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Post With The Most 30/07/2015

The CAA computer suites are empty and silent, chairs remain tucked neatly under tables, and the PCs, at last, are sleeping now.  Elsewhere, the lift idles on the ground floor.  Stairwells are deserted. September - that crazy month of new faces, new beginnings and new challenges - feels distant and unlikely.  As of writing, it doesn't seem even remotely credible that in only a short matter of weeks, the campus will bustle once more with wide-eyed first years, swaggering 'know-it-all' second years, and grimly determined third years, as a new academic year swings into action. It's almost as if the world is settling down for an afternoon snooze... and so it is - but I think there's just time for one last hurrah. 

This July edition of the Computer Animation Arts PWTM find us in a suitably reflective mood, as we celebrate recent successes and catch up with some alumni, beginning with our recent award-winning stint at New Designers 2015.

Our third chunk of shiny ND acrylic!

When our gong for 'Best Stand' was announced at the New Designers 2015 awards ceremony, the accolade was introduced accordingly: "And it comes as no surprise that the winners of the Best Stand award goes to... Computer Animation Arts, UCA Rochester!"  You might think - what with the course now having won this award no fewer than three times - that like the prize-giver, we were similarly unruffled by our achievement.  Not so - this year's exhibition was a huge collaborative effort, involving students, staff, and alumni, so it was really satisfying to see that effort acknowledged and applauded by our peers.  

Winning 'Best Stand' accomplishes a number of goals: first and foremost, it ensures our graduates and their work are catapulted into the consciousness of the show's sponsors and visitors; it installs a great big neon sign above their newly-graduated heads, which reads, 'Look Here!'  Likewise, it means the course is regarded highly by industry; indeed, the team from Sky Creative stopped by our ACME-inspired showcase to congratulate our graduates and expressed their interest in working with animation courses of repute...

You can go here to read UCA's official write-up of our award, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank personally all those individuals who worked with us on the show for their time, effort and creativity.   CAA alum, Ethan Shilling, deserves a gong all of his own for his efforts on our behalf: not only did he work tirelessly (and very patiently!) with the course team to visualise the exhibition space prior to its fabrication, Ethan also created all the artwork for the innumerable vinyl decals used to turn an MDF set into our ACME factory, and created too the animated idents bookending the graduates' respective showreels.  Andy Stead, senior lecturer on Creative Arts for Theatre & Film, turned our 3D visualisation into a physical reality (and we, in turn, transformed our baseroom into a scene from a low-budget disaster movie!).  Meanwhile, Simon Holland, invaluable member of the CAA course team, turned our graduates' 3D assets into striking three-dimensional blue-prints in another ACME-inspired flourish.

Ethan Shilling's 3D visualisation of our New Designers 2015 exhibition stand.

Ethan Shilling's 'UCA x ACME' decal

Ethan Shilling's 'screen crate' decal

Ethan Shilling's 'ACME stack' decal

Simon Holland's blue print image

Computer Animation Arts' completed stand at New Designers 2015

'Class of 2015' and their awarding winning stand at New Designers 2015

And last, but not least, a massive thank you to our exhibiting graduates, who pushed through the ups and downs of a long, tiring show with grace, good humour, and consummate professionalism. It was a genuine pleasure to see them working together as a community of designers.  We wish them every success in the future and look forward very much to hearing about their adventures 'out there'... Stay in touch!

Our award-winning 'new designers' achieve lift-off!

There is always one more job to do after New Designers is done and dusted; one more job once order has been restored to the CAA baseroom.  One of my small pleasures is always the putting together of the new course showreel; it gives me an opportunity to really look at the work our students create; to cherry-pick, to curate, and with it create new chemistries of sound and image. The goal is to create excitement and anticipation in the hearts and minds of students we haven't met yet.  As we're in reflective mood - looking back and celebrating - I thought I'd engage in a touch of time travel, so by way of a run-up to the all-new 2015 showreel, I'm sharing some of our previous 'greatest hits'!

Computer Animation Arts / Showreel 2013

Computer Animation Arts / Showreel 2014

Computer Animation Arts / Showreel 2015

Keen-eyed observers might have noticed some 'never-before-seen' sequences in the all-new 2015 showreel; following the success of their term 1 What If? Metropolis project (which saw first years challenged to design and model original digital sets inspired by the works of other artists), I asked three students to make a return trip to their respective conurbations.  I was fascinated to see a little more of these environments and eager for others to delight in them too. Thanks then to Ella Pinnington, Julien Van Wallendael and Mark Stamp for giving up a bit of their Summer on our behalf - much appreciated, and your respective worlds look good enough to eat!

