At work : what project will fit you the best ?

At work : what project will fit you the best ?

Once again it is time… Third entry about my different experiences of production. This time we’ll discuss the different types of projects available computer graphics artists. I urges you to participate and share so I can fill the gaps I left because I can’t pretend to have enough knowledge in each sector. So don’t be afraid to leave comments about your experiences and I will synthesize them and edit the post whenever you’ll provide me some extra information.

It’s been 7 years since I work in the 3d computer graphic field. From commercials, to feature film via music videos and video game cinematics. Throughout this journey I was able to observe the structure of each of these companies, their pipeline , what was working, or not. I will therefore try to make a synthesis through several posts. This is the second post about that topic. I encourage you to write comments about your own experiences in order to enrich the debate.

Dreamworks Logo Blur Logo Partizan

Here is a small and non-exhaustive list of typical projects on which CG artists are used to work. I will list their pros and cons, the skills necessary to integrate each kind of projects. Help me complete each section, and please feel free to confirm or refute anything I wrote. Consider that article as a first draft and don’t be afraid to mention the tons of orthographic and grammatical errors in the text.

Architecture

I had no real professional experience in this field, the job seems to be focusing heavily on the texture work, materials and lighting. I wonder if the use of compositing is very regular. Many artists seems to use a lot materials and objects libraries in order to increase efficiency.
Pros: ?
Cons: ?
Softwares: 3dsMax and 3dsViz with rendering packages such as Vray or Brazil. Mental ray seems to be used more and more lately.

Illustration

I do not have much experience professionally with illustration work and my few tests have never been very conclusive. However, it seems to me that this discipline is often the area of free-lance artist and must require a large address book. I think about work from Matt Roussel or Loic Zimmermann for example
Pros:?
Cons:?
Softwares: 3dsMax or Lightwave for their ease of use standalone and their price. Photoshop is of course essential.

Simulation

Medical application, concept cars etc. … Surely the field I know the least. The approach seems to be much more linked to science and mathematics. The artistic development seems to be way smaller compare to the technical needs.
Pros:?
Cons:?
Softwares: Autocad, proprietary softwares, others ?

TV Commercials

Many artists are working once in a while on tv commercials. The projects are very diverse and can be very interesting, with short deadlines (sometimes too short), but usually offering comfortable budgets with enough room for research and development. Being able to switch between projects in a short time is a great way to fill out you demo reel, try different styles and face multiple challenges. In general the most unpleasant side comes from the communication between customers, advertising agency, director and the company you’re working for. Misunderstandings can compromise the project and you will feel a lot of political issues when it comes to who is taking credit for any new ideas. So be prepared to be frustrated once in a while when the client will give huge notes on the last minutes because he discovered the result of weeks of work that the advertising agency was holding away from his sight.
Pros: Varied projects, short deadlines, generous budget in general, large visibility of his work
Cons: Work with advertising agencies, difficult clients, short deadlines
Softwares: No software seems to dominate the market, and many studio uses proprietary softwares.

Music Video

This is probably the kind of project that I prefer the most (I’ve had one experience so far, but it was very interesting). Despite tight deadlines, illustrating music with great pictures is more attractive to me than selling a commercial product. The music videos are a great opportunity to express creativity : they increasingly tend to be made on the same schema than short film. Music is always a great source of inspiration, the challenge being to transcend it by developing stunning visuals and bringing many narrative elements through the pictures. And that can be extremely rewarding
Pros: Greater creative freedom, large audience
Cons: Small budgets, short deadlines for generally huge workload
Softwares: No software seems to dominate the market, and many studio uses proprietary softwares.

Ride movies

I have not yet had the opportunity to work on such projects, but I have followed closely a few productions that took place within Blur Studio. The productions are long, very long, and on the technical side the rendering times are huge, no need to speak about the technical issue with super large format and huge geometry sets, this can end up being a nightmare or a great challenge depending on your love for technical issues. But the budgets are generally very fat, it helps to spend time on R & D which is not necessarily unpleasant. And then seeing your work in large format, sometime in stereoscopy is a great moment.
Pros: Technical challenges, large budgets.
Cons: Rendering times, heavy scenes, easy to get bored on long schedules
Softwares: Maya, XSI but some are produced with 3dsMax.

Games cinematics

The cinematics usually are being spread on 4 to 8 months of production which is a great ioption in between commercials and feature. The work is rather interesting as far as building a whole narrative world associated to a game, but tends to be repetitive from project to project. For animators the lack of cartoon characters in most of the cinematic games will be a huge issue, cleaning motion capture is far less enoyable than creating some keyframe animation. While I worked on game cinematics I had the chance to work at many level: character modeling, environment and props modeling and texturing, set dressing, lighting or compositing. One of the major drawbacks is the irregularity of the budgets which is really frustrating because even some major companies are trying to save money on cinematics despite a market that is booming and very profitable.
Pros: Perfect project to experiment all your skills.
Cons: Motion capture for animation, redundancy of the subjects (especially around violence), budgets too small
Softwares: 3dsmax, and a little Maya and Lightwave.

