Sunday, August 04, 2013

Post With The Most 04/08/2013

August.  It's the silly season, the slow season.  Everyone's on holiday and nothing is getting done.  The days are long, the nights are warm, and mid-afternoon lethargy is lethal - and yet, all is far from quiet on Ba (Hons) CG Arts & Animation.  Yes, the academic year is over and there's still weeks between now and the beginning of the new one, but this month's PWTM is packed with updates from the always-busy CGAA creative community.

To kick us off, I wanted to take you back to the evening of July 12th when a specially commissioned animation created by CGAA alumni Tom Beg and Jordan Buckner had its premiere screening as part of the Jazz Meets The Classics concert at the Grays Civic Hall, Essex.  Excitingly, the animation was 'crowd art-directed' - in so much as its content was derived originally from digital paintings generated by staff, students and alumni of CG Arts & Animation.  The 300+ concept paintings were produced by our course community in response to composer Darius Milhaud's ballet, La création du monde; we listened to the music, we painted what we heard, and then Tom and Jordan brought our visions to life using Maya and After Effects.  At the concert, the resulting animation was rear-projected onto a 8.5 by  6.2 metre screen, in front of which the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne performed Milhaud's jazz-infused La création du monde live. The event was a huge success (to see CG animation prised from the confines of a computer monitor was truly exhilarating) and since then, the animation has been shared and showcased on Kuriositas and Flooby Nooby. 

(Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne in rehearsal, Grays Civic Hall, July 12th 2013)

As regular followers of Tom Beg's blog will know, when not collaborating on the creation of synesthetic animations, Tom can often be found roaming around with a variety of old-school cameras honing his craft as a photographer.  I imagine that after the infamously slow, process-driven pipeline associated with originating cgi, the ability to create work more instinctively via the satisfyingly physical click of a camera shutter must be a delight.  Tom is often drawn to a kind of rural uncanny, using his camera to isolate the abandoned, the strange and the melancholy:

Tom's screening of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1984) for some unwary CGAA students one Thursday night may or may not have inspired this showcase of arboreal menace...

Two of my personal favourite images come from Tom's most recent series of 'high summer' images - both of which express perfectly the way a camera can freeze a moment of time and transform it (that, plus strong composition and great framing, of course).  Here, Tom's startled birds create a near-abstract effect against a scored, granular sky, while 'The Boys' captures all the dichotomies of male  exhibitionism - a bit sexy, but mostly sweetly comedic and endearing.

Now that Jordan Buckner has similarly concluded his Milhaud duties, he's getting busy with other things.  Right now, I know that Jordan is in the exotic business of modelling digitally a nude Jesus (!) for one of his growing list of fine artist clients (previous cg freelance work has seen Jordan challenged to lovingly recreate lemons, doorknobs and an orbit of burning children...).  Alongside his various freelance commitments, Jordan is making a new short filmAgaricus, wherein the life-cycle of the titular mushroom is given an impressively cinematic spin.  Jordan's new film looks set to continue CGAA's tradition of blending science and art to bold effect.  Check out his concept art and animatic below. 

Agaricus - animatic

CGAA alumnus and UCA technical tutor Simon Holland is similarly keeping busy in the intervening weeks between now and September's 'big push'.  Not only is he ensuring the CGAA community stays sharp by challenging them to speed paint on a theme, he is topping up and enriching his own skills as concept artist and accomplished digital painter.

CGAA Year 2 student, Nat Urwin, has just got back from California, where she was participating in SIGGRAPH 2013's student volunteer programme.  SIGGRAPH (short for Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) is the name of the annual conference on computer graphics, animation and associated technologies. 

 A place on the student volunteer programme is highly sought after and little wonder - as the Siggraph website explains:

"The SIGGRAPH 2013 Student Volunteer Program puts you right in the middle of all of the action, and deep into a network of fellow students who, just like you, are inspired to be the industry leaders of tomorrow. As a Student Volunteer, you will help support the conference and have the opportunity to meet and learn from professionals, creators, educators, visionaries, and each other. Students who demonstrate leadership, service, and a passion for computer graphics are encouraged to apply!"

(Nat - second from left under Sully!)

I asked Nat to give us an insight into her experiences as a Siggraph volunteer:

"Being a Student Volunteer at Siggraph 2013 will now be one of the most memorable and best moments in my lifetime. It was an absolutely amazing experience and I'd recommend it to everybody to apply, there's nothing like it.  If it's your first time as an SV or attending a SIGGRAPH event there's a good chance that you won't know anybody and travelling across the globe alone can be daunting, but it's so rewarding. Something magical happens. After a week, students from all corners of the world - 99% strangers to each other - gather in one place and everything we do, we go through together. That togetherness creates more than just friendships, it creates a bond like family, and the really cool thing is... we're all geeks together! There were 305 SVs this year, so it's pretty hard to get to know everybody in just a few days, but the people you do get to know, you'll make that effort to keep in contact with and it's very probable you'll be working with them at some point in your future. Having the opportunity to say 'hey, remember the days when we were SVs' will go a long way. 

