Skip to content
“Do not be a magician – be magic!” Leonard Cohen.
As 3D artists, it can so often feel like it’s other people who call all the shots. Hollywood execs, Ad agencies, managers, clients. But they come to us for our expertise, because we can create magic.
Art, whatever its form, can speak to the audience so much more powerfully if it’s not just assembled in a manufacturing plant production line, but created by passionate artists. Those who through their passion can add those subtle details that truly bring their art to life for the audience. Be that.
Today is Thanksgiving in Canada.
What better day to express the huge gratitude I feel towards everyone around the world who has supported and encouraged me and my vision for empowering animation and visual effects artists in their art and in their careers. We wouldn’t have gotten here without you.
And to all the artists out there, what you do is f’ing awesome. Even if you rarely get the credit you deserve, don’t ever let that stop you doing what you do and don’t ever let go of the passion to entertain, inspire, push boundaries, and keep learning.
I was a student around the time that 3D World magazine launched. As they still do today, they invited 3D artists to submit their artwork. There were 3 common themes to the pieces they printed, all so cliched that the idealist in me swore that I would never be involved in creating any of those 3 subjects. Spaceships, robots and unrealistically-proportioned women.
Of course, my first job after graduating involved creating and animating spaceships for a theme park motion ride. My first film job was on Tomb Raider II, in which I had to create and animate an unrealistically proportioned digi-double of Angelina Jolie. And one of the toughest challenges of my career was creating the animation rig for Chappie, a robot with so many moving parts and mechanical restrictions, but which had to behave and interact just like a simple human rig.
Sometimes artists need to compromise on their ideals to pay the rent. Sometimes artists need to compromise on their ideals in order to get a break that leads them on to better options in the future. And sometimes tastes change, especially when an idealist wakes up and realises that some things are popular for good reason. When done well, spaceships and robots are awesome!
Models of unrealistically-proportioned women though? Still not cool.
If the hero in our story has super human powers and can pull off crazy stunts without a single scratch or bruise, then where’s the sense of peril? Without danger, if our hero doesn’t have skin in the game and serious consequences at stake then there’s no incentive for the audience to be emotionally invested in the action.
The best stories take us on emotional roller-coasters, experiencing our protagonist’s highs and lows, fear and joy. Over the top action set-pieces may seem cool, but push it too far and you’ll deny the audience the full roller-coasters experience because there can be no fear when there’s no possibility of loss. So many Hollywood blockbusters are full of incredible action sequences that took hundreds of talented artists many thousands of hours, but leave the audience feeling… “meh”.
Telling the story never gets in the way of your animated (or acted) characters looking good.
The reverse is not always true.
It can be very easy to lose sight of the bigger context and focus on small details of the movement, especially if you’re only animating 1 or 2 shots in a sequence. But it won’t matter how good those details are if the context doesn’t fit. When an artist tries too hard to make their work shine and stand out, rather than fitting in with the rest of the team, and the director’s bigger vision, it rarely looks good.
Get the details right, but get them right within the bigger context.
Traditional animation training places a big emphasis on silhouette. That’s totally understandable for hand-drawn animation where the starting point is to draw the outline of the character. It also makes a lot of sense in terms of screen composition.
This isn’t the 1920s any more though. For an audience watching 3D animation, the volume of the character is so much more prominent and hints so much more strongly about internal structure. The result is that weight is seen and interpreted by viewers in a very different way.
Silhouette alone can be misleading if the body mechanics and gravity involved in the movement are not also understood.