Tag Archives: Sophia Kyriacou

Behind the Title: Broadcast Designer/3D Artist Sophia Kyriacou

NAME: London-based Sophia Kyriacou

COMPANY: I’m a freelancer, but split my time working for the BBC in London as well.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE KIND OF WORK YOU DO?
Mostly broadcast design creation, but I’m looking to branch out into features as well.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Broadcast designer and 3D artist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I design everything from opening titles, content graphics, 3D explainers to program designs and program branding projects. I design for a variety of genres and age groups.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Directing shoots for opening titles sequences or content work. Some clients think motion designers only sit in front of a computer all day working digitally, and for some, that is the case and it’s absolutely fine. However, our work does also include directing or co-directing, especially if the work you are creating is footage-based — a combination that needs heavy post or simply making sure you have the required shots you need from your client approved storyboard.

It is essential for designers to be part of the process and work with everyone on the shoot, especially the director of photography, to discuss lighting and composition and make sure you get all the shots you need. Decreasing budgets over the years has naturally impacted this valuable skill and, sadly, some designers have never even had the chance to experience directing, forcing creation to be computer-based from start to finish.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I’ve always enjoyed seeing the creative process through with my client. They are key to the process and should always be made to feel part of it. While everything I create is for a client and their audience, there is no denying that what the customer needs must always be paramount.

Understanding your target audience is very important, and as a designer you must always bear in mind that while you want to create a strong body of work, you are never designing for yourself.

Looking for Safe Shores

“Looking for Safe Shores” courtesy of the UNHCR.

What I also love about my work is the variety and the creative satisfaction I get from bringing visually engaging sequences to life. While I am always learning something new, I will never let myself be dictated by faddy design trends and popular plug-ins. For me, the concept is my focus — strong ideas with appropriately strong execution.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Having to make a call when tweaks are beyond what is considered as acceptable. With any project you take on, one to two reasonable tweaks are very much part of the process, and it’s a good thing as projects can dramatically improve. If clients want endless tweaks beyond the initial budget for free, that’s not good at all. Nobody should be expected to keep tweaking endlessly for free, so I am very firm with that.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The morning! Working sensibly is very important, and I find that not only do I create my best ideas at the earliest part of the day I am at my most productive as well.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
This is a tricky question, as the creative world has been very much embedded and a part of my life for an incredibly long time. There are many areas I have an interest in, but possibly a career in science and technology… an inventor perhaps?!

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I was always been interested in art, way before my age hit double figures. For me, painting and drawing was natural and something I wanted to do and learn out of my own choice. My interest in art then grew into design and photography.

One thing started to influence the other, and once I started my training, that expanded to include advertising and animation as well. It was my passion for studio photography that inspired me into the moving image. I simply wanted to make my photography move, so one day I took the Super 16mm Bolex film camera out of retirement from the photographic studio and took it to the Film Stock Centre in Wardour Street, which sadly is closed down now. I held it up and asked the staff, “What film do I need?” I then loaded it up and off I went.

I never believed in rules. I always wanted my film graded my way so that it was aesthetically pleasing and not the way that was considered technically correct. This was simply because I wanted my film to look a certain way and play a role in the concept. I was, and still am, a firm believer that if you know less about something, it has a bigger influence in your end result because you never have pre-conceived ideas of where you are heading. There is something incredibly tactile about film that digital doesn’t give you.

As my work became more motion-based, I started to write scripts for animated shorts. I had hideously long journey’s traveling to and from art college every day, so I would write scripts on the bus and tube, sometimes laughing to myself as I read through them. I became very interested in narrative. Telling a story along a timeline is essentially what I do now, whether it is an opening title sequence for a show or an explainer for a variety of subjects and audiences; I’m essentially a storyteller using imagery and sound, and I love it.

Paper Town

Paper Town – Courtesy of BBC News

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
It’s hard to choose any one favorite, as they are all so different. A piece of work I created for the BBC, commissioned by the BBC Business Unit called Paper Town is probably one of my favorite BBC sequences. The overall process of modeling to the animation was so enjoyable and an effective technique too. It was also nominated for a PromaxBDA Global Excellence Award, and it changed my career path in a very positive way.

Another project I recently finished was for one of my private clients at Noon Visual Creatives. Called The Human Rights Zoetrope, it was an amazing project in many ways. It gave me the chance to get absorbed into the concept and build a fully functional 3D zoetrope, which is something I’ve always wanted to do in 3D. The Human Rights Zoetrope also recently won Gold at the Muse Creative Awards 2016

The Human Rights Zoetrope.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It has got to be The Human Rights Zoetrope. While I have not been freelancing very long, it was the first project I was awarded as a creative independent. That aside, I am very proud of all my achievements, including the BBC, but this was a special moment for me. It’s about getting the recognition on your own and that really does taste very sweet.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My iPhone. I love my phone, keeping track of my emails and social media is incredibly important, especially when you are self-employed and have to constantly market yourself.

I love my Mac Pro and my new rendering PC. Having reliable kit is essential. I will most likely add another PC workstation to my rendering family soon, but for large-scale processor-heavy rendering, I would use an external renderfarm.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I have a Facebook page that I use to plug anything new and reinforce projects I feel proud of. I have a steady stream of followers, which is great.

