of a teenager with autism, I can attest to the fact that one of our biggest worries, the thing that keeps us up at night, is the question of independence. Will he be able to make a living? Will there be an employer who can see beyond his deficits to his gifts and exploit those gifts in the best possible way?

Enter Exceptional Minds, a school in Los Angeles that teaches young adults with autism how to create visual effects and animation while working as part of a team. This program recognizes how bright these young people are and how focused they can be, surrounds them with the right teachers and behavioral therapists, puts the right tools in their hands and lets them fly.

The school, which also has a VFX and animation studio that employs its graduates, was started in 2011 by a group of parents who have children on the spectrum. “They were looking for work opportunities for their kids, and quickly discovered they couldn’t find any. So they decided to start Exceptional Minds and prepare them for careers in animation and visual effects,” explains Susan Zwerman, the studio executive producer at Exceptional Minds and a long-time VFX producer whose credits include Broken Arrow, Alien Resurrection, Men of Honor, Around the World in 80 Days and The Guardian.

Since the program began, these young people have had the opportunity to work on some very high-profile films and TV programs. Recent credits include Game of Thrones, The Fate of the Furious and Doctor Strange, which was nominated for an Oscar for visual effects this year.

We reached out to Zwerman to find out more about this school, its studio and how they help young people with autism find a path to independence.

The school came first and then the studio?
Yes. We started training them for visual effects and animation and then the conversation turned to, “What do they do when they graduate?” That led to the idea to start a visual effects studio. I came on board two years ago to organize and set it up. It’s located downstairs from the school.

How do you pick who is suitable for the program?
We can only take 10 students each year, and unfortunately, there is a waiting list because we are the only program of its kind anywhere. We have a review process that our educators and teachers have in terms of assessing the student’s ability to be able to work in this area. You know, not everybody can function working on a computer for six or eight hours. There are different levels of the spectrum. So the higher functioning and the medium functioning are more suited for this work, which takes a lot of focus.

Students are vetted by our teachers and behavioral specialists, who take into account the student’s ability, as well as their enthusiasm for visual effects and animation — it’s very intense, and they have to be motivated.

Susie Zwerman (in back row, red hair) with artists in the Exceptional Minds studio.

I know that kids on the spectrum aren’t necessarily social butterflies, how do you teach them to work as a team?
Oh, that’s a really good question. We have what’s called our Work Readiness program. They practice interviewing, they practice working as a team, they learn about appearance, attitude, organization and how to problem solve in a work place.

A lot of it is all about working in a team, and developing their social skills. That’s something we really stress in terms of behavioral curriculum.

Can you describe how the school works?
It’s a three-year program. In the first year, they learn about the principles of design and using programs like Adobe’s Flash and Photoshop. In Flash, they study 2D animation and in Photoshop they learn how to do backgrounds for their animation work.

During year two, they learn how to work in a production pipeline. They are given a project that the class works on together, and then they learn how to edit using Adobe Premiere Pro and compositing on Adobe After Effects.

In the third year, they are developing their skills in 3D via Autodesk Maya and compositing with The Foundry’s Nuke. So they learn the way we work in the studio and our pipeline, as well as preparing their portfolios for the workplace. At the end of three years, each student completes their training with a demo reel and resume of their work.

Who helps with the reels and resumes?
Their teachers supervise that process and help them with editing and picking the best pieces for their reel. Having a reel is important for many reasons. While many students will work in our studio for a year after graduation, I was able to place some directly into the work environment because their talent was so good… and their reel was so good.

What is the transition like from school to studio?
They graduate in June and we transition many of them to the studio, where they learn about deadlines and get paid for their work. Here, many experience independence for the first time. We do a lot of 2D-type visual effects clean-up work. We give them shots to work on and test them for the first month to see how they are doing. That’s when we decide if they need more training.

The visual effects side of the studio deals with paint work, wire and rod removal and tracker or marker removals — simple composites — plus a lot of rotoscoping and some greenscreen keying. We also do end title credits for the major movies.

We just opened the animation side of the studio in 2016, so it’s still in the beginning stages, but we’re doing 2D animation. We are not a 3D studio… yet! The 2D work we’ve done includes music videos, Websites, Power Points and some stuff for the LA Zoo. We are gearing up for major projects.