It's not just the personal friendships you form that makes Siggraph an exciting place to be, it's the professional networking opportunities too. I networked with people from companies such as Pixar, Blizzard, Blue Sky Studios, Disney, Animation Mentor, Sony Pictures Animation, Shell, The Mill, D-Neg.... and the list goes on - and most of them are far more interesting than just their job titles. There is an unbelievable amount of opportunity to get yourself known. You should also realise it's not just a case of walking up to somebody, having a chat and walking away; being an SV means you're in the thick of it. You're the one that helps these people set-up, you assist during the events and tear-down afterwards.  You have the opportunity to become that friendly helpful face that they know to be reliable. 

When you're not on shift there is so much to see and do; try out new technologies, discover a new passion, show off your stuff and strive for that dream job offer, or relax in a talk about the making of the latest films for an insider's view of 'how it's done. When the conference has finished for the day spend time getting to know your new family, either outside of the conference gates or at one of the many cool parties thrown just for the SVs!  Being an SV at Siggraph is so amazing I'd simply say, 'Just apply and discover how amazing it is for yourself."

You can read more about Nat's Siggraph experience here. 

Meanwhile, a number of our year two students have been interning this summer with a live visuals projection company.  As is common with work placements, I'm not allowed to be too specific about the nuts and bolts of what the students have been doing, or for whom, but I did ask Joey Ku, Ernesta Baniulyte, Anita Gill, Lydia Caplan and Urvashi Lele to reflect on their experiences so far:

"This summer, I was given the opportunity to work with for a live visuals projection company. The first project was for a private event that involved designing and animating four layouts to be projected on the exterior of a large building. Working to a client brief, I had to work to the client’s schedule and create what they envisaged. For the designing process, I have been using Photoshop to create the drafts and then the refined layouts. These were then taken into After Effects in which the elements were animated.

Some clients are more open in terms of allowing us to be free with their ideas and some are more certain about how they would like the end result to look. This is one of the challenges - you get the work looking the way you want it, but then you have to change it as many times as the client needs you to. This really helped me build and gain new skills, requiring me to find solutions to issues and strengthen my knowledge of the programs used whether it be 2D or 3D based. In addition, the client’s input helps to explore paths that you may not have considered. 

The freelancing work has made me become more confident in terms of communicating with the company and to get an insight into how the team work together. Being able to see my animations at the event itself is the most rewarding part and has given me even more drive to push my own projects. I am currently working on a larger event that has more specific requirements in terms of how the final animations should look - this time working in Maya. Information and the work itself will be posted later in the summer when I can reveal more."

"Work experience during the summer has been a really fun and interesting experience, getting new challenges and learning new things as you go. I’ve enjoyed meeting and working with new people on new projects. The exciting bit is when you get set a new project brief along with its new challenges! You participate in a team full of people working together to create a final outcome for a client. You’re using the things you’ve learned in Uni as well as learning new things and applying them to the outcome.

I’ve learned a lot during work experience - especially in terms of Maya and After Effects. I’ve also learned that when working in a team, you have to expect the unexpected. Sometimes ideas don’t get the go ahead but all you have to do is just keep going and most importantly have fun!"

"Work experience has been a great opportunity to feel what it means to be out there in industry. The very first week was probably the hardest one because I worried about getting things wrong. However, my confidence grew quickly after my first feedback. After that I probably realized that it is pretty much the same as doing university projects; however tasks/briefings are more precise and descriptive. That is the main challenge – to still be creative when there is less space for your own personality. However, with every day I learned how to be creative in my own ways and still make the work personal to me. The schedule for the work is very tight as well, so it is also a good opportunity to improve my time management skills. So far my colleagues and I have finished one project - video mapping on a building for a private wedding party. It is hard to describe the feeling when all your hard work is seen by people. 

Now we are working on a second big scale project, which is very challenging and requires a lot of patience and long hours of work, but is also very exciting at the same time. Also, I have to mention that everyone is very nice, friendly and understanding, so it is nice to work in such an environment. Following this two month period of work experience, I feel much more confident to face the industry after I graduate."

"I think the most rewarding aspect of doing work experience for a live visual company is seeing the transformation of something you've created on a computer screen being projected into the 'real' world. It's exciting and brings to life the work you've created. 

I've definitely enjoyed working as part of a team and having new challenges, technical and motivational. It has given me more confidence working outside the university environment. Freelance experience gives you creative independence and relies upon you staying self motivated. The work experience has been valuable in appreciating taking directions from a client, as opposed to my individual preference - which is a very important lesson to learn early!" 

