Global hotspots

3D World - - CONTENTS -

We chat to cre­ators around the world about their re­spec­tive CG hubs and what it’s like to be part of a global CG com­mu­nity


Blair Ar­mitage, char­ac­ter artist, Riot Games

Ev­ery 3D artist has an idea of where in the world they’d like to be, whether it’s Lon­don, Ber­lin, Van­cou­ver or Los An­ge­les. But has any­one ever asked how these places came to be the promised lands for aspir­ing cre­ators, and if they’re still rel­e­vant in an age where the in­ter­net rules supreme?

3D World has as­sem­bled a va­ri­ety of com­pa­nies and cre­atives to dis­cuss their re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties and the con­cept of in­dus­try hotspots. VFX veter­ans Rise FX in Ber­lin, Riot Games char­ac­ter artist Blair Ar­mitage in LA, Cravefx in Sin­ga­pore, and DNEG in Lon­don and Van­cou­ver.

“Ber­lin’s still a rel­a­tively young com­mu­nity, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t up to speed or as ad­vanced as other places,” says Rise VFX su­per­vi­sor Jonathan We­ber. He has been work­ing at Rise for 11 years, join­ing shortly af­ter the stu­dio was founded in 2007. His most re­cent cred­its in­clude Avengers: In­fin­ity War, Black

Pan­ther and Dis­ney’s up­com­ing live-ac­tion adap­ta­tion of Dumbo.

“The in­dus­try here grew at a steady rate,” he ex­plains. “There aren’t as many com­pa­nies in this re­gion com­pared with ci­ties like Lon­don or Mon­treal. Rise how­ever was one of those that grew along­side the in­dus­try and re­mains one of the orig­i­nal. With the in­crease of film pro­duc­tion in the area, the amount of vis­ual ef­fects projects com­ing to Ger­many has re­ally taken off in re­cent years.”

When asked how Ber­lin came to be such an im­por­tant part of the global CG com­mu­nity, We­ber at­tributes it to sev­eral fac­tors. First of all is the abun­dance of nearby univer­si­ties and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams for dig­i­tal art, bring­ing a wealth of fresh tal­ent through the area. He con­tin­ues: “Ci­ties like Mu­nich and Stuttgart help by con­tin­u­ing to grow by pass­ing on in­di­vid­u­als with the nec­es­sary knowl­edge and ex­per­tise. There’s other in­cen­tives such as the re­cently up­dated state-spon­sored tax re­bate pro­grams. It’s also still an af­ford­able city, so if you’re de­cid­ing be­tween here or a city like Lon­don, which has a larger num­ber of artists and higher liv­ing costs, Ber­lin will con­tinue to be the bet­ter al­ter­na­tive.”

Few stu­dios are as well placed to as­sess Lon­don’s place in the global CG com­mu­nity as DNEG, which was founded in the city back in 1998. Ac­cord­ing to their Van­cou­ver fa­cil­ity’s head of CG, Stu­art Far­ley, it was formed by “a group of peo­ple who had been work­ing to­gether in vis­ual ef­fects, and as­pired to pro­duce vis­ual ef­fects of the high­est cal­i­bre for fea­ture films.”

Far­ley goes on to ex­plain that over the en­su­ing two decades DNEG have con­tin­ued to push them­selves creatively and tech­ni­cally, some­thing that has al­lowed them to thrive in the crowded Lon­don scene. He con­tin­ues: “We try to re­main fo­cused at all times on the other im­por­tant things that drive us: award-win­ning vi­su­als, re­la­tion­ships with the very best cre­atives, col­lab­o­ra­tion with up­com­ing film­mak­ers and push­ing sto­ry­telling be­yond the lim­its that au­di­ences are used to. We hope this fo­cus has given us a spe­cial place in the com­mu­nity.”

Since 2014 DNEG have opened a num­ber of fa­cil­i­ties around the world, one of which is in Van­cou­ver. “It’s proven it­self to be an im­por­tant hub for the VFX in­dus­try,” ex­plains Far­ley. “DNEG was a nat­u­ral fit for this en­vi­ron­ment. We wanted to open our doors to the wealth of tal­ent here and bring the cul­ture of DNEG to Van­cou­ver.”