How many work in the studio?
Right now, we have about 15 artists at workstations in our current studio. Some of these will be placed on the outside, but that’s part of using strategic planning in the future to figure out how much expansion we want to do over the next five years.

Thanks to your VFX background, you have many existing relationships with the major studios. Can you talk about how that has benefitted Exceptional Minds?
We have had so much support from the studios; they really want to help us get work for the artists. We started out with Fox, then Disney and then HBO for television. Marvel Studios is one of our biggest fans. Marvel’s Victoria Alonso is a big supporter, so much so that we gave her our Ed Asner Award last June.

Once we started to do tracker marker and end title credits for Marvel, it opened doors. People say, “Well, if you work for Marvel, you could work for us.” So she has been so instrumental in our success.

What were the Fox and Marvel projects?
Our very first client was Fox and we did tracker removals for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — that was about three years ago. Marvel happened about two years ago and our first job for them was on Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What are some of the other projects Exceptional Minds has worked on?
We worked on Doctor Strange, providing tracker marker removals and end credits. We worked on Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Pete’s Dragon, Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and X-Men: Apocalypse.

Thanks to HBO’s Holly Schiffer we did a lot of Game of Thrones work. She has also been a huge supporter of ours.

It’s remarkable how far you guys have come in a short amount of time. Can you talk about how you ended up at Exceptional Minds?
I used to be DGA production manager/location manager and then segued into visual effects as a freelance VFX producer for all the major studios. About three years ago, my best friend Yudi Bennett, who is one of the founders of Exceptional Minds, convinced me to leave my career and  come here to help set up the studio. I was also tasked with producing, scheduling and budgeting work to come into the studio. For me, personally, this has been a spiritual journey. I have had such a good career in the industry, and this is my way of giving back.

So some of these kids move on to other places?
After they have worked in the studio for about a year, or sometimes longer, I look to have them placed at an outside studio. Some of them will stay here at our studio because they may not have the social skills to work on the outside.

Five graduates have been placed so far and they are working full time at various productions studios and visual effects facilities in Los Angeles. We have also had graduates in internships at Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

One student is at Marvel, and others are at Stargate Studios, Mr. Wolf and New Edit. To be able to place our artists on the outside is our ultimate goal. We love to place them because it’s sort of life changing. For example, one of the first students we placed, Kevin, is at Stargate. He moved out of his parents’ apartment, he is traveling by himself to and from the studio, he is getting raises and he is moving up as a rotoscope artist.

What is the tuition like?
Students pay about 50 percent and we fundraise the other 50 percent. We also have scholarships for those that can’t afford it. We have to raise a lot of money to support the efforts of the school and studio.

Do companies donate gear?
When we first started, Adobe donated software. That’s how we were able to fund the school before the studio was up and running. Now we’re on an educational plan with them where we pay the minimum. Autodesk and The Foundry also give us discounts or try to donate licenses to us. In terms of hardware, we have been working with Melrose Mac, who is giving us discounts on computers for the school and studio.


Check out Exceptional Minds Website for more info.

Alkemy X adds creative director Geoff Bailey

Alkemy X, which offers live-action production, design, high-end VFX and post services, has added creative director Geoff Bailey to its New York office, which has now almost doubled in staff. The expansion comes after Alkemy X served as the exclusive visual effects company on M. Night Shyamalan’s Split.

Alkemy X and Bailey started collaborating in 2016 when the two worked together on a 360 experiential film project for EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and brand consultancy BrandPie. Bailey was creative director on the project, which was commissioned for EY’s Strategic Growth Forum held in Palm Desert, California, last November. The project featured Alkemy X’s live-action, VFX, animation, design and editorial work.

“I enjoy creating at the convergence of many disciplines and look forward to leveraging my branding knowledge to support Alkemy X’s hybrid creation pipeline — from ideation and strategy, to live-action production, design and VFX,” says Bailey.

Most recently, Bailey was a creative director at Loyalkaspar, where he creatively led the launch campaign for A&E’s Bates Motel. He also served as creative director/designer on the title sequence for the American launch of A&E’s The Returned, and as CD/director on a series of launch spots for the debut of Vice Media’s TV channel Viceland.