Ella Pinnington - The City Of Obiton (inspired by Alvin Lustig)

Original concept painting

Original final render

Obiton Re-visited

Julien Van Wallendael - The Suburbs of New Calyx (inspired by Lucienne Day)

Original concept painting

Original final render

The Suburbs of New Calyx Re-visited

Mark Stamp - The City Of Yiquanhuabanyiulu (inspired by Philip Treacy)

Original orthographic drawings

Original final render

The City Of Yiquanhuabanyiulu Re-visited

Time now to re-visit some of our former students, beginning with more success for Nat 'Class of 2014' Urwin, whose year three film, Mother's Days, continues to delight audiences - and impress festival selection committees!

Mother and son from Nat Urwin's Mother's Days

Nat has just announced her award-winning film has made the official selection at two more festivals this year: the CINAGE European Cinema for Active Ageing and the San Antonio Laughs Comedy Film Slam.  Mother's Days won the People's Choice award at New Designers 2014.  If you haven't seen Nat's funny and very moving stop-motion-meets-CGI animation, now's your chance.

This can be a strange time for new graduates, the long unstructured Summer that follows the rigours of their final year.  For many, it will be as unnerving as it is refreshing, free at last of project briefs, proformas and deadlines, but confronted too by the daunting prospect of having to give meaning, purpose and velocity to their post-UCA lives.  It will be a strange time too for our prospective students who are still weeks away from getting their feet under the CAA table, but who will be speculating nervously - and with some excitement we hope! - as to what they can expect.

With all of this in mind, I asked two of our recent alumni to share with us their respective experiences since graduating from Computer Animation Arts and making their way in the big wide world.

Alex 'Class of 2013' Zepherin

First up is Alex Zepherin, who graduated in July 2013.  Let's remind ourselves of Alex's final year animation, Anima - a richly atmospheric animated short that always delights our visitors at Open Days:

CAA / Where are you working at the moment?

Alex / I'm currently working at Silversun Media Group as a junior animation intern, as the only inhouse animator. I currently do everything from storyboarding, character design and animation. I also edit footage and do camera operation assisting.  My job is very varied.

CAA /  Describe a 'day in the life' of Alex Zepherin?

Alex / From 9 to 5, I work in an office, however I'm always on the look out for traineeships associated with filming and production design, as well as expanding my own skillset in my personal time. I make sure I'm constantly meeting new people and learning new skills.  I'm also experimenting with camera operation and photography, just getting to grips with filming, colour grading and editing footage.  I also do the odd freelance job here, so if I choose to freelance again, I can have a client base. I'm also part of the Creative Access agency, who arrange masterclasses once a month, which is amazing, as I meet other interns and build up a network of creatives.

CAA / Describe the highs and lows of your first year 'out' of Uni.

Alex / My first year of uni was a shock to the system. It was very daunting to see people who had a beautiful natural hand, and who could create beautiful art with ease.  I wasn't that student. I came to Computer Animation Arts without that traditional art background.  I knew I wanted to go into visual media, but I wasn't confident in my work a lot of the time.  My first and last crits of year one were  high points. I think those pieces of artwork worked for me, mainly because I was less defensive and more focused. I had a clear vision and although the work wasn't perfect, it had my message and a developing style.

Concept painting for Anima
CAA / What inspires you to keep creative?

Alex / Music, and the constant fear that if I'm not creative I'm going to have to get a regular job instead! I don't see myself doing anything else. I haven't trained in anything else apart from animation/film.  I make sure I'm always looking at new/old short films and animations, also trying to read more, just so I'm always fully immersed in storytelling.

CAA / What projects have you worked on recently?

Alex / Dear Darwin was a theatre production produced by Parlon Film. I was commissioned to create a two-part animation about the evolution of Moths and Finches. The play has premiered in Madrid earlier this year.

Still from Dear Darwin

Still from Dear Darwin

I filmed and edited live music acts as part of an eight week camera operation traineeship at Roundhouse studios, where eight graduates learnt how to film and edit footage.  It was a very reassuring and valuable experience, as I longer felt like I was the only graduate struggling to find work.  We worked together in a team and gained a lot of skills.  I used a vision mixer to direct and edit live footage.

CAA / Any advice for our latest grads?

Alex /  Don't worry if you don't have anything straight anyway! I went through a horrible time in my first year after uni. Things started to pick up as soon as I stopped worrying about looking for jobs 24/7 and started expanding my skillset and doing what I love to do.

