In our 2nd Meet the Animals feature, we continue to delve into the minds of the people who make the films possible. This time, we join Damien Gray, CG Supervisor on the critically and commercially acclaimed The LEGO Movie.
Describe your role?
There are many aspects of the work and the focus tends to shift from project to project – but, if I were to try and sum up the role in a single sentence it would be: Working closely with a team of developers and artist, of many disciplines, to develop workflows, create tools and assets that can enable and deliver to the scale and scope of the project.
On ‘Happy Feet’ my role was to develop, build and maintain character rigs and review the delivery of each of these assets to Animation.
On ‘Legend of the Guardians’ there was more bidding and planning of the character asset work and then managing the execution and delivery of modelling, rigging and surfacing (grooming) assets.
On ‘The Lego Movie’ it was similar for characters, props and environments but there was also a bit more of a focus on Animation, FX and Lighting.
What natural skills do you think lend themselves to being a CG supervisor?
Because of the broad range of work, CG Supervisors tend to come from a few different backgrounds and disciplines. I would say a common set of desirable skills would be some, if not all, of the following; inquisitive, organized , attention to detail, good communication, problem solving, calm and comfortable with complexity and diversity, a focus on process and techniques, an aptitude and/or interest in Art and Science, good with people of all types – just to name a few.
For me I think it started from a very early age with a genuine curiosity with how things work. Pulling things apart and putting them back together (and then figuring out where all of the extra parts came from). From there it’s developed; to computers, software, characters, story, people, teams and the techniques which enable creative expression.
A key responsibility is spearheading long term development initiatives – so being comfortable leading and collaborating with a team of developers, artist and production through to a practical and deliverable outcome is quite an important goal.
How did you get into the business?
I’ve always had an interest in animation and after high school I studied 2D animation at Griffith University with a Bachelor of Visual Arts. After graduating, my first job was in video games where I had a chance to do a bit of everything (design, modelling, surfacing, rigging and animation) for a number of years. During this time I did a bit of freelancing for both commercials. This eventually led to joining Animal Logic in 2003 as an animator (at first) on ‘Happy Feet’.
What advice would you give to someone interested in CG?
A Tom Hiddleston quote always springs to mind when I’m asked this question, and I think it’s particularly poignant in this creative and constant technologically evolving industry: “Stay hungry, stay young, stay foolish, stay curious, and above all, stay humble because just when you think you have got all the answers, is the moment when some bitter twist of fate in the universe will remind you that you very much don't.”
Change is inevitable – the creative goals, the tools and techniques all can and do change. Being able to adapt to that change, plan for it and embrace it – is key. Change is evolution (at times revolution) and without it nothing can get better – even if sometimes you have to take a step back.
Lastly, what's your favourite film(s)?
That’s always been a hard one for me to answer – there are so many outstanding films released each year and the quality of CG imagery continues to climb. But if I had to pick I’d have to say the most memorable (and possible nostalgic) films that resonate with me would be Alien (1979), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Gremlins (1984), Back to the Future (1985), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and more recently Spirited Away (2001) and Up (2009).
Each of them, in their own way, feature ‘intense’ and unforgettable characters that live in stylised, vibrant, imaginatively constructed and fantastical worlds and yet still, at some level, relate to a common and very ‘human’ experience.