After studying hand-drawn animation, this artist found his way to visual effects.
NAME: NYC-based Ruairi Twohig
COMPANY: Moving Picture Company (MPC)
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MPC is a global creative and visual effects studio with locations in London, Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Paris, Bangalore and Amsterdam. We work with clients and brands across a range of different industries, handling everything from original ideas through to finished production.
WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I work as a 2D lead/senior compositor.
WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
The tasks and responsibilities can vary depending on the project. My involvement with a project can begin before there’s even a script or storyboard, and we need to estimate how much VFX will be involved and how long it will take. As the project develops and the direction becomes clearer, with scripts and storyboards and concept art, we refine this estimate and schedule and work with our clients to plan the shoot and make sure we have all the information and assets we need.
Once the commercial is shot and we have an edit, the bulk of the post work begins. This can involve anything from compositing fully CG environments, dragons or spaceships to beauty and product/pack-shot touch-ups or rig removal. So, my role involves a combination of overall project management and planning. But I also get into the detailed shot work and ultimately delivering the final picture. But the majority of the work I do can require a large team of people with different specializations, and those are usually the projects I find the most fun and rewarding due to the collaborative nature of the work.
WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think the variety of the work would surprise most people unfamiliar with the industry. In a single day, I could be working on two or three completely different commercials with completely different challenges while also bidding future projects or reviewing prep work in the early stages of a current project.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I’ve been working in the industry for over 10 years.
HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING?
The VFX industry is always changing. I find it exciting to see how quickly the technology is advancing and becoming more widely accessible, cost-effective and faster.
I still find it hard to comprehend the idea of using optical printers for VFX back in the day … before my time. Some of the most interesting areas for me at the moment are the developments in realtime rendering from engines such as Unreal and Unity, and the implementation of AI/machine learning tools that might be able to automate some of the more time-consuming tasks in the future.
DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
I remember when I was 13, my older brother — who was studying architecture at the time — introduced me to 3ds Max, and I started playing around with some very simple modeling and rendering.
I would buy these monthly magazines like 3D World, which came with demo discs for different software and some CG animation compilations. One of the issues included the short CG film Fallen Art by Tomek Baginski. At the time I was mostly familiar with Pixar’s feature animation work like Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, so watching this short film created using similar techniques but with such a dark, mature tone and story really blew me away. It was this film that inspired me to pursue animation and, ultimately, visual effects.
DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
I studied traditional hand-drawn animation at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin. This was a really fun course in which we spent the first two years focusing on the craft of animation and the fundamental principles of art and design, followed by another two years in which we had a lot of freedom to make our own films. It was during these final two years of experimentation that I started to move away from traditional animation and focus more on learning CG and VFX.
I really owe a lot to my tutors, who were really supportive during that time. I also had the opportunity to learn from visiting animation masters such as Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg and John Canemaker. Although on the surface the work I do as a compositor is very different to animation, understanding those fundamental principles has really helped my compositing work; any additional disciplines or skills you develop in your career that require an eye for detail and aesthetics will always make you a better overall artist.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Even after 10 years in the industry, I still get satisfaction from the problem-solving aspect of the job, even on the smaller tasks. I love getting involved on the more creative projects, where I have the freedom to develop the “look” of the commercial/film. But, day to day, it’s really the team-based nature of the work that keeps me going. Working with other artists, producers, directors and clients to make a project look great is what I find really enjoyable.
WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Sometimes even if everything is planned and scheduled accordingly, a little hiccup along the way can easily impact a project, especially on jobs where you might only have a limited amount of time to get the work done. So it’s always important to work in such a way that allows you to adapt to sudden changes.
IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I used to draw all day, every day as a kid. I still sketch occasionally, but maybe I would have pursued a more traditional fine art or illustration career if I hadn’t found VFX.
CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Over the past year, I’ve worked on projects for clients such as Facebook, Adidas, Samsung and Verizon. I also worked on the Tiffany & Co. campaign “Believe in Dreams” directed by Francis Lawrence, as well as the company’s holiday campaign directed by Mark Romanek.
I also worked on Cadillac’s “Rise Above” campaign for the 2019 Oscars, which was challenging since we had to deliver four spots within a short timeframe. But it was a fun project. There was also the Michelob Ultra Robots Super Bowl spot earlier this year. That was an interesting project, as the work was completed between our LA, New York and London studios.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Last year, I had the chance to work with my friend and director Sofia Astrom on the music video for the song “Bone Dry” by Eels. It was an interesting project since I’d never done visual effects for a stop-motion animation before. This had its own challenges, and the style of the piece was very different compared to what I’m used to working on day to day. It had a much more handmade feel to it, and the visual effects design had to reflect that, which was such a change to the work I usually do in commercials, which generally leans more toward photorealistic visual effects work.
WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
I mostly work with Foundry Nuke for shot compositing. When leading a job that requires a broad overview of the project and timeline management/editorial tasks, I use Nuke Studio or
Autodesk Flame, depending on the requirements of the project. I also use ftrack daily for project management.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
I follow a lot of incredibly talented concept artists and photographers/filmmakers on Instagram. Viewing these images/videos on a tiny phone doesn’t always do justice to the work, but the platform is so active that it’s a great resource for inspiration and finding new artists.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to run and cycle around the city when I can. During the week it can be easy to get stuck in a routine of sitting in front of a screen, so getting out and about is a much-needed break for me.