I would advise them to have a strong web presence. Social media is very powerful and free! For me, Linkedin is the top of the list. You can find almost every employee in a creative company on that site. Find their Twitter feed and Instagram, search through the profiles and jobs histories. Find out when where and in what role a creative director started.  Look at their career progression, where they did runner roles, when they got promoted etc. And message them as well. I have yet to meet a creative person who doesn't like talking to people, whether online or in person. Creative people usually love talking about themselves, so go introduce yourself, and feed their ego, ask them about their experiences and where they started from and go from there.

CAA / Any advice for our newbies arriving in September?

Alex / Be open to advice. It's very easy to be defensive about your work, but feedback and advice is very important.  Take on board what the tutors and classmates are saying. Update your blogs regularly, and comment on others to help establish relationships.  Help your classmates! If you see someone who is struggling or not feeling confident, help them if you can, even if it's just being supportive.  Everyone is pretty much in the same boat at uni, so if you can lend them a hand with any technical or creative advice, do it, because there will most likely be a time where you may need help, and tutors might be busy. Treat your course mates as a strong network.

Original concept art for Alex's animated short The Peacock & The Crane

CAA / Any favourite memories of your time on the course?

Alex / My favourite memories will always be working in the computer rooms. It was such a reassuring experience to know I wasn't the only one either pulling out my hair, and screaming at Maya. Students who came into uni regularly would cry, laugh and succeed together, because everyone was going through the same process.

Alex Zepherin / Showreel 2015

CAA / What's the big dream?

Alex / Art direction and production design  is my end goal, whether it's in animation, film or television. Doing Computer Animation Arts really helped me understand the animation process, which can apply to any visual storytelling technique. The fact that I am a generalist means I can apply to different types of role, giving me more of an insight into different avenues and experiences.

CAA / If you had to give our students 'one golden rule', what would it be?

Alex / Be open to new ideas and challenges. It can be quite hard, doing something outside the norm, but it is the only way you can grow as a creative.  You have nothing to lose. If you find yourself constantly hitting a glass ceiling, find another route, a different way of doing things and go from there!

Emma 'Class of 2014' Foster

Emma Foster graduated from Computer Animation Arts in 2014.  Emma spent her third and final year with us creating a Futurist's garden, an excitingly original adventure in CGI, which saw her taking on the multiple roles of sculptor, architect, artist, animator, compositor and avant-garde sound designer!

CAA caught up with Emma just a few short weeks after she'd secured her first full-time job...

CAA / Congratulations on the new job! Where are you working?

Emma / Glen Dimplex Design in Uxbridge, West London.

CAA / Describe a 'day in the life' of Emma Foster?

Emma / A typical working day for me is a pretty early start at 5am to get ready and out the door by 6:30am so I’m in for work by 8:00am. I start at 8:30 but have found getting in early is great for setting yourself up for the day, as well as allowing for any travelling mishaps/delays or if you accidently snooze that alarm! You also get to have a chat with your colleagues and get that morning caffeine fix in! That’s something I would recommend for anyone working in London… aim to get in early! Sometimes public transport/motorways just have a mind of their own and especially if you’ve got quite a bit of a journey you can’t risk leaving yourself a tight timeframe to get in.

Once the work day begins it's time to check my emails for any important messages from clients or the creative director etc. then, if tasks have not been set yet, meet with the animation team leader on what needs to be done. I make sure I’ve got these tasks noted down and given an order based on priority and any key dates in my notebook so I don’t forget them. If there are any software, graphics, or Windows updates these are next on my list to deal with.

Then it’s time for the fun stuff to begin in Maya whether it is modelling, lighting, the therapeutic UV mapping, shading, animating or setting up renders over the network… and a few quick caffeine refuel trips!

A typical day can also involve visiting the product or graphic designers for information on things such as a particular material for a product I will need to simulate in Maya or to ask for graphics I need to put on the 3D models. Another main role of mine is to convert CAD created by the product designers over to Maya so that it can be used for animating. This also means that some things don’t have to be modelled by scratch which can save a lot of time. Unfortunately, there can also be IT issues that need sorting or trips to Google or forums because of software bugs - it happens, but fixing them is very rewarding!

1:00pm is lunchtime with the occasional group lunch trip out into town but more commonly a quick team office session on Call of Duty.

After lunch its back to work and setting up any necessary renders before home time. A typical work day is 7.5 hours for me so I finish at 5:00pm. But because we do the extra half hour Monday-Thursday we finish earlier on Fridays. For me, that’s 1:30pm, which is always nice after a hardworking week. Glen Dimplex works with flexi-hours so you can move your hours back or forward. I originally started at 9:00am, finishing at 5:30pm but decided to move everything back an hour which was very helpful with the commute.

