Adam Dewhirst is a Creature Modeller at The Mill, an internationally-recognised visual effects company. As Escape Studios' VFX Festival kicks off in London this week, he tells us why zombies are passé, why it's good to be polite and explains why he's definitely not an animator...
Full name/age/job title:
Adam Dewhirst, 30, Creature Modeller at The Mill.
Please give us an overview of your average day.
Each day is totally different in my job. I build virtual models of creatures – either mythical, fictional or real – to be inserted into an animated sequence for film or TV. One day I could be building a griffin and the next day the Statue of Liberty. It’s quite a varied role as each project obviously brings a different subject matter, and with it, different challenges.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That I get to go on set and mix with the film stars and directors etc. Normally people see my showreel and see a film they know, and go “Oh, so you met so and so.” Sadly not the case. Normally the film is shot first and then we add the digital visual effects afterwards. The other one that makes me laugh is when people relate what I do to traditional animation and assume I draw each frame by hand... amazing!
What is the hardest thing about your role?
Nothing is ever the same so the method I use to build a digital version of an actor will obviously be totally different from the method I use to build a dinosaur or even a car. No project is ever the same. Sure there are similarities, but on a day to day basis I don’t really know what’s coming my way.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
I know the exact moment – it was halfway through my degree in Graphic Design at Chelsea School of Art. I was spending a lot of time at home with my flatmate watching films, we had an enormous VHS library, and it occurred to me that I would much rather work in film than be a graphic designer which I had little interest in.
After that it was a process of elimination to figure out what role I would play in the film process – that’s when I came across Escape Studios. They are, to my knowledge, the only London-based VFX academy that train people in 3D effects. The only other option was another three-year degree, this time in Animation, which did not appeal.
I took a studio tour of Escape Studios and liked what I saw. When I visited I encountered a lot of people who were in a similar situation to me; the degree they had done hadn’t left them with many actual skills for the job market and they wanted to get some really practical training. That’s what Escape Studios provide - real work skills taught by industry professionals. It was exactly what I was after and the prefect solution.
What can you do to get a head start?
Years ago I would have said start as a runner at a film studio or post production house and get some hands on experience, but now I’m not so sure. I see a lot of people working at home learning new software and getting some great reels out there. I think my honest advice is that if you’re looking to get noticed, you need to create work that stands out. So often I see young people’s work that is the same old thing – ninjas, robots, zombies etc. Do something different, that separates you from the crowd! And if you really want some good professional training, head down to Escape Studios to enrol in a day course, or even better a full-time professional one.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
I’m a kind of digital sculptor, so, in the past when filmmakers would turn to physical effects artists and prosthetics to create effects they now look to digital artists as we can achieve more realistic effects virtually. My role is very creative as it consists of building creatures or environments, I mostly have specific designs to work from but occasionally I will build from scratch. Translating the design from 2D to 3D is entirely in my hands, so it’s much more creative than it is technical.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
I’m not so sure there are many things that I didn’t know then that I know now. There are certainly things that have been enforced over the years in this industry, mainly the importance of networking as most of the industry is run on a word of mouth recommendation system. People tend to move around the different companies quite often, so it’s important to make friends and to never burn your bridges. A bad working reputation can follow you around for years!
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
Obviously Escape Studios, their website is incredibly helpful and they now teach online. They are hosting the first VFX Festival this week in their Shepherds Bush studios which will give anyone a great insight into the industry.
I also use 3Dtotal.com and there is a great industry magazine you can by from any WH Smiths called 3Dartist – it has some great tips, interviews and tutorials. Also, don’t be afraid to get on Twitter. Networking is a really important part of the job and plenty of VFX houses have their own twitter accounts.
The Visual Effects Festival runs between the 10th-13th October in London and is the first ever four-day spectacular created by Escape Studios, the global academy for visual effects.
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