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Scott Wooden

Design Investigation // Semester 4

Design Investigation Brief Introduction For this design investigation brief, I plan to explore the field of 3D computer animation and Visual Effects. 3D animation has become a major industry in itself over the last 20 years and more films are being animated from beginning to end. The increasing power of technology, and development of software, it is getting easier to create captivating films even for the amateur. Through this investigation I want to explore the industry in terms of the studio experience and how a large studio operates. I intend to look into interviews, online portfolio’s, and general information into the world of 3D computer animation as well as creating my own interviews for people in the industry. What do I already know? Listing out what I know will help me figure out what I don’t know the therefore want to find out. • • •

Software Skills (3D Max, Photoshop, After Effects) Knowledge on the process of making a film - Production, PostProduction What makes a visually interesting film/animation.

What do I want to find out? I had some initial questions when starting this project to help push my research into a certain field. The questions are shown below: • • • •

The pipeline and process behind making an animation in a large studio What software/hardware the industry uses. Relationships in the studio between supervisors, directors. How decisions are made into the look of the film. Who makes these decisions? Studio’s in London, their internship programs, how to apply. How to get noticed.

Pixar The king of 3D Computer animation. The majority of people have seen one of their films and they have won countless awards due to their unique styles and stories. I brought up pixar because when I watch their films I always think of the same thing. Who designed this world? This is where I start my research, looking into the role of an environmental designer. Pixar films have been renowned for being visually stunning and a huge part of that is the design of the world the characters immerse themselves in. It has to be believable, with reference to the real world and on top of that, look good.



Left (Large) - Monsters Inc. 2001. Middle top - Finding Nemo. 2003. Middle Bottom - Ratatouille. 2007. Top Right - Up. 2009. Bottom Right - Toy Story 3. 2010.

Scott Wooden

Design Investigation // Semester 4

Scott Wooden

Initial Research

Further Research

Environmental Designer & Animators Interview

Difference Between Small & Large Studios

The initial role I looked into was environmental designer as well as animation roles not so much for animation but their experience working in this industry. I found some useful interviews that describe their experience working on one a fully computer animated film and their answers helped direct me towards further research.

After the previous research the next questions I want answered is whether you have more creative freedom in a large or small studio. To answer these questions I have found an interview featuring a supervisor at a medium sized studio and conducted an interview featuring a modeller TD in a large studio.

Environmental Designer

James Sindle - Visual FX Supervisor at The Mill

The environmental designer works at the post-production stage of film. Research, planning and sketching ideas for the look and feel of the film. They work closely with the Director and Art Director to bring the script to life through the environment. This provokes a number of challenges as the environment has to portray tone, atmosphere, mood, history and generally feel believable to the viewer.

James Sindle works in a well known visual effects company called The Mill. In this online video interview he talks about his contributions to one of his projects. This project was an T.V advertising project on “Drench” a bottled water company. In this interview he talks about his number of roles with this project. As well as attending all client meetings from start to finish he oversaw the entire project and was also helping in the rigging and rendering of the scene.

The designer helps narrate the story through a number of design elements that make up the environment. It starts with the content, the buildings, roads, props, terrain and this is planned out from the script. The next are the textures, making sure everything in the scene does not look flat but have a certain feel to every object. Lighting just as important as any other element of the film as it greatly effects the mood of the scene. The final elements are the atmospheric effects, either dust, rain, snow. Also anything in the environment that would have to be animated such as blowing trees, birds flying, insects would have to be though of at this stage of the production.

I much like this way of working as you have a lot more involvement into the project. You can oversee the project from start to finish and see it take shape. I have doubts that in a large animation studio your work may almost go unnoticed and you will feel little involvement in it. I decided to find out by interviewing a number of recent employees at these large animation studios.

These ideas are composed and sketched by a number of concept artists who help the Art Director in visualising the film to show to the director. The artists also draw most of the elements in the scene individually, in different angles to be analysed and modelled by the 3D modellers.

Plan for Interview I came up with a quick plan to see how I was going to approach people for interview. I wanted to come across as friendly and genuinely interested in their story which I think is important. To achieve this before asking them any questions I read up on them. I looked at what I could find on the internet about them. Their work, likes and any other interviews they may have had. This way I won’t ask the same questions they have answered many times and I can shape my own interview around their previous ones to try and get a more detailed response on the things I want to know.

Skill Environmental designers have a fairly different set of skills than any other people in the production team. Most environmental artists have some knowledge in architecture and urban planning which help the films have a bit of realism. They have to understand the complexity of the forces of nature, how they shape the environment and put this to practice in these scenes. Designers need to understand and have a lot of knowledge on different materials and their aesthetic properties. As well as fundamental knowledge in the use of space, light, texture and form to convey mood and plot.

I emailed six people. Three people who have recently began working at a large production house and three seniors who have worked in that environment for some time. That way I can get a mixed opinion from two different groups of people.

Pixar Animators Interview (Pixar)

Art Director of Shaders (Pixar)

The interviews I found online where a significant part of my research as it led me to a different path with what I wanted to find out next. These interviews gave me an insight into the world of such a large scale studio as Pixar. Below are some interview snippets which I though where most interesting:

I found an interview with the person in charge of the textures of the film. They are responsible for the characters skin, fur, scales as well as anything in the environment with complex textures. The snippet below of the interview is one I found most useful.

