Earlier this month I have attended the very popular animation festival, called Anifest in Canterbury. This event showed huge promise for learning new things and getting in touch with some of the leading professionals of the industry.
People from Pixar, Dreamworks, Double Negative, Aardman etc. have attended the festival and each of their shows left me with a couple of valuable thoughts I will keep with me.
There is this gap between what you experience from your own view and what you get from the online community and maybe even the university and the actual leading professionals. They always have one or two things to say that you had never really thought of, but once you hear it, makes huge sense.
First event was the presentation by Cassidy Curtis from Dreamworks. He pretty much went through the entire work pipeline that involves creating a final animation piece. The focus was more on the animation part of course, on which he gave quite an inspiring insight. He reinforced the idea that being able to act out, or having someone acting out a specific movement for you is crucial. Animation is the purest manifestation of acting, because it is all in the animator's head. You are channeling your understanding, your imagination and skills on to a puppet, which is fascinating.
Although, I tried to somehow take away something from an environment artist point of view. As I looked at his work I could tell that all the environments blended perfectly with the character's and the way they behaved. There was a tight connection between them and the surroundings did not only exist to hold the characters, but to be interactable.
Next presentation was Aardman's which at first glance might seem a bit irrelevant, since it is a stop-motion animation company. This was quite far from the truth as I`ve learned once again that the theoretical principles are absolutely the same, no matter the medium you use. Even with stop motion, I could see that the environment's and prop's color palette was carefully developed and blended nicely with that of the character's. It was obvious that everything was textured very carefully and by artists who understood color, texture and light theory. It's all very similar to Computer Graphics, it's "just" the techniques they use what are different.
Another crucial thing I take away from Aardman's presentation is the fact they admit, CG is being utilized more and more in stop-motion. Their new animations all have a significant amount of CG in them, like the backgrounds and some effects like smoke, water, splash etc. After the show I had the opportunity to talk with the two gentleman from Aardman and they pretty much reconfirmed that CG is being used more and more. This presents me with the knowledge that I might even utilize my CG skills in the stop-motion industry. This is good to hear as it provides more opportunity for work.
Pixar's show was incredibly inspiring, but hey.. what would you expect?! They've reinforced the idea of how important story and storytelling is. All of their work has an incredible amount of planning, research, testing and re-doing going into them. Another thing was interesting to know that they use all sorts of "cheats" to get the final visual result they are aiming for. By cheats I mean problem solving methods that might sounds insane at first, but in the end gets you from A to B.
In Bug's Life, there was an issue with the rocks in a puddle. The rocks' bottom half was in the water, whereas the upper part was sticking out. The artists did not want the bottom parts to be seen as it did not provide the intended visual result. They could not just delete the lower part as that would have affected the reflections and refractions on the water. Long story short: they came up with a so-called "Death Ray" which was a type of light source. Whatever was caught by the Death Ray's beam was completely invisible in the scene, yet it still affected in physically (it could still be seen in reflections, refractions etc.). This was an insane idea at the time, but hey.. as long as it works.. who cares.
On some occasions when I work on my own projects I stumble onto some weird problems that do not have a "you have to fix it like this" stamp on them. Rather, it requires some sort of individual work-around. By taking Pixar's Death Ray example, I feel more confident on going ahead and coming up with my own ideas to sort my problems out. Yes, the internet is a wonderful source for problem-solving but if you have the experience and creativity to do it yourself then you have a very valuable skill.
The last presentation was that of Double Negative which is a VFX Studio. They blend live footage with CG elements to get that absolutely realistic quality of supernatural shots. The presentation provided a nice, in-depth to their entire workflow and at the end I approached their staff to ask them regarding what they would expect to see on en Environment Artist's showreel. I wanted to know how I should develop my work so even a company who produces very realistic work would be interested.
The response I got was: "make your work look very cinematic". They went ahead and told me that color/tone, lighting and mood is crucial for making environments look interesting. They want to see places that by first glance look very appealing and draw the viewer in.
One of the best things I have done so far this year was attending Anifest. It made me shift my view somewhat on the more important things I need to concentrate on. CG is so vast and there are so many possibilities that it is easy to stray away from the actual important stuff. You need people to tell you and remind you of things you might have already known but forgotten. The human mind is very frustrating sometimes, because you actually forget things that you knew to be essential in the past. Networking events like this inspire you and refresh your mind and also provide you with the opportunity to start making yourself known in the industry.
You never know when you will again "bump" into a person you have already met and help you out.