DANNY ROLLINGS creates ELEMENTS ACADEMY
I’d love to work for Pixar, they are not just a 3D animation studio, they create stories that are well designed, relatable, inspirational and tear-jerking, and sometimes ones that are thought-provoking and educational, too.
Danny Rollings, a native of Kent, England, has recently completed his bachelor degree in Computer Animation Arts at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Rochester. The course teaches everything from the fundamentals of 2D drawing through 3D modeling, rigging, and animation to character design. For his final project Danny worked on a project that fuses science and education to create a series called Elements Academy, which is intended to be a 3D animated web series aimed at children aged between 11–13 years old.
Danny enjoys character design, motion graphics, and modeling. He hopes to work on 3D modelling characters or environments for film or television (hopefully at Pixar), and one day see his name in the closing credits of a film. We talk with Danny about his early motivations and inspiration that led him to CG, his interests, Scooby Doo, and his experience with Maya rendering and using a Maya cloud render farm.
What’s your name and where do you live?
My name is Danny Rollings, and I live in Gravesend, England
What are you studying? Tell us more about the course.
I have just completed a three year University course studying a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Computer Animation Arts at the University for the Creative Arts, Rochester.
Course information can be found on the UCA website.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy learning new things, so in my free time if I’m curious about something I will eagerly research into it. A topic that I find greatly inspiring is science, which has greatly impacted me, and so found its way into many aspects of my daily life, from my ongoing Elements Academy project, to my gaming habits.
I’m interested in various types of video games, including puzzlers, horror and role playing games, my favourite of which is the sci-fi RPG series, Mass Effect. I most enjoy getting sucked into a great story, an enjoyment that extends from my long term love of reading books; drop me in a Waterstones or WHSmith and it will be with great difficulty that I’ll resist buying a book, even if I already have three or more waiting to be read.
How did you get involved in CG and when?
Born less than a year after the release of Jurassic Park, and barely a year prior to the release of Toy Story, my path to CG began before I was even aware of it. I grew up on 2D and 3D animation, which started on Cartoon Network, first with re-runs of the Scooby Doo TV series (which to this day I adore), and consuming many of its direct-to-video movies on VHS. Then it was onto the likes of Ed, Edd n Eddy and Dexter’s Laboratory.
It wasn’t until the new millennium that my interest grew beyond simply viewing these animations. 2001 brought the hilarious 3D-animated Shrek, and the beautiful 2D-3D combo that was Atlantis: The Lost Empire. It was delving into the Special Features of these DVDs that really kicked off my interest in how 3D animations were made. With 2002 came the release of the first live-action movie adaption of Scooby Doo, which used a CG Scooby-Doo, the franchise’s lovable talking dog.
As my first memorable interaction with live-action CGI, soaking in the methods used to bring this non-existent dog into the real world made this an important movie in my journey towards CG. The clincher came in 2005 with the CGI-filled live-action remake of War of the Worlds, which a decade later is still my favourite movie. During all this I was a complete bookworm, who also loved drawing, and enjoyed occasionally writing stories. I would get lost in the books I read and become emotionally invested in the characters.
Why did you choose CG? What excites and interests you about it?
I chose CG because it would let me bring my imagination to life, and eventually allow me to play even a small part in inspiring, entertaining or exciting others. Whether it be via my dream of working on feature films, or by animated shorts, TV series, or simply by creating interesting and relatable characters. What most excites me about CG is 3D modelling with polygons, it seems to have become almost instinctual over the past 5 years, yet I’m glad to say it still keeps me on my toes.
I really enjoy character design, although I’m much more at home using a pencil & paper, or more recently vector tools & vector shapes, than I am using a graphics tablet. College bred a continued interest in logo design, graphic design and motion graphics in the form of infographics and kinetic typography. University gave me the opportunity to further this interest in infographics via a second year project in which I was tasked with creating a (believe-it-or-not) randomly selected infographic on the Top 10 Facts about Weird Science.
A couple of educational mini-infographics form an important part of my 3D animated Elements Academy episode, which is currently in development and will be completed by the end of June, ready to be shown to the public at this year’s New Designersexhibition in early July, alongside my fellow CAA 2016 graduates’ work.
What was the most challenging or fun project you worked on so far and why?
The most challenging project I’ve worked on was our second year Narrative project, in which Adam Stone, Sukhi Ghai and I tried to create an animation about a clumsy French chef trying to impress his date. I was tasked with designing both characters, fully modelling the Chef, modelling the female date’s head, and doing part of the animating. I found the animation the most difficult part of this project, because I only had limited experience with it at the time.
My most enjoyable projects have been those related to turning the periodic elements into characters. This nicely combines a number of my skills and interests, such as science, character design, graphic design, motion graphics and 3D modelling. Because of this I have been able to remain interested in this task for over a year, and hope to have the opportunity to continue working with this concept post-university.
I was greatly inspired by last year’s visiting lecture from Mattel production & product designer, Tom McDowell, which greatly impacted the design methodology and visual aesthetic of my characters. His account of working on the revived Bob the BuilderTV series led to the my decision to make my characters and the Elements Academy “product” merchandisable; this logic is clearly illustrated by the limited colour palette and vinyl toy appearance of my finished characters.
What would you like to achieve in terms of your career? Where do you see or hope to see yourself in 5 years time?
