To begin, could you tell us your role and summarize your day-to-day responsibilities?
I am a layout artist at Industrial Light & Magic’s (ILM) London studio, and right now I’m working on television projects. Not many people know about layout, but it’s sort of the foundation for a lot of visual effects. It’s one of the few departments that touches every shot in a particular sequence, so you get a lot of variety.
There are usually two types of layout, one that is more technical, and the other more creative. On the technical side, you can create match-moves, build sets, do object-tracking, rotoanim, and stuff like that. It involves building camera moves within a computer-generated set. Object-tracking involves attaching elements to things in the footage, like a glowing lightsaber in Star Wars. There’s not much gray area on that side. It’s either right or wrong, but it’s fun to touch many of the shots. On the creative side, we get to create shots directly from storyboards or shot lists. We’re involved in the creation and development of the actual shots. We get to play around and try things. Sometimes you even do something wrong and they like it!
Layout is the preparation work that serves as the foundation for much of the visual effects work, which happens on top of it. It’s right at the start of the pipeline. We have to be quite thorough, because if anything is incorrect or broken, it can cause problems later on. Layout is a good pathway to becoming a generalist artist, because you learn so much from almost every single department. It’s quite nice to have that broad exposure, and there’s a lot of problem-solving and puzzles involved. It’s a good place for people who like that sort of thing!
How does your role fit within your larger team? Are you sort of dividing up the different tasks?
I’ve not been here very long, so I can only say from experience of my first show. But in general, depending on the show, you’d have multiple layout artists and tasks would get passed around. And it varies. It can be different from day to day.
What inspired you to first get involved in this industry and artform?
I’ve always loved films, both creating them and watching them. I never remember watching anything else. It comes from that love. I wasn’t always aiming to work in film, but when you really want to do something, you end up pulling yourself in that direction. At first, I wasn’t sure about the idea of working for ILM, because that would’ve meant moving abroad. As I look back, I feel like I would’ve moved, but when the London office opened, now there was a chance to work for the company in my home country. It’s a great feeling! I think I’d first heard about ILM without even realizing what it was. I was reading about the stained glass knight in Young Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t understand much about ILM or visual effects, but things float back up in your mind later on. The company was always on my radar.
Had you studied visual effects in school? Or did you move into effects work?
Effects was my second career. I was in the military for about six years before I started in film. I was an engineer with the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers. I learned a lot working on tanks and things like that. But my interest in film was always there and I couldn’t ignore it, so I went to university and studied modeling and animation. I started as a runner at DNEG in London, delivering tea and coffee and things. I enjoyed it at the time! I then started doing match-moves, and I transitioned to some other studios called FrameStore and Outpost VFX. At Outpost I became a match-move supervisor and generalist. As a generalist your job description starts to blur and you learn even more! From there I came to ILM.