I have started using Instagram again. I like Instagram because I’ve found that generally audiences respond immediately to eye-catching imagery. In a world where everything is becoming more and more fast paced, it is easier to like a strong static image than a video… unless you are a potential client. They would want to see my latest reel and other supporting motion sequences.

I really like Vimeo and Behance. YouTube is great, but because it’s so vast in scale it does have the tendency to attract some undesirables.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Sometimes I do, yes. It all depends what I am creating. Music naturally influences art and design, so it can dramatically have an effect on an overall design at the concept stage.

I sometimes find playing uplifting music, like dance or R&B, while 3D modeling very therapeutic and it makes me work to a regular pace. Within my work I am mostly choreographing to sounds or music anyway, so music does play a huge part within the whole creating and building workflow.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I enjoy spending time with family and close friends. Stepping back is essential, not only for the sake of individual well-being, but who wants stale ideas? Everyone should take a breather to recharge physically and mentally. Giving yourself that timeout will only help promote the best creativity and outcome. Working when fatigued does not help anyone and only hinders the whole creative and production process. Even screen breaks will help you look at your work differently when you return to your workstation. When you stare at the screen too long you stop seeing what isn’t working. Screen breaks not only help rest your eyes, but also help to improve the whole design and creation process. I can’t stress how important it is, and it’s something I do take seriously.

Check out my reel!

The creative process behind The Human Rights Zoetrope

By Sophia Kyriacou

As an artist working in the broadcast industry of almost 20 years, I’ve designed everything from opening title sequences to program brands to content graphics. About three years into my career, I was asked to redesign a program entirely in 3D. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over two years ago I was working full-time at the BBC doing the same work as I am doing now, broadcast designer and 3D artist, but decided it was time to cut my time in half and allow myself to focus on my own creative ventures. I wanted to work with external and varied clients, both here in the UK and internationally. I also wanted to use my spare time for development work. In an industry where technology is constantly evolving it’s essential to keep ahead of the game.

One of those creative ventures was commissioned by Noon Visual Creatives — a London-based production and post company that serves several Arabic broadcasters in both the United Kingdom and worldwide — to create a television branding package for a program called Human Rights.

I had previously worked with Noon on a documentary about the ill-fated 1999 EgyptAir plane crash (which is still awaiting broadcast), so when I was approached again I was more than happy to create their Human Rights brand.

My Inspiration
I was very lucky in that my client essentially gave me free rein, which I find is a rarity these days. I have always been excited and inspired by the works of the creative illusionist M.C Escher. His work has always made me think and explore how you can hook your viewer by giving them something to unravel and interact with. His 1960 lithograph, called Ascending and Descending, was my initial starting point. There was something about the figures going round and round but getting nowhere.The Human Rights Zeotrope Titles

While Escher’s work kickstarted my creative process I also wanted to create something that was illusion-based, so I revisited Mark Gertler’s Merry-Go-Round. As a young art student I had his poster on my wall. Sometimes I would find myself staring at it for hours, looking at the people’s expressions and the movement Gertler had expressed in the figures with his onion-skin-style strokes. There was so much movement within the painting that it jumped out at me. I loved the contrasting colors of orange and blue, the composition was incredibly strong and animated.

I have always been fascinated by the mechanics of old hand-cranked metal toys, including zoetropes, and I have always loved how inanimate objects could come alive to tell you a story. It is very powerful. You have the control to be given the narrative or you can walk away from it — it’s about making a choice and being in control.

Once I had established I was going to build a 3D zoetrope, I explored the mechanics of building one. It was the perfect object to address the issue of human rights because without the trigger it would remain lifeless. I then starting digging into the declaration of Human Rights to put forward a proposal of what I thought would work within their program. I shortlisted 10 rights and culled that down to the final eight. Everything had to be considered. The positioning of the final eight had their own hierarchy and place.

At the base of the zoetrope are water pumps, signifying the right to clean water and sanitation. This is the most important element of the entire zoetrope, grounding the entire structure, as without water, there simply is no life, no existence. Above, a prisoner gestures for attention to the outside world, its environment completely contradicting, given hope by an energetic burst of comforting orange. The gavel references the rights for justice and are subliminally inspired by the hammers walking defiantly within the Pink Floyd video, Another Brick in the Wall. The gavel within the zoetrope becomes that monumental object of power, helped along by the dynamic camera with repetitions of itself staggered over time like echoes on a loop. Surrounding the gavel of justice is a dove flying free from a metal birdcage in a shape of the world. This was my reference to the wonderful book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou.

My client wanted to highlight the crisis of the Syrian refugees, so I decided to depict an exhausted child wearing a life jacket, suggesting he had travelled across the Mediterranean Sea, while a young girl at his side, oblivious, happily plays with a spinning top. I wanted to show the negativity being cancelled out by optimism.