In five years time I’d like to have achieved a stable position 3D modelling characters or environments for film or television. A simple ambition of mine has long been to see my name in the end credits of a film or animation.
For a long time I’ve wanted to work for Pixar, because their stories are relatable and intelligently thought out, as are their characters. Pixar’s characters are fun & their personalities well developed, while Pixar’s realistic yet slightly cartoony design style allows the viewer to escape from reality, yet still feel familiar with the worlds they’re jumping into.
Another great thing with Pixar is they are not afraid to make you cry, because real life is not all sunshine and roses; bringing that bit of darkness into their movies & animated shorts, then like a torch in the darkness, giving the characters & audience that glimmer of hope, before finally turning on the lights — and sometimes, like in real life, not everyone survives.
Sadness, fear and death are powerful things, and to take your characters through the darkness before showing them the sunshine can really change a viewer’s life, or even save it. There are many reasons we watch animation, and there are many reasons we choose to escape from reality; so someone watching the characters they know and love experience hardship, as they have, and come out the other side, this may give them hope, and the heart to carry on.
This is why I’d love to work for Pixar (or technically Disney-Pixar), they are not just a 3D animation studio, they create stories that are well designed, relatable, inspirational and tear-jerking, and sometimes ones that are thought-provoking and educational, too.
What was the reason behind using a render farm for this project?
I chose to outsource my renders to GarageFarm.NET cloud render farm to provide me with more time to work on my project, rather than having to allocate several days to rendering.
How did you find GarageFarm.NET Render Farm?
Many of the CAA third year students and I had been planning to use a cloud render farm since early in our final projects, and our course leader Phil Gomm contacted GarageFarm.NET on our behalf. You helped support our work by providing us with 50 free render credits to get us started, which all of us who used your render farm have greatly appreciated.
Tell us more about the project you rendered on our farm. What motivated you to choose this subject matter?
The character turnarounds & section of animation previously rendered with GarageFarm.NET are part of my Elements Academyproject, which is presented as an educational 3D animated web series aimed at children aged between 11–13 years old, and follows the school lives of the periodic elements. For my full project I am creating the first episode of Elements Academy, called “Wat(er)’s Your Problem?”; much of which I will be rendering with GarageFarm.NET. Two of my biggest motivations behind this project are my interest in science, and my enjoyment of character design.
What would you say was the most challenging aspect of this particular project?
The most challenging aspect of this project has been time management, and sometimes over-focusing on small aspects of it.
Can you tell us some more about the technical details of the project? Any additional resources you used and learned from?
I designed all my characters using Adobe Photoshop CC’s vector tools, from the initial Influence Map and silhouette stage, right up to their orthographic projections. I chose Photoshop over the fully vector-based Illustrator because I prefer Photoshop’s layer system. Autodesk Maya 2016 is my software of choice for 3D modelling, texturing and animation all rendered in Mental Ray.
I use Adobe Audition for sound editing, and either After Effects or Premiere Pro for footage editing & compositing, depending on what I need to do. Alan, our 2nd & 3rd year Maya lecturer, provides us with a website which hosts a variety of his tutorials covering all stages of the animation pipeline, while also teaching us in person about these various aspects of the convoluted yet powerful piece of software that is Maya.
Do you remember any funny or interesting stories along the way that you want to share?
In late February 2015, I was in the early stages of adapting the periodic element Helium as a character. Because of Helium’s well-known use in balloons, this connection quickly became a driving design aesthetic for the character, which led to an unexpected and funny coincidence involving Disney’s Big Hero 6; my early character silhouettes had what appeared to be an obvious similarity to the film’s inflatable robot Baymax!
Big Hero 6 released only 3 days after I’d uploaded my initial Helium silhouettes to my blog. At the time I was completely unaware of this similarity, having not known anything about the film, nor seen any of its promotional material, so when Scott noticed the similarity and let me know about it, it became a running joke between some of my classmates and I.
Have you ever used any other commercial render farm or have you experienced using your own?
Before using GarageFarm.NET, I did not have any previous experience with using a render farm.
What were your initial impressions or thoughts when you first started working with us?
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleased to find the staff I interacted with to be polite, patient and helpful. The convenience and helpfulness of GarageFarm.NET means I will without a doubt be making use of the render farm several times in the near future.
Any advice for someone who is just starting out or is thinking of getting into animation or CG in general?
Give yourself a project schedule, buy a whiteboard to write down ideas, get a diary or planner to set yourself tasks for each day; post-it notes are greatly useful for anything from scribbling ideas, to writing down important pieces of information.
If you don’t have blog, I recommend creating one because it means industry professionals can easily view your work and progress; this also acts as evidence of your progress if you lose your work.
Speaking of losing work, always, always backup your work on more than one device. Save often, and create multiple different files as you go, that way if one file corrupts before you have chance to back it up, at least you won’t have lost hours, or even days worth of work. There’s a lot required of you in this industry, but the satisfaction of creating something amazing out of thin air makes it all the more worth it.
Where can people find you on social media?
Anything else you would like to add?
Time management is the key in this industry. Because there is such a complex pipeline, you need to meet each deadline to enable you to move on to the next stage of the pipeline to keep the project flowing, otherwise if you spend too much time on one part of the pipeline, it can dramatically impact the time you have left to work on future parts, causing you to either not finish the project, or rushing the end and not giving your full potential. And finally, to quote Phil, whether you’re studying animation, or working in the industry, “Be amazing!”.