Dis­cussing how Van­cou­ver came to such fruition in the in­dus­try Far­ley says: “It of­fers a di­verse work­force and an es­tab­lished back­bone of shoot ser­vices. There’s a great range of stages and lo­ca­tions.” The abun­dance of film pro­duc­tion has at­tracted many of

the VFX in­dus­try’s heavy hit­ters, which in turn brings a wealth of tal­ented cre­ators to the city.

Orig­i­nally hail­ing from West York­shire, char­ac­ter artist Blair Ar­mitage re­lo­cated to the bustling CG hotspot of Los An­ge­les for a role at Riot Games, af­ter work­ing for sev­eral years in the UK and free­lanc­ing in Ja­pan. “There are so many artists here in LA, from dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries that I had no idea about in the UK,” she ex­plains. “I’ve met peo­ple from the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try and learned all about their pipe­lines and skill sets. My view as a game artist was very nar­row and hy­per-fo­cused, be­ing here has in­spired me to learn more out­side of that.”

Long-es­tab­lished stu­dios like Dis­ney, Dream­works and Bliz­zard, to name just a few, first at­tracted the di­verse range of tal­ent that has made LA such a cru­cial part of the global com­mu­nity. But what makes it unique from the host of other hotspots? “There’s tons of learn­ing to do here. Lots of great op­por­tu­ni­ties for artist mee­tups, E3, Zbrush Sum­mit, Gnomon Work­shop events, and CTN an­i­ma­tion expo,” says Ar­mitage. “I’ve met peo­ple who have been work­ing in LA their whole ca­reers, which is odd to me as I feel like a lot of young Bri­tish artists are more no­madic due to the na­ture of the in­dus­try.” Ar­mitage also ex­presses the di­ver­sity of the com­mu­nity in LA, with artists from a wide va­ri­ety of back­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ences.

An­i­ma­tion and post-pro­duc­tion stu­dio Cravefx have been part of Sin­ga­pore’s CG com­mu­nity for the last five years. “Our di­rec­tors Joshua and Davier met as stu­dents in univer­sity and worked to­gether as project of­fi­cers for a year af­ter they grad­u­ated,” says a spokesper­son for the com­pany. “Like any other fresh grad­u­ate, their dream was to land a com­fort­able full-time po­si­tion in a large or­gan­i­sa­tion. But af­ter some time free­lanc­ing, they re­alised they had some­thing unique that they could bring to the in­dus­try. That’s when they struck out on their own. We’ve since grown from a twoman out­fit to a bustling stu­dio with more than 30 peo­ple.”

“The gov­ern­ment played a big role in giv­ing the sec­tor an early leg-up, with ini­tia­tives and grants to draw an­i­ma­tion stu­dios with a global pres­ence into the coun­try,” says Cravefx on the sub­ject of how Sin­ga­pore be­came such a fo­cal point for the in­dus­try. There’s

One of Cravefx’s 3D projects, a Brief His­tory of Time, was fea­tured at Pause Fest 2016

also an abun­dance of ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions that of­fer cour­ses in mo­tion graph­ics or an­i­ma­tion. “This helps with the nur­tur­ing of tal­ented artists and an­i­ma­tors,” adds Cravefx.

The recipe for a global CG hotspot ap­pears to be a mix­ture of ma­jor stu­dios, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives. How­ever, there still re­mains the ques­tion of whether or not phys­i­cal lo­ca­tions re­main rel­e­vant in a time when ev­ery­one is more con­nected than ever, and bud­ding artists can be­come es­tab­lished mem­bers of the com­mu­nity from their bed­room.

Stu­art Far­ley as­serts that the idea of hotspots isn’t at all out­dated: “Hotspots like Van­cou­ver have pro­lif­er­ated be­cause of the wealth of cre­ative tal­ent in the com­mu­nity, and be­cause our clients recog­nise the ad­van­tages of plac­ing work in dif­fer­ent ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions. The cre­ativ­ity be­tween stu­dios is fed, and an en­vi­ron­ment is nur­tured where ev­ery­one ben­e­fits, cre­at­ing a richer com­mu­nity.”