To hammer home the feeling of isolation and emptiness that the lack of human rights brings forth, I placed the zoetrope into a cold and almost brutal environment: an empty warehouse. My theme of the positivity canceling out negativity once again is echoed as the sunlight penetrates through hitting the cold floor in an attempt to signify hope and reconnect with the outside world.

the-human-rights-zoetrope_gavel-shotEvery level of detail was broken up into sections. I created very simple one-second loops of animation that were subtle, but enough to tell the story. Once I had animated each section, it was a case of painstakingly pulling apart each object into a stop-frame animated existence so once they were placed in their position and spun, they would animate back into life again.

My Workflow
For ease and budget, I used Poser Pro, a character-based software to animate all the figures in isolation first. Using both the PoserFusion plug-in and the Alembic export, I was able to import each looping character into Maxon Cinema 4D where I froze and separated each 3D object one by one. Any looping objects that were not figure-based were all modelled and animated within Cinema 4D. Once the individual components were animated and positioned, I imported everything into a master 3D scene where I was able to focus on the lighting and camera shots.

For the zoetrope centrepiece, I built a simple lighting rig made up of the GSG Light Kit Pro, two soft boxes, that I had adapted and placed within a NULL and an area Omni light above. This allowed me to rotate the rig around according to my camera shot. Having a default position and brightness set-up was great and helped to get me out of trouble if I got a little too carried away with the settings, and the lighting didn’t change too dramatically on each camera shot. I also added a couple of Visible Area Spotlights out of the warehouse pointing inwards to give the environment a foggy distant feel.

I deliberately chose not to render using volumetric lighting because I didn’t want that specific look and did not want any light bursts hitting my zoetrope. The zoetrope was the star of the show and nothing else. Another lighting feature I tend to use within my work is the combination of the Physical Sky and the Sun. Both give a natural warm feel and I wanted sunlight to burst through the window; it was conceptually important and it added balance to the composition.

The most challenging part of the entire project was getting the lighting to work seamlessly throughout, as well as the composition within some of the camera shots. Some shots were very tight in frame, so I could not rely on the default rig and needed additional lighting to catch objects where the 3-point lights didn’t work so well. I had decided very early on, that rather than work from a single master file, as with the lighting, I had a default “get me out of trouble” master, saving each shot with its own independent settings as I went along to keep my workflow clean. Each scene file was around a gigabyte in size as none of the objects within the zoetrope were parametric anymore once they had been split, separated-out and converted to polygons.

My working machine was a 3.2GHz 8-core Mac Pro with 24GB of RAM, rendered out on a PC — custom-built 3X3 machine — with an Intel Core Processor i7 5960X with water cooling, 32GB RAM and clockable to 4.5GHz.

Since completion, The Human Rights Zoetrope titles have won several awards, including a Gold at the Muse Creative Awards in the Best Motion Graphics category, a Platinum Best of Show in the Art Direction category, and a Gold in the Best Graphic Design category at the Aurora Awards.

The Human Rights Zoetrope is also a Finalist at the New York Festivals 2017 in the Animation: Promotion/Open & IDs category. The winners will be announced at the NAB Show.

 

Sophia Kyriacou is a London-based broadcast designer and 3D artist.

My first trip to IBC

By Sophia Kyriacou

When I was asked by the team at Maxon to present my work at their IBC stand this year, I jumped at the chance. I’m a London-based working professional with 20 years of experience as a designer and 3D artist, but I had never been to an IBC. My first impression of the RAI convention center in Amsterdam was that it’s super huge and easy to get lost in for days. But once I found the halls relevant to my interests, the creative and technical buzz hit me like heat in the face when disembarking from a plane in a hot humid summer. It was immediate, and it felt so good!

The sounds and lights were intense. I was surrounded by booths with baselines of audio vibrating against the floor changing as you walked along. It was a great atmosphere; so warm and friendly.

My first Maxon presentation was on day two of IBC — it was a show-and-tell of three award-winning and nominated sequences I created for the BBC in London and one for Noon Visual Creatives. As a Cinema 4D user, it was great to see the audience at the stand captivated by my work. and knowing it was streamed live to a large audience globally made it even more exciting.

The great thing about IBC is that it’s not only about companies shouting about their new toys. I also saw how it brings passionate pros from all over the world together — people you would never meet in your usual day-to-day work life. I met people from all over globe and made new friends. Everyone appeared to share the same or similar experience, which was wonderful.

The great thing about having the first presentation of the day at Maxon meant I could take a breather and look around the show. I also sat in on a Dell Precision/Radeon Technologies roundtable event one afternoon. That was a really interesting meeting. We were a group of pros from varied disciplines within the industry. It was great to talk about what hardware works, what doesn’t work, and how it could all get better. I don’t work in a realtime area, but I do know what I would like to see as someone who works in 3D. It was incredibly interesting, and everyone was so welcoming. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday evening, I went over to the SuperMeet — such an energetic and friendly vibe. The stage demos were very interesting. I was particularly taken with the fayIN tracker plug-in for Adobe After Effects. It appears to be a very effective tool, and I will certainly look into purchasing it. The new Adobe Premiere features look fantastic as well.

Everything about my time at IBC was so enjoyable. I went back London buzzing, and am already looking forward to next year’s IBC show.

Sophia Kyriacou is a London-based broadcast designer and 3D artist who splits her time working as a freelancer and for the BBC.