Prior to that, Bailey freelanced for several New York design firms as a director, designer and animator. His freelance résumé includes work for HBO, Showtime, Hulu, ABC, Cinemax, HP, Jay-Z, U2, Travel Channel, Comedy Central, CourtTV, Fuse, AMC Networks, Kiehl’s and many more. Bailey holds an MFA in film production from Columbia University.

Last Chance to Enter to Win an Amazon Echo… Take our Storage Survey Now!

If you’re working in post production, animation, VFX and/or VR/AR/360, please take our short survey and tell us what works (and what doesn’t work) for your day-to-day needs.

What do you need from a storage solution? Your opinion is important to us, so please complete the survey by Wednesday, March 8th.

We want to hear your thoughts… so click here to get started now!

 

 

Photo: Mike Scott

Behind the Title: Flaunt executive producer Andrew Pearce

NAME: Andrew Pearce

COMPANY: Flaunt Productions (@flauntanimation)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Flaunt is a Scottish studio that creates high-quality animation for features, TV, commercials and games. Flaunt is part of the Axis group, which is made up of three collaborating studios with distinct goals, strategies and talent bases.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Executive Producer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As EP, I’m one of the first points of contact in the studio. That means attending events, making new relationships, talking to clients and creatives and pitching and planning projects. My next trip is to Kidscreen Miami in February.

The EPs take the “thousand-foot-view” of projects. First, that’s about helping to assemble the right team and working with the director to develop creative and story. Then it’s about making a solid plan. When a producer takes over, it’s about ensuring that we’re exceeding clients’ expectations, and following the studio’s general strategy.

PHOTO: MIKE SCOTT

Flaunt headquarters. Photo: Mike Scott

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
How much we have to adapt to the changing market. There are no right answers to where we place our efforts; it’s a tricky combination of research, intuition, creativity and strategy.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The magic part! When the team comes up with something brilliant. Everyone knows when you’ve got something special, be that a design, a piece of music, an iconic performance or a beautiful shot.

I would also say the sense of excitement: since starting at Axis seven years ago, there has always been a feeling that anything is possible. The founders continue to be supportive of artists and producers who’re keen to push the envelope.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
So much to do, so little time. We see a million opportunities, both in creative and market terms. Our main impediment to trying everything is lack of time and people to explore.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Random meeting time! There is no set time, but it’s often at the lunch table. We have around 150 people in the studio right now and are planning to peak at 200 mid-year. So there are lots of opportunities for meeting interesting folks and hearing new things.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
A lot of our games clients have great companies — I would love to be part of the casual games explosion.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I think that for the most part, the profession chose me. I’ve always been keen on business development and strategy. I guess after about three years in the industry my path became clear.

Lost in Oz

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We’ve just wrapped up a second feature for Mattel’s Monster High brand, and we are looking forward to the release in spring. Season One of Amazon Studios’ series Lost in Oz is in production now, for which we’re taking care of design and art direction. Our current production is a super-high quality series, about 80 minutes, due for release in summer. We are doing design and animation for the BBC show Dixi and television commercials for Goodgame’s Goodgame Empire.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Almost every project has some aspect that stood out, but I’d pick our Monster High features. We worked closely with Mattel to create a fresh, bold interpretations of the new toy line. The challenge was in retaining the iconic look of the characters, while updating them to better suit animation.

Mattel was aligned with our goal to create fun stories, packed with humor and charm. The characters weren’t just dolls; we created real, breathing characters that could connect emotionally with kids. Watch out for our making-of video later this month.

Monsters High

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I’ll go for three research tools here, all of which I use daily: LinkedIn, IMDB and Vimeo.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
If I really have to concentrate, I listen to classical music on headphones.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Stupid fun projects that have no deadlines or client expectations — the last one was a wall-mounted Hot Wheels track for my four-year-old, which wraps around his bedroom. I play on it a lot more than he does.

Jim Hagarty Photography

Blue Sky Studios’ Mikki Rose named SIGGRAPH 2019 conference chair

Mikki Rose has been named conference chair of SIGGRAPH 2019. Fur technical director at Greenwich, Connecticut-based Blue Sky Studios, Rose chaired the Production Sessions during SIGGRAPH 2016 this past July in Anaheim and has been a longtime volunteer and active member of SIGGRAPH for the last 15 years.