Video Games

I haven’t worked in the game industry at all. The work focuses on long-term projects in general, which unfortunately sometimes fails for marketing reasons, so be prepared to work on project that might never make it to the market. I think My Friend Nicolas could certainly help me to complete this section (thanks to his long experience of the game:) ).
Pros: ?
Cons: ?
Softwares: 3dsMax, some Maya and XSI?

Animated Series

Same here , never worked in this area. However, many of my colleagues did and all of them said that this kind of production focus on the production rate rather than quality ( surprising ? ;)). What can be frustrating depending on the level of quality required and the constraints that this will involve creatively. Moreover I do not believe that working on series is the best way to keep its motivation up on the very long term. It could be a great way to familiarize with efficient workflow and add a lot of shots to your demo reel, but I think you better make sure the company you’re working for offers from time to time the possibility to work on different projects so you can relax and diversify.
Pros: Job stability provided by a long production, opportunity to learn how a really efficient pipeline work.
Cons: Constraint on quality, easy to get tired of the project
Softwares:?

Animated Short Film

In many cases as a student that would be the first kind of project you will ever work on. Since Pixar and few other studios started to produce regularly short movies internally , that developped a trend in many studio. And that’s great it helps the companies to promote themselves creatively through festivals and to experiment new technics and it creates great creative opportunitties for artists. I had the chance to participate to shorts at Partizan, and while I worked at Blur: a few weeks on Rockfish and Gopher Broke and I had the chance to supervise the lighting and compositing of ” A Gentlemen’s Duel”. The process is frankly very pleasant since all decisions are made internally, the work can be harassing just because festivals submissions deadlines such as the academy awards are unmovable.But this is really great project to work for even when you need to give some extra time to it.
Pros: Very rewarding, a lot of visibility to professionals through festivals
Cons: Can be exhausting if you invest yourself a lot in the project
Softwares: It seems to me that 3dsmax is widely used for short films students.

Animated Feature Film

I’m working on my third feature film within Dreamworks, that’s a great experience, very different than my previous projects. Generally the movies are developed by department which is requesting everyione to be specialized. The daily load of work is managed differently too, those production can be a lot slower due to the number of people involved. And the hierarchy can be another reason to slow down the process just because you will need to validate your work with your supervisor, the artistic director, the production designer, the director and even the marketing department. But the final project is always rewarding.
Pros: Very gratifying, huge value added on a resume
Cons: Length of production and validation process
Softwares: Proprietary software, a few projects on 3dsmax or Maya.

Live Action Movies

My only experience on the subject is very, but very anecdotal. It was a feature called “Mr. Fix It” I worked on while I was at Blur. A project which I frankly don’t mind to not mention in my resume. I was repairing mistake from the shooting or doing few cheap FX shots which could not be shot in live action for budgetary issues (a gliding scene for example). I even erased the penis of a poodle on 200 pictures because the dog was supposed to be a female, big time for the casting crew. So any developed experiences on the subject would be welcome. From what I understand it involves a lot of compositing work, and FX skills . You need also to be familiar with the many constraints to integrate computer graphics into the 35 mm format.
Pros: Very gratifying, Big value added on a resume, the challenge of creating innovative effects regularly.
Cons: Length of productions, all feature films are not equal and working on future flop can be a waste of time for your demo or resume
Softwares: Maya, proprietary software.

One Response to At work : what project will fit you the best ?

  • Nico

    Nico point of view about Games:
    Well, hard to make Pros and Cons about it compare to other type of Prod. specially because I worked only on video games only :P. Everything will depends, like everywhere else, on the team, the company and the project you will work on, without forgetting the special tools and pipeline you will work with, without forgetting the time, the budgets and your salaries. The experience of team-leads is really important in video game to drive the “boat” the best you can depending on what sea you’re sealing on too.
    At the end, what is important is that the final product is a Videogame, and so the team work, the technical restrictions and the real time interactivity is really what drive your graphic work. If you don’t like it, or if the product “video game” is not really speaking to you, maybe you might feel unhappy about those last three parameters really different from other type of work… Nowadays, I can tell you that everything is very close to what Weta, Blur or Pixar are doing in every level technically speaking, techniques are copied or improved, and changed or adapted, to run real time because the end render or product is really what is different. Another difference is that you can be in video games way more involved in the project than any other job, you can give ideas and make way more personal something than any other job, because it’s more flexible is the team is not to big. You feel you are part of the project way more and not just a button pusher… and it motivated you way more. Software wise, I worked on Max and Maya, and I’m not for or against any of them, XSI include. As long as you can express artistically without too much technical restriction what you want, who care about the name or the placement of your icons.
    Several years ago, switching from Max to Maya was a blast. For what I heard, 3dsMax is now very close to be a great product that lots of teams (Ubisoft, Blizzard) are using. I still animation-wise love Maya (Nintendo, Naughty dogs are using it too for example), and XSI seems to be pleased by other major company (Capcom). The three software are probably so close now days that any choice is probably not a problem. Pros: Very gratifying when in the store and played by millions of players, can be really creatively involved at anytime of the project.
    Cons: Lot of Overtime, Length of production (2 to 4 years), project can be canned anytime, lot of work re-done over and over.
    Software: Any, even if I prefer Maya for its Openness and script writing for tools.