Urvashi Lele

"Working for this company was a wonderful experience. I got to learn a lot about projection mapping and its process. It was very satisfying to see my work at an event and appreciated by a client. Getting feedback regarding the improvement of our work was very helpful in getting the best results with our ideas. Everyone was very helpful and I felt no discomfort in asking questions about things I didn't know because the team at the company were happy to help. Every brief is unique and challenging and I cannot wait to see the one that we are currently working on to get projected out there for the world to see."

Back in June, CGAA Year 2 student, Steve Payne completed two weeks work experience at Picasso Pictures.  So far so good and a handy addition to his curriculum vitae.  Imagine his surprise when two weeks later, Picasso Pictures phoned him back... Here's Steve with what happened next:

"Just after I had gotten used to not having to jump on a train every morning, I received an email from Inga Johnson, one of the producers at Picasso Pictures. It was regarding a project for Feliway that they'd been working on while I was there on work experience and was about to go fully into production. The job was simple. They needed somebody to manage the printing and scanning of documents for the duration of production; more importantly, I would be paid this time around. I was just pleased they remembered who I was, but now I was being offered an actual, proper job. That was pretty crazy. I emailed back immediately, jumping at the opportunity and the following Monday, I was back on the train to London Victoria and this became my routine:

6:00am – Get up and get ready 
7:00am – Leave the house and hop on the bus into town 
7:45am – Jump on the train from Maidstone East to London Victoria. Read IMDb and listen to my iPod for the entire journey 
8:45am – Arrive at London Victoria and jump on the Victoria Line northbound to Oxford Circus 
9:00am – Arrive at Oxford Circus, meander on down through Carnaby Street to Broadwick Street and up to Picasso Pictures 
9:15am – Stand around until somebody decides to let me in 
9:30am – Finally get inside. Run from floor to floor unlocking all the doors, then log into my computer and figure out what I’m going to be doing that day 

This time around, I shared an office on the Directors’ floor with an awesome guy called Steve May, (which made answering the phone far more confusing!). Being on the third floor was far more fun, being that I had somebody to talk to about Doctor Who - as well as Radio Six constantly playing in the background.  For this particular project, the production involved a combination of live action footage, 3D rendered environments and hand rotoscoped animation. My main job was to take the live action footage, print it out and give it to the painters. The painters would then rotoscope the footage frame-by-frame using watercolour paints and then give it back to me. I would then scan these new frames in and the compositors would reassemble the frames into footage and combine them with the 3D rendered environments. I also did a hefty amount of digital rotoscoping, highlighting areas such as facial features on the characters that weren’t as clear.

My general routine at work was entirely dependent on whether there was anything available to be printed, scanned or rotoscoped. Some days there was literally nothing to do, others there was more work than I’ve ever done in a single day.  It was quite interesting to see that much like on CGAA, the final few days leading up to a project hand over are as tense and hectic as our own project submissions.  It’s good to know the course has given me a pretty good idea of what to expect in the industry!"

(Clearing production drawings by Samantha Niemczyk)

When CG Arts & Animation was approached by the UCA marketing team who needed an animation produced for their 2013 Clearing campaign - and needed it quickly - I wasted little time in bringing CGAA year 1 student, Samantha Niemczyk and CGAA 'Class of 2013' graduate, Ryan Leitao together to see if they'd be interested in collaborating on the project.  Sam had just finished CGAA year one and was no doubt looking forward to some well-deserved rest and relaxation and Ryan was knee-deep in New Designers 2013 - but to their credit, they both jumped at the chance of working on a high-profile commission for the university.  Sam and Ryan project-managed the animation project with impressive autonomy and confidence. The UCA marketing people were genuinely thrilled with the resulting animation - which you can view below.   Congratulations then to both Sam and Ryan on a job very well done! 

Some other CGAA Alumni news now: Jolanta Jasiulionyte graduated from CG Arts & Animation in 2012 and has just been offered a permanent contract at The Marketing Store, London.  I asked JJ to share with us her 'what happened after graduation' story and if she had any advice for our most recent graduates:

CGAA: What happened after New Designers 2012?

JJ: A couple of days after New Designers 2012 I was contacted by head product designer at The Marketing Store Worldwide.  They saw my animations and 'Making Of' books on the stand and invited me for  the 1st stage interview. At the interview I was talking through my (character) designs and 3D production  to three product designers and the head of engineering department.  After a month they have contacted me again with a creative brief for the 2nd stage interview. I was asked to create and present a rationale and concepts for McDonalds Happy Meal toys - in two weeks.  On the strength of this work, I was invited for an internship at TMSW creative product team. Internship terms were extended several times and after seven months I was offered a permanent contract as a junior creative product/toy designer.

CGAA: Describe your average day at The Marketing Store?