“There will al­ways be hotspots,” ar­gues Rise FX’S Jonathan We­ber. “Yes, it is get­ting eas­ier and eas­ier to work from a home of­fice setup. That how­ever is still lim­it­ing, es­pe­cially if you want to be in­volved in larger pro­duc­tions that have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to fur­ther de­velop your skills. If you are just start­ing off too you may not be able to ob­tain and work on the in­dus­try­s­tan­dard soft­ware, and wouldn’t be fa­mil­iar with the pipe­line de­vel­op­ments that make work­ing be­tween mul­ti­ple de­part­ments more ef­fi­cient.”

He con­tin­ues: “All this doesn’t mean you can’t learn at home, but as a func­tional stu­dio you need to have a phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion that has the hard­ware, soft­ware, li­cences and more to fur­ther your­self with. Not for­get­ting what you may pick up from work­ing with artists from a va­ri­ety of back­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ence lev­els.”

Sara Sarmiento, Rise FX’S line pro­ducer, shares the same view. She ex­plains: “My ex­pe­ri­ence has shown me that cer­tain tasks can only be achieved in a team set­ting, un­der a su­per­vi­sor’s di­rec­tion. The greater and more de­mand­ing tasks be­come, whether it’s 3D or oth­er­wise, the more you need oth­ers to help re­alise the end re­sult. That re­quires clear and ef­fi­cient di­a­logue be­tween de­part­ments. Hotspots will con­tinue to ex­ist, but that will al­low free­lancers to try out places all over the world.”

Cravefx take a slightly dif­fer­ent view: “The world is shrink­ing, par­tic­u­larly the an­i­ma­tion sec­tor. Un­like tra­di­tional in­dus­tries such as man­u­fac­tur­ing, it’s less re­liant on economies of scale and prox­im­ity. Be­cause of our mo­bil­ity, we don’t have to be clus­tered in one place. Good an­i­ma­tion work is universal and can come from any­where in the world.”

For Blair Ar­mitage the best place in the world for a 3D artist to be is any­where that they can bring a lap­top or a tablet, with good cof­fee and in­ter­net. How­ever, she still sees some worth in the con­cept of in­dus­try hotspots and the stu­dio en­vi­ron­ment. “In my opin­ion you can’t beat face-to-face re­la­tion­ships,” she ex­plains. “It’s much nicer to see some­one’s face when you can in­ter­act with them with zero lag. Per­son­ally I find it eas­ier to build trust with some­one in real life, even if I orig­i­nally knew them from the in­ter­net.”

“On­line min­gling is re­ally im­por­tant, but I would still en­cour­age young artists to at­tend com­mu­nity events, to have fun and en­joy the vibe, make friends and con­nec­tions, and see if this is a com­mu­nity that you want to be a part of. It’s also im­por­tant to find out if you can see these peo­ple as your po­ten­tial fu­ture co-work­ers.”

So it ap­pears that the age of the in­dus­try hotspot isn’t over just yet and there are still a mul­ti­tude of rea­sons for stu­dios to re­main in clus­ters around the globe, whether it be for fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives, or the prox­im­ity to emerg­ing tal­ent. Plus, one par­tic­u­lar as­pect that all our ex­perts seem to agree on is that there’s no sub­sti­tute for the wealth of in­ter­ac­tion that a stu­dio en­vi­ron­ment can pro­vide.


Sin­ga­pore-based Cravefx have pro­duced 2D and 3D an­i­ma­tion, in­fo­graph­ics, VFX, mo­tion graph­ics and AR ap­pli­ca­tions

Above: A still from Ger­man crime-drama se­ries Baby­lon Ber­lin, for which Rise FX pro­vided VFX Since 2007 Rise FX have opened three more branches in Mu­nich, Stuttgart and Cologne Jonathan We­ber says com­mu­ni­ties in Eastern Europe are get­ting more recog­ni­tion and be­gin­ning to make an im­pact in­ter­na­tion­ally

Above: Some of Cravefx’s more ex­cit­ing projects in­clude Skyav­enue at Re­sorts World Gent­ing, and Google Shad­ow­play for the 2018 World AI Con­fer­ence in Shang­hai

Ar­mitage de­scribes Riot Games as an in­cred­i­bly com­fort­able place to work and some­where she feels very lucky to spend her daily life

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