VFX-Dailies welcomes Tara Donovan, (MPC Lead animator) and Phil Bonner, (Animal Logic Modelling Supervisor) as our mentors!
Hi Eric, thank you for your time! We collected some questions from our visitors and have filtered out the most valuable questions, so here it is!
How did you get to where you are now? As an animation supervisor at Scanline. what was your journey like?
I think "journey" is a very appropriate word when describing my career in visual effects. I got into this world not as a particularly big fan of animated films, but more as a movie fan. I've always been more interested in realistic creatures and characters than cartoon animation. I don't want to give the impression that I don't appreciate animated films, but that's not where the initial spark of interest was.
I started out in Vancouver doing VFX for television shows in the late 1990's, at a time when one had to be a generalist to find work. So, in small teams, we created a wide range of creatures, and their worlds, for TV programs and international commercials. In 2000 I got the opportunity to move to London and begin working on feature films. At this point I began to naturally gravitate toward creature specific work - rigging and animation, as the possibility to be more specialized appeared. Being a young man I also enjoyed that working in VFX gave me the "excuse" to travel - and so the journey began. After a few years in London I took contracts at studios in Los Angeles, Iceland, and New Zealand, finally ending up back in Vancouver as the local industry had its rapid growth.
What motivates you and where do you get your influence/creativity from?
That's an easy one to answer: from the movies I love (don't ask for a list or I'll be writing all day), and from the people I work with...energy and creativity begets energy and creativity - either from seeing it done well in films, or having people around you who are enjoying what they do.
Could you briefly describe your workflow (for blocking, breakdowns and polishing)? Do you work in stepped mode, spline, set keys on all the controls and etc?
I think workflow is very specific to the animator, and also to the type of shot. But generally I've always been a very complete pose animator - I generally key the entire character, setting enough poses to include most of the offsetting in right from the start then I play around with the spacing of the poses. Maybe this isn't a very common approach but it's been mine for 20+ years now - so I'm stuck with it haha. I try to be flexible with how animators want to show me their progress.
What were the most challenging experiences you ever faced as an animator?
If we're talking about challenging shows, as in the difficulty of the work - I'd have to say that the first "Transformers" would probably take the cake. We were asked to animate from a robot form, to it's other completely separately designed form, with no guidance on how that should happen - Just the start and end - and the direction that it couldn't be "magical". The rigs had no transformations built in, we simply moved every little piece, or arbitrarily split pieces off, but using our own custom constraint setups. It could take weeks to get a full transform to work, and if, in the end the client didn't like it - it usually meant starting over from scratch as nothing was transferable.
Of course there are different kinds of "challenges" in your career - internal and external. Internal challenges being lack of experience, struggling to correctly interpret a shot, having confidence in yourself...things we all deal with at some point; then there are external challenges, which in my experience are more common: Seemingly impossible deadlines, contradictory notes, moving goal posts, difficult personalities...I've had my share of all of these, both as an animator and as a supervisor.
I think many animators would want to ask, for animators who only have cartoon/tv/game experience, what advice would you give, what material would you be looking for (in their demoreels)?
That's a great question, because when reviewing reels this is something which comes up often. My advice would be this: Understand that in visual effects we're in the business of making things look realistic - and animating for visual effects means having the ability to make creatures, objects, vehicles, characters, and digi-doubles move in a physically believable, and interesting manner - which serves the story needing to be told in the shot or sequence. Some "cartoon" style demo reels have a little extra something which allows me to trust that the animator has the ability to create the sort of animation that we are after, but this is not very common. I would suggest to anyone looking to apply in vfx, without having any previous vfx experience, that they should create a couple of animation tests in that style - they don't need to be rendered photo-realistically - it's about showing off the animation. Understanding of camera work is also a great thing to so, as often it is up to us to create the cameras for fully CG shots.
What kinda of creature work would be the best to use (for Reels)? For example, a monkey, a quadruped, a bird, or a dragon?
For extra demo work, I'd say they're all useful to show - of course a bird just coasting in the air isn't really going to show off your skills, but a bird taking off or landing and hopping on the ground would be a great showcase. I'd suggest doing at least two different kinds of creatures - and pick something you are really interested in as you'll be more excited to study it, and put in the necessary time.
What kind of actions would be best to use for creature work?
Well, we're in the business of doing things which are hard to capture in camera, and generally for action sequences - so in my opinion it's important to do at least one piece which shows action; possibly an attack, or leaping/climbing over nearly impossible terrain. Find something in a movie you enjoy and try to emulate it - not copy the action, but look at the important beats and make your own version of the action.
How about human biped? What kind of action would you be looking for? Some animators like to animate fight scenes, parkour sequences, or even tigers/wolves fighting. What do you think would be the most ideal one that can fit into different studios?
I think, if someone wants to do a human piece for their vfx reel, it's probably important to make sure it's not something which could have been easily motion captured. We often do digi-doubles for insanely dangerous stunts, or fighting against creatures or other humans...so, in my opinion, anything along those lines would be a great, and widely applicable piece. If someone is looking to do humans in the "character" sense, it's important to note that most of this work is now done with facial and motion capture; if the animator has access to a good realistic facial rig they could consider animating to facial video reference to show their abilities in that realm.
Woah, Eric. I believe this article will help inform many animators looking to break into the VFX industry. Thank you so much for contributing!
Head of Department
@ ScanlineVFX Vancouver
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