“I’m fine with it. It took me about 3 weeks to really get comfortable with, though I tend to learn software pretty fast. It’s different from any other software out there.” “Sometimes 3 second shots take 2 weeks to complete” “Patience. Honestly, I think it’s probably the most challenging thing. Making a [computer-animated film] is a long, slow process, so you have to be patient and positive.” “If the director likes where you are going with the shot, then awesome, you go ahead and start putting details in it and polish things up.” Firstly, this interview tells me that more than likely I will be using a different program to create animations/models. It teaches me to be prepared to learn new software in a matter of weeks and I will be ready for that. The interview also talks about being patient and it is something I never really thought about in the computer animation industry. The last snippet isn’t much but it led me to think about the relationship they have with the director. Seeing as the director is in charge he gets final say on all the shots going into the film. This made me think as I also want to contribute to the look of the film.

Response I managed to get one response from the six I chose but my personal tactic seemed to pay of as it was extremely detailed with each question. The email I sent him is shown right. Adam Dewhirst - Modeller TD at Cinecite

“I try to offer up a small “palette” of choices for the director to choose from. When I say palette, I really mean an array of colors and surfaces that they might want to see on the particular object or character.”

Adam works as a modeller at a large production house called Cinecite. They specialise in VFX for large title films. Below are a few snippets of the most important and useful bits of his answer.

The Art Director almost pitches their idea to the director and if they agree it will be put into the scene. This relationship is similar to a client relationship where you have to pitch your work to them. I found this interesting seeing as it seems in a large production house there are few people who are actually in charge of the look of the film.

“... normally concept work is done prior to a modeller getting his instructions. a lot of the time you are asked to build photo real sets, so there is very little room for experimentation as you have to make it accurate...” “... the fighting polar bears in ‘the golden compass’ for that I was given quite a wide and open instruction when it came to the bear armour. sure we have concept art, but they were also happy for me to make a lot of my own decisons. but I think this is a rare occurance.”

I planned to explore this further in the next set of research through researching other peoples experience in these animation studios.

“... companies tend to like you stay in one place - you have a modelling contact, therefore your a modeller, its very hard to move between disiplines.” “... you dont really see them, sometimes a vfx producer might visit the facility you work at, but they tend to only meet with the producer and supervisor for the project. on very rare occasions a director might visit.”

My next step was to find an interview from an art director and see their take on their creative freedom.


Design Investigation // Semester 4


These answers have given me a very clear insight into the world on the computer animation industry. It seems to me from this interview that a large VFX/Animation studio is much like a factory assembly line, where you get given something to make and you have to do it as instructed with little freedom to change. On the other hand, if I want to work in major films



which I am interested I would have to be prepared for this, and that my ideas will most likely not be inputted into the film. This makes me wonder whether a large production company is the way to go, or simply to aim for a higher position where you can help design the look of the film with the director. Either way looking into the computer animation industry is confusing as there are so many routes to go down. What shall I do? My design artefact should help me with this.

Scott Wooden

Design Investigation // Semester 4

Scott Wooden

Design Investigation // Semester 4

Above were other ideas of expressing myself.

Idea Development

Idea Development

Initial Ideas & Sketches & CV

Infographic Development & Visual Style

An initial mind map led me to the idea of creating an A - Z book of 3D computer animation vocabulary such as Lighting and Rigging. This would be accompanied by a short description of why it is important and the jobs available in that region. However time was short and thus I settled for the idea of an infographic. I wanted to create something that gave graduates a quick overview into the world of computer animation the jobs available, and the pipeline of a project from start to finish. To create this I though about my previous comparison of a large production company being a factory thus I decided to create a blueprint like infographic with a clear pipeline where along it you would see the different production processes and jobs. Firstly, I listed all the jobs available in computer animation and linked them in terms of communication. Who talks to who. I had a lot of research into the operation of an animation studio so getting a list of jobs was easy enough from a number of websites. EGNM2008


Creating my CV

himself vocally.

As a side project I wanted to begin thinking about how I would contact these studios for internship and work placements. I decided to create a unique CV with a QR code that would link to my showreel/portfolio.

My idea consists of a picture filled with things I like and use. It allows me to express my self in a more visual manner rather than writing about it.

To create the blueprint stye for my infographic. I decided to create the main object elements in 3D and texture them using the wireframe setting. That way I can create a realistic blueprint in little time and I can also adjust the settings to tweak the style. The sketch above was the initial idea in that a large pipe is seen going through the rooms much line an assembly line. The boxes represent each stage of production and the circles would be the jobs in that area. The pictures above show the different visual styles I experimented with. The renders turned out extremely detailed and the geometric patterns looked great. It also helped portray the idea of 3D as it resembles polygons and wireframes used during production.

I got this idea from a someone also creating a CV (shown above) where they used the QR code to play a video of the mouth portion of his face. This gave his CV a fresh originality and allowed him to express EGNM2008


Scott Wooden

Design Investigation // Semester 4

Final Outcome Outcome & Evaluation I think the final outcome turned out really well and the way I laid out the information is clear and simple to follow. The colours where corrected in photoshop as I though it was too blue thus it is now a lot more subtle to the eye. The wireframe worked really well in portraying the idea of a blueprint plan and clearly defines the different sections of production. I chose a font that was bold, clear and easily readable as it goes hand in hand with the illustration. Overall this project as helped me a lot in guiding me to the next step after university. I definitely know what I want to head towards and that is Art Director. Someone that makes the decisions for the look of the film. I am going to have to work my way up towards this position and with this infographic I can plan out what route I want to take up there. There were some things about this project I would improve and that area would be the pursuing of people for interview. I feel as though EGNM2008


I could have done more to get interviews of people. I did not really think to look into forums, and other areas online where many 3D artists discuss their experiences and ideas. In terms of pursuing a work placement I feel as though I could have put more effort into that area also and spent more time planning a unique way to get noticed. I still plan to do this and I aim to get an internship into a well established studio by summer. This project has helped in the direction to do this in and it has definitely given me an advantage into getting in a studio.

Design Investigation  

Scott Wooden Semester 4, EGNM2008

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