JJ: It always starts with a round of tea, of course.  Then catch up with managers, creative directors and various artists from different fields so to ensure everyone is in synch with the projects at the very big studio. My job as a junior designer is to create visuals for toy concepts. Most of the time I use Wacom screen and a pen and simply draw it up.  I also use 3D software if the concept needs to be really believable. Then we discuss it with head product designers and get it approved with safety and engineering department. When everyone seems to be happy, it is present to clients at the pitch. Often, a big part of the day is various training, tutorials, inductions in various subjects such as safety, new technologies, creativity, trends in playability, marketing approaches and so on.  Real brain juicer!

CGAA: What are you working on at the moment?

JJ: Not to be too specific (non-disclosure agreement) we are working on toy ranges following film licenses from Dreamworks, Pixar and Blue Sky Studios. I work on both figurine toys and more product-based toys such as various sports items, booklets, board games, and stickers.

CGAA: So, living in London - what's it like?

JJ: I find living in London one of the biggest perks! There is inspiration everywhere! The people, the places, stories, events, exhibitions and so on. The only worry is that you might develop serious FOMO (fear of missing out!

CGAA: Any advice for our recent graduates?

JJ: To recent graduates who want to pursue a creative career, my advice would be to try many different ways of getting the experience and getting into the industry. Be a runner, do freelance projects (guru, people per hour, elance), volunteer for projects, stay in touch with people you already know, send (well researched) applications every day.  Most importantly, stay creative, practice and challenge yourself.  I like how one friend put it: "create as many opportunities for luck to happen."

Leo Tsang, another CGAA alumnus from the Class of 2012 has been working at Blue-Zoo Productions for a few months now.  I thought it high-time for a catch-up and asked Leo to share his news with the PWTM:

"Hey everyone, Leo here! Hope everyone's been well! I'm here to give a quick catch-up on my on-goings at Blue-Zoo. For those of you who may not know me, I graduated from the course at CG Arts & Animation last year in 2012. I'm now working on one of the latest projects from Blue-Zoo Productions on a new children's show called Q-Pootle 5, from author and illustrator Nick Butterworth.


Check out the Facebook page for more info here.

The show follows the fun and adventures of Q-Pootle 5 and his friends Oopsy, Eddi, Stella, Ray, Groobie, Bud-D and Planet Dave, on the planet of Okidoki. Everyday is a new adventure! And I'm pleased to say that Q-Pootle 5 actually debuts very soon! With the first episode set to air on Monday 29th July at 8.15am on Cbeebies, and will continue daily from then on.

 You can see the opening title sequence in HD here! And catch a small clip of the first episode from the Cbeebies website here!

I wasn't there to work on the first episode myself - it may actually be a little while until the episodes I've worked on come to air (I will remind you then!), but the first episode is a great one so be sure to check it out! Other than that, working at Blue-Zoo has been good so far with my main role of Lighting and Rendering. In a nutshell, I'm responsible setting up lights in a scene with the respective render layers and passes, getting them rendered and then passing them along to the compositers. It may sound a little dry to some, but it feels good to be part of the team with your contributions being valued in the pipeline as a whole - not to mention learning new tricks along the way! It also great that Blue-Zoo has a nice friendly causal atmosphere around the office, which helps to keep things fresh. With the summer weather, we've had company trips to park, the pub and of course a evening out to the zoo... a real one that is (in costume!). Just a lion mask for me!

(Leo is in the middle wearing the yellow t-shirt!)

That's all for now! All the best to everyone - and 'be amazing' as usual!"

Q Pootle 5 website - 
Q Pottle 5 Facebook -

It's hard to believe that it was just one month ago that CGAA was at New Designers 2013.  Our award-winning graduates were foot-sore and weary from all the feverish networking and self-promotion (and all those vodka cocktails let's not forget!).  It's early days for the 'Class of 2013', but I already know of a number of graduates who have had job interviews and follow-up conversations as a direct result of their New Designers experience.  Rest assured that I'll be keeping everyone bang-up-to-date with our alumni stories on an as-and-when basis, so watch this space for more good news and inspiring stories.

Oh - and some news just in:  CGAA 2013 graduates Andriana Laskari and Dayle Sanders just got in touch to let me know that Kinnaree - their final year film - has just been showcased on the great animation blog Spungella! Well done to you both! :)

The Final Word...

“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” Tom Stoppard


  1. Wow! What a packed post!

  2. Its great seeing what everyone's been up to. Inspiring stuff! :)

  3. Jaw-dropping post really, Excelence throuout the entire UCA CGI community (:]

  4. Really interesting post. It's great to see how everyone has been doing! Keep it up guys :)

  5. Congratulations to all involved on your fantastic achievements! Inspirational work and motivational stories are becoming the hallmark of the CGAA course, you should all be very proud of yourselves :o)