Rose has worked on such film as The Peanuts Movie and Hotel Transylvania. She refers to herself a “CG hairstylist” due to her specialization in fur at Blue Sky Studios — everything from hair to cloth to feathers and even vegetation. She studied general CG production at college and holds BS degrees in Computer Science and Digital Animation from Middle Tennessee State University as well as an MFA in Digital Production Arts from Clemson University. Prior to Blue Sky, she lived in California and held positions with Rhythm & Hues Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks.

“I have grown to rely on each SIGGRAPH as an opportunity for renewal of inspiration in both my professional and personal creative work. In taking on the role of chair, my goal is to provide an environment for those exact activities to others,” said Rose. “Our industries are changing and developing at an astounding rate. It is my task to incorporate new techniques while continuing to enrich our long-standing traditions.”

SIGGRAPH 2019 will take place in Los Angeles from July 29 to August 2, 2019.


Main Image: SIGGRAPH 2016 — Jim Hagarty Photography

Chaos Group and Adobe partner for photorealistic rendering in CC

Chaos Group’s V-Ray rendering technology is featured in Adobe’s Creative Cloud, allowing graphic designers to easily create photorealistic 3D rendered composites with Project Felix.

Available now, Project Felix is a public beta desktop app that helps users composite 3D assets like models, materials and lights with background images, resulting in an editable render they can continue to design in Photoshop CC. For example, users can turn a basic 3D model of a generic bottle into a realistic product shot that is fully lit and placed in a scene to create an ad, concept mock-up or even abstract art.

V-Ray acts as a virtual camera, letting users test angles, perspectives and placement of their model in the scene before generating a final high-res render. Using the preview window, Felix users get immediate visual feedback on how each edit affects the final rendered image.

By integrating V-Ray, Adobe has brought the same raytracing technology used by companies Industrial Light & Magic to a much wider audience.

“We’re thrilled that Adobe has chosen V-Ray to be the core rendering engine for Project Felix, and to be a part of a new era for 3D in graphic design,” says Peter Mitev, CEO of Chaos Group. “Together we’re bringing the benefits of photoreal rendering, and a new design workflow, to millions of creatives worldwide.”

“Working with the amazing team at Chaos Group meant we could bring the power of the industry’s top rendering engine to our users,” adds Stefano Corazza, senior director of engineering at Adobe. “Our collaboration lets graphic designers design in a more natural flow. Each edit comes to life right before their eyes.”

Reel FX hires Chad Mosley as senior designer

Chad Moseley has joined Reel FX as senior designer. Moseley brings with him nearly a decade of experience in motion graphics and design, spanning television, advertising and broadcast promos.

He comes to Reel FX, which has offices in Dallas and Santa Monica, from Starz Entertainment, where he spent two years as a broadcast designer, concepting and executing promotions for original programming on series such as Outlander, Da Vinci’s Demons and Flesh and Bone, including teasers, spots and graphics packages. His work for brands such as Enterprise, Nestle, Purina and Busch Gardens has earned him a Gold American Advertising Award (AAA), a Gold Addy Award and an AAF Best of Digital Award.

Texas native Moseley studied graphic design and 3D animation in Denver. He developed his career at a Texas news channel, handling the video and graphics for the channel’s website. While there he learned post production. He then worked as a video editor/animator at Denver-based ORCC, later relocating to St. Louis to take a position as senior motion graphics/VFX artist at 90 Degrees West. While there, he contributed to post projects from concept through completion for national brands including Anheuser Busch, Enterprise and UPS, among others. An opportunity as an in-house broadcast designer at Starz Entertainment led Moseley back to Denver in 2014, before once again returning to Dallas once again to join the Reel FX team.

Bill Hewes

Behind the Title: Click 3X executive producer Bill Hewes

NAME: Bill Hewes

COMPANY: Click 3X  (@Click3X) in New York City.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a digital creation studio that also provides post and animation services.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I am an executive producer with a roster of animation and live-action directors.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing everything from the initial creative pitch, working closely with directors, budgeting, approach to a given project, overseeing line producers for shooting, animation and post, client relations and problem solving.

