Our Meet the Animals series aims to introduce you to the artists, art directors, supervisors, producers, software developers and support staff here at Animal Logic. We'll get an insight into their roles and pick their brains for advice for students, graduates, teachers or anyone interested in a potential career in Visual Effects and Animation.
We're kicking things off with Kim Taylor, Animal Logic's art director and lead matte painter on The Great Gatsby and a senior matte painter on the recently released The LEGO® Movie.
Describe your role?
My role tends to shift between art director, concept artist and matte painter depending on the project and even the tasks within those projects. On The Great Gatsby for example, I was involved from the very beginning, going on set to get a feel for the film's environments and then creating concept art and gathering reference to inform the design choices for the assets we needed to build to populate these environments. Later, as the asset builds finished up and shot production was in full swing, I shifted over more into a lead matte painter role whilst still guiding comp and lighting where help was needed.
On The LEGO® Movie, my role was shifted again to a very technical matte painting role where I generated concept art, modelled, textured, laid out, lit, rendered and then pre comped my own shots. It was definitely a change from Gatsby, but on a totally 3D rendered production like The LEGO® Movie the core requirements were very different.
Since these projects I have been art directing a film pitch and doing many drawings, concept paintings and art frames in photoshop, barely touching maya at all, so I really can't be sure where the next project will take me.
What natural skills do you think lend themselves to being a matte painter?
I think the desire to understand how light works and how to recreate reality in an image is crucial for matte painting and how you achieve that has changed over the years. A high degree of skill in realistic painting was the key in the early days of glass and even into digital matte painting, but these days, skills in all aspects of 3D environment creation, from modelling, texturing, lighting, rendering to comping will be far more likely to land you a job.
You have to train and broaden both the skill set and your eye though. 3D software can make it easier to generate realistic images, but you still need to really LOOK at the world around you and study how light works and reacts to things. If you learn to understand and use those physical laws in your work, people will mistake what you create for the reality and you will be able to convince them no matter how far your imagination pushes things.
How did you get into the business?
I have always been drawing, painting and fiddling around in Photoshop since the earliest versions, manipulating photographs and trying to make people believe what I made was real. I inevitably enrolled in a graphic design and illustration degree in Stellebosch in South Africa. Upon graduating four years later I moved to London and through an inside contact, got my portfolio viewed by the vice head of TVC at the Moving Picture Company - I wasn't asking for a job but rather for advice on what my skill set might lead me to. I didn't even know what VFX jobs existed at the time. I was told kindly that my 3D skills were nowhere near the level needed but that I should try matte painting and send them some samples.
This was the first time I had even heard of matte painting so I went home, researched what a matte painter did, thought it through and at the end of the week sent them five images that showed I could do the most likely task a matte painter in a TVC department might need to do. I was working as a freelancer there a few days later and remained there for over three years. Since then I have worked at Framestore, the Mob Film Company, Opus Artz and finally here at Animal Logic.
What advice would you give to someone interested in matte painting?
The quickest route to being a proficient matte painter would be to learn 3D packages and get really good at combining 3D renders and photography seamlessly in images. I would take a look at Garret Fry's gnomon DVD on 3D matte painting if you wish for a good overview of the more advanced 3D techniques, then take a look at Dusso's if you want to see the other end of the spectrum and be inspired by someone who just paints his matte paintings.
Reality is really subtle but you have to understand the underlying basics of light in order to know what subtle touches need to go where. Learning how to achieve a realistic result in 3D teaches you a lot about how you would paint something as you have to understand what the virtual light is doing. That said, the real world is the best teacher, so study photography, study light and study the world around you.
Any other career advice you'd like to give?
I would say that learning is the key. Always try make good mistakes that teach you better ways of working so that over time you take on all the efficient ways of working and discard slower or 'comfortable' but less effective habits. If you are afraid of being wrong you wont try new ideas or emulate other methods that seem to be more effective and your progress will be slow. A high degree of relevant skill and speed is always going to be useful in a company so long as the holder of that skills is easy to get along with!
Lastly, what's your favourite animated film?
Having been very involved with The LEGO® Movie, that would be the film I am most proud of working on, but outside of this, my favourite traditionally animated film would probably have to be Princess Mononoke from Studio Ghilbi and my favourite 3D animated film would be UP.
Visit www.sketchling.com to view a collection of Kim's personal works.
Want to join the team at Animal Logic? Head over to our Careers page to check our job listings and expressions of interest!