I get home at about 7:00pm, and then it’s time to get dinner on, get my lunch ready for work the next day, and any other things I will need. Before bed I make sure I get time to wind down, whether it’s watching a film, some TV, reading or getting a bit of gaming in.

Some early render tests for Emma's futurist plant forms

CAA / Describe the highs and lows of your first year 'out' of Uni?

Emma / My first year out of uni was a strange one. I was so used to constantly working, being stressed and having barely any free time that when I suddenly had no deadlines and lots of time to do other things it was incredibly weird. At times it could feel like something was missing or lost, and this could be really horrible and I just really wanted to get some work done. At other times, I got a fair amount of freelance work which kept me going whilst looking for a full time role. These pieces of work were really enjoyable and all so different. I’ve worked on 2D infographics, logo idents, 3D animated sculpture visualisations and poster designs to name a few. Some involved working from home while others involved travelling to client offices to work on them.  It was also great to meet new people and contacts.  Another low was the job rejections, or as I experienced more of, not getting replies. That was actually worse than receiving a no.

When I wasn’t freelancing and searching for work, I refused to sit around and do nothing. I wanted to stay creative but that didn’t always mean opening up Maya or Photoshop.  Sometimes I avoided doing that because I think opening up to other forms of creativity rather than sticking to the same things can be better.  I’m a passionate card-maker/paper crafter, so I spent a lot of time doing that as well as traditional painting and photography.

CAA / What inspires you to keep creative?

Emma / My love of art, film, the world of the fantasy genre and visual expression - as well as the endless possibilities of the imagination and the happiness and enjoyment I feel when I’m doing something creative.

CAA / Any advice for our latest grads?

Emma / Keep doing ‘stuff’ during the waits. Whether it's being creative, volunteering, getting a part-time job, catching up with friends, exploring new places, just do. Don’t sit around, especially when you’re waiting for replies to those job applications! It is not a nice experience and you should take advantage of the free time these waits give you while you have them. If those rejections come through then it wasn’t meant to be and the job for you is still waiting out there for you.  Don’t take them to heart but take any advice that may come with them and apply it to the next application.

Emma's Futurist Garden, composited into the courtyard of Somerset House

CAA / Any advice for our newbies arriving in September?

Emma / Embrace the unknown because you’re going to really enjoy your time on the course and there’s no need to be nervous.  Don’t worry about not knowing things or that others know more than you.  I started the course with pretty much no skillset in Maya and originally joined the course because I wanted to be an environment concept artist but ended up actually preferring the more technical animation side of things which I picked up along the way.  Lastly, even though it might not seem like it at first, Maya is your friend!

CAA / Any favourite memories of your time on the course?

Emma / Being surrounded by equally enthusiastic and creative people and feeling like I belonged, and the way everyone supported each other, sharing ideas and the laughs. It's that sense of community that makes Computer Animation Arts so unique.

CAA / What's the big dream?

Emma / To one day see my work on the big screen or on television. It could be the teeniest thing and be on for only a couple of seconds but that would really be amazing.

CAA / If you had to give our students 'one golden rule', what would it be?

Emma / Never give up on yourself and your dreams. Even when times are really difficult and it really feels like you can’t do something, you can. Something might be harder than other things and might take longer to achieve but it can be done.  Have a cry, get those feelings out and then crack on!

Jolanta 'Class of 2012' Jasiulionyte

Jolanta Jasiulionyte graduated in 2012, and after impressing The Marketing Store folks at New Designers, went from an internship with them to a full-time job.  It's always a pleasure catching up with JJ via her blog, and a few days back, Jolanta was able to share finally the fruits of her labours for her Hello Kitty and Pokemon Happy Meal toys designed for MacDonald's France.  She writes "With this set we were particularly pleased with how the surface texture/finishes came out: matte or shiny, slightly speckled or smooth (reminds me of days when all of these were Maya shader considerations!). That little extra glossy finish on the character's eyes really make them pop!"

Jolanta's Happy Meal toy designs, for which she was lead designer

Jolanta goes on say, "This set has a special place in my heart as it was my first lead-designer project over a year ago. It was a challenging one, with numerous re-design attempts... Honestly, how many different egg cups/ice trays can one imagine? 8 is the answer..."

More of JJ's Hello Kitty & Pokemon-inspired designs

Jordan Buckner, freelance artist and CAA lecturer, is another 'Class of 2012' alumni, and he's got some exciting news worth shouting about too... 