PGIM Prudential

One recent project was this animated spot for a Prudential Global Investment Management campaign.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably that there is no limit to the job description — it involves business skills, a creative sensibility, communication and logistics. It is not about the big decisions, but more about the hundreds of small ones made moment to moment in a given day that add up.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Winning projects.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Losing projects

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Depends on the day and where I am.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
A park ranger at Gettysburg.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I didn’t choose it. I had been on another career path in the maritime transportation industry and did not want to get on another ship, so I took an entry-level job at a video production company. From day one, there was not a day I did not want to go to work. I was fortunate to have had great mentors that made it possible to learn and advance.

Click it or Ticket

‘Click it or Ticket’ for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Two animated spots for Prudential Global Investment Management, commercials and a social media campaign for Ford Trucks, and two humorous online animated spots for the NHTSA’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
A few years back, I took some time off and worked with a director for several months creating films for Amnesty International. Oh, and putting a Dodge Viper on a lava field on a mountain in Hawaii.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The wheel, anesthesia and my iPhone.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I share an office, so we take turns picking the music selections. Lately, we’ve been listening to a lot of Kamasi Washington, Telemann, J Mascis and My Bloody Valentine.

I also would highly recommend, “I Plan to Stay a Believer” by William Parker and the album, “The Inside Songs” by Curtis Mayfield.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Jeet Kune Do, boxing, Muy Thai, Kali/Escrima, knife sparring, and some grappling. But I do this outside of the office.

The Famous Grouse

Putting The Famous Grouse into CG environs for holiday spots

By Randi Altman

Flaunt Productions in Glasgow teamed up with the Leith Agency on a two-spot campaign for the Scottish blended whisky brand, The Famous Grouse. Heading the effort was director Ben Craig and Flaunt’s head of lighting, Jon Neill — they were tasked with putting the iconic grouse into a CG version of his natural environment for these holiday-themed ads.

The first spot, Perfectly Balanced, was released earlier this month and takes the viewer on a flight through the Scottish Highlands to reveal the Grouse with his chest puffed out and feeling proud of his environment. The second commercial, called Smooth, which aired the week of Black Friday, starts as the camera spins through the snowy Scottish Highlands.

flauntTo create the cinematic photoreal landscape, Neill and some of the team shot drone footage in Glencoe, which allowed real-life textures to be applied to the CG world.

In order to create a realistic grouse, Flaunt applied a feather system based on a fur and procedural shader that gave on organic look to the model. When it came to movement of the body and wing feathers, specific movements had to be animated to give a sense of realistic movement and the personality that is associated with the Famous Grouse.

We reached out to executive producer Andrew Pearce about the project and its workflow…

Photo:Mike Scott

Andrew Pearce

How early did you get involved in the project? Was the agency up for suggestions, or did they already have a specific plan locked in?
Director Ben Craig worked with Flaunt on a creative treatment, based on scripts from The Leith Agency. Their central idea was to bring the much-loved Grouse into his home environment: the epic, sweeping Scottish Highlands. Previously, all ads had been set against an infinite white background. With that in mind, we worked collaboratively with the agency to bring the ads to life.

The first stage after treatment would normally be storyboard. However, because our camera move was so extreme, we felt a 2D animatic would be misleading, so we proceeded straight to previs.

You used drone footage for the Grouse’s environment. How did you go about turning it into CG?
We drove up to the Glencoe ski resort and jumped onto the ski lift to get as high as possible. After a 30-minute walk, we attached a camera to the drone and sent it up into the sky — 360 overlapping stills were taken at three different heights.

We merged the images together to create a 360-panorama and applied this to geometry in Autodesk Maya. From there we rendered out the shot with this background, making creative decisions on what to add or take away. Next, we made simple 3D hills on which to project the images, thus providing parallax and a three-dimensional feel.

Was Maya your main animation software? Did you write your own particle systems off of that? What other tools were used?
Maya was used for animation, Side Effects Houdini for FX, Houdini Mantra for lighting and Nuke for compositing. We also had to write a feather system for the Grouse, which worked inside Houdini.

Can you talk about giving the Grouse personality in the CG world? What about facial (or beak) expressions, and his eyes and movements?
For these adverts, the Grouse was in a real-world environment. With that in mind, we didn’t want to go over the top with cartoony animation. The realism of the Grouse asset wouldn’t support that style, but we needed to give the Grouse some character beyond that of a real one.

Real grouse faces don’t move that much, and we didn’t want to change the anatomy too much. So we used the eyebrows and eyes as much as we could. Our rig also enabled us to exaggerate the shape of the eyes and eyebrows beyond the norm. These subtle anatomical exaggerations were enough for us to push the facial animation enough to engage the viewer.

When it came to the motions of the Grouse, we had to tread a fine line between realistic and anthropomorphic — fans of this brand love how it has moved in previous campaigns. We created various versions of all the actions as we honed in on the motion we wanted. The Grouse’s wink at the end of one of the adverts was the product of many iterations, having explored head tilts, nods, lifts, raised eyebrows and so on.

Before we leave you, anything you would like to add?
We had to strike a balance between a look that was both realistic and magical. This was partly achieved by mashing up some of the most incredible landscapes in Scotland. To augment the magical feel, we added lens flares and camera lens aberrations in the compositing. Subtle pollen particles were also added to give a sense of space as we flew through the environment.

Check out the making of the video here.

Behind the Title: Iloura lead animator Dean Elliott

NAME: Dean Elliott

COMPANY: Iloura (@iloura_vfx)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ILOURA?
Based in Melbourne and Sydney, Iloura houses a collective of animation and VFX artists.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Lead Animator

THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role can change depending on the project that I’m working on at the time. On a production with only a small scope for character animation like Mad Max: Fury Road, I will work purely as an animator producing shots for the film, whereas on a larger character-based film like SpongeBob SquarePants I would work as a more traditional lead — helping other animators to hit required notes, communicating direction and working as a sounding board for any performance ideas they may have.

Then on a production like Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards, l spent most of my time supervising the complex crowd system we developed to extend the scope of our hero keyframe animation.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Somehow l seem to have ended up spending a lot of time in the mocap suit over the past 12 months. This isn’t something l had intended, but it does make it a lot easier when l can plan and generate complex performances that would be otherwise very difficult to achieve directing other actors, or purely by keyframing.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I’ve been working as an animator for over 15 years now at various studios.

HOW HAS YOUR PART OF THE INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? 
As an animator, I haven’t seen any great advances in the technology we use to do our job. At the end of the day, animators only really have to deal with timing and poses. The biggest change has been the career becoming more accessible as a profession, and it’s been a good one. The tools have leveled the playing field, and now when we look for animators we don’t need to look for traditional art skills like drawing. As long as they understand performance and movement they can produce amazing work.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
Like most people in the industry I had a lot of influences that led me in this direction, but the main film that finally tipped me over was A Bug’s Life. I could see a very strong future for 3D animation watching that film; that was when l thought l could make a career out of a hobby.

DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL FOR ANIMATION?
Not for animation. There were no courses available for animation when l left school. So instead l studied illustration to build my creative skills, and in my spare time researched animation on the Internet and taught myself at home.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I really enjoy the start of each production. Doing motion tests to establish how a character will move and looking at the storyboards or previs for the first time.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
When you’re getting close to the deadline and the schedule becomes more important than reworking the shot because you came up with a better idea for the character.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d love to say l would be a pilot. But then again, l spent so much time drawing in school that my grades weren’t very good, so l doubt anyone would have let me fly 50 tons of metal across the sky. (Which is probably best, now that l think of it.)

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We recently finished production on Underworld 5, and before that we completed the Battle of the Bastards sequence in Season 6, Episode 9 of Game of Thrones.

The Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

WHAT IS THE PROJECT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I think Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards has been the most rewarding. We set out to greatly improve our crowd animation for the sequence, and it’s probably the only project l’ve worked on where the final result looked as good what I had imagined it would be when I started.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
Along with a number of in-house tools, we rely on Maya day to day for all of our keyframe animation. We have also recently started using Massive for crowds and iPi Motion Capture in a small in-house mocap space.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Many places. It’s very easy to find your way to a lot of very impressive work on the Internet these days. I’m probably most inspired by work in other films, and I follow a lot of illustrators and artists as well.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Leave work and go home.