Jordan / "About a month ago I released my first commercial print. A film poster of one of my most treasured films, 2001: A Space Odyssey, my favourite Kubrick film and a movie that sticks by me through life. The print was released by Hero Complex Gallery in L.A. I’ve been wanting to release a film print for years, but rather than just a recent trendy pop culture reference, it had to be of something I loved. 2001 was that thing.

Jordan Buckner's 2001: A Space Odyssey giclee print

In the last year or so, I’ve slowly been moving away from purely CG freelance work, and moving towards painting, illustration and other mediums. Animation still holds a firm place in my heart, but at present, I’ve lost some love for the industry, and the only way I can come to terms with that is by looking inwards and becoming a better artist. 

So, I started picking up my old paints and pencils to make new work purely for myself. These doodles and sketches lay all over my office.  In addition to all this personal work I’d been doing, I wanted to have something more finished and complete that I could release into the world. Personal work is what keeps me sane, but keeping a presence in the world is still important. So, I set a project to complete a film poster of 2001. The idea being, that if things worked out well, I’d sell some copies and they could fund me as an artist.

Jordan's 2001 poster (detail)

2001 is an obvious top film pick for a lot of people. I first saw it when I was about 16 and honestly, I’m not sure if I liked it or not. It confused the fuck out of me and it went way over my head, but something grabbed me. Partly the middle act narrative but most notably, that Kubrick aesthetic. I’d never seen a film so directed, well considered and controlled as this. Kubrick is a master of a lot of things, but the most notable is his sense of composed direction. It is a film that so overtly expresses direction. And in a science fiction film about man and our limits, this restrictive aesthetic seemed so hugely appropriate.

Years later I watched it as an adult and it started making sense. It still confused me, but in a magical way. Since then I probably watch it once or twice a year. It’s never boring. It always amazes me. And it is always fucking beautiful.

Jordan's 2001 print (detail)

It all started in my sketchbook. Among the doodles of weathered faces, were thumbnails of this poster, along with some Keir Dullea studies and font ideas. I had a really rough idea but nothing too concrete. I’d never really created a piece of composed illustration, so I was keen to just see where things went. Those drawings evolved from small thumbnails to larger sketches, and then transitioned to Photoshop. The core idea was always there, but I also wanted some freedom to just try things out in Photoshop.

Original sketch, Jordan Buckner (2015)

It’s been a great introduction to the print / illustration world. I’ve already completed another poster since then for a commercial project. But the next big project will be with Hero Complex Gallery again. I’m not going to say much, but the scale of the project will be bigger, and the imagery will move back towards painting, rather than fine illustration."

Jordan's sumptuous 2001 print is available in 3 variants, giclee prints limited to 100 per edition and sized at approx 12” x 24”.  You can purchase Jordan's print for $35 (approx £22) + shipping from Hero Complex’s site: Keep in touch with all of Jordan's creative endeavours via the usual channels:
My knackered old camera awaits nightfall back in August 2014

In a short matter of days, I'll be turning off the lights in the CAA baseroom and going on annual leave.  A few days after that, I'll be shoving a poorly-packed suitcase into the back of a car and making my way across the channel for some rest and relaxation in the south west of France.  Regular recipients of the PWTM may recall how this moment in my year often signals the advent of mysterious goings-on in the pitch-dark of the French countryside.  My history of recent Amazon purchases would certainly lend credence to the theory that strange things are indeed in the offing: 1 giant bubble wand, 2 ultraviolet torches, 100 individual ice-white LEDs, 20 metres of thin black elastic, 1 litre of UV-reactive bubble solution...

Last year, I dotted a French meadow with 20+ solar lights wrapped in coloured gels, and with them strafed the area's swathes of hatpin-like grass with Suspiria-inspired hues.  Picture the scene: it's the dead of night, my knackered old camera is loaded with very slow slide film, and the meadow looks as artificial and other-worldly as something cooked up by Nicolas Winding Refn!   

My high-tech lighting set-up...

The resulting images - long exposures all of them - resemble something from the seabed, or from Alpha-Centauri.  My naming convention for these images is 'Disco Weed' - which goes someway to defining them.  Others have said they're as kitsch and pulp sci-fi as a Dino De Laurentis production, which I'm taking as a glowing endorsement!  Say what you like about them, but the transformative effects of light, colour, and exposure never fail to excite, as you realise that the simplest of set-ups and lowliest of kit can generate magic!   

The Last Word...

"We've got one!" (Ghostbusters, 1984) - and why?  Because our first all-new year one blog has arrived!  Deanna Crisbacher @ - welcome to the party! You're in for one hell of a ride!


  1. Great post once again :) It's great to see the alumnis journeys so far in the industry


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