We sat down with our animation lead Jenn Taylor to discuss how she got her start, what her role as lead entails and the skills that are needed to be successful in the field.
How did you get your start as an animator?
I didn’t get started in the traditional way of going to film school. I grew up in Victoria, where we had fewer options, so I went to a local school and took a 3 month Maya course which outlined the different aspects of animation and film. After that, I spent about 6 months animating at home and working on my demo reel, finding tutorials online and learning what I could. I then sent my reel to Bardel in Vancouver and got the job on a 4-month contract, which continued and ended up taking me to where I am now, 11 years later! I spent about 2 years at Bardel working on TV cartoon series, then moved on to a couple of other studios doing similar cartoon film and television work, until 2010 where I landed a job as lead animator on the Clone Wars at Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore. That was a great experience, spending a year in Asia improving my skills and traveling. On my way home from Asia, I finally made my break into VFX (which I had been working towards) at Image Engine, where I started in 2012. I started as an animator, and worked my way up to senior, and now lead, working on some amazing projects with some great people and learning a lot along the way!
Can you tell us a bit more about your interview with Image Engine? We hear there’s an interesting story there.
I had wanted to get into VFX for a while, and Image Engine has an excellent reputation, so I was really excited to speak with them when I first emailed the recruiter. I was, however, backpacking through Asia on my 4-month trip home; no laptop, no smartphone, and spotty internet. Recruiting had mentioned they could wait until I was back home to speak, but I was eager, so I purchased a cheap Nokia and a SIM card in India and emailed the number over so we could set up a meeting. When they called, however, it was about 10 pm, and I was at an Indian train station. Hot, loud, dusty. I paid a taxi driver to let me sit in his car while I had the interview. My travel partner was standing outside getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, the taxi was fogging up from the heat, and cows were mooing in the background, which I apologized for on my interview. Thankfully it went well, and I got an offer which I gladly accepted! I don’t know if that’s an interview location I’d be able to top.
What does your role as animation lead entail?
This role can be different from company to company, depending on how the studio and Supervisors like to work and delegate responsibilities, but at Image Engine it encompasses a few areas. I am generally responsible for managing the artists on the floor, being the first point of contact for technical assistance, animation feedback outside of dailies, and artist management – working with them to develop their skills and giving them feedback about how they can improve, and hearing from them how we as a department can continue getting better. I am also responsible for working with CG supervisors, other department leads and supes to help them with problems across departments. I attend company and project based meetings, work with R&D and TD’s to develop and test animation tools, as well as keep the team up to date with any relevant show information. I often animate key or senior level shots for the production. The variety of tasks and opportunity for working with many types of people keeps me motivated and energized, especially with the awesome team we have here at IE.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
For years, I felt most rewarded by being assigned a shot that seemed unique or complex, something I hadn’t attempted before, and finding a way to overcome those creative or technical challenges and come up with a fun and interesting shot. One of the shows where I was able to experience this was Jurassic World, where Image Engine was developing the personalities of the raptors. We were running around taking video reference as dinosaurs, and sorting out the behaviors and personalities of these characters, which was exciting to be a part of and the end result was something we were all very proud of. More recently, however, I feel rewarded by working with our team. I love being able to spend time with the animators, help them where I can, and watching everyone grow and push their own skills. Seeing them improve and being excited about what they’re doing is really enjoyable, and what makes me most fulfilled.
What are the key skills that you need to be successful in animation?
Attitude, without question. Being humble and open to feedback will greatly improve your chances of being kept on at a studio while you continue to grow as an artist. Of course, studios require a level of talent and skill from their juniors, but working well with your leads, supervisors and teammates will be a major element in being successful in this industry. There will be challenges, there will be hard work, and keeping a positive attitude will alleviate some of the stresses and help you succeed.
What have been your favourite projects you’ve worked on at IE?
I’ve been lucky to work on a wide range of projects over the years I’ve been here, but a couple of the highlights for me have been Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Jurassic World. We were given some really fun sequences on these shows, and I was stoked to see the work we were able to produce.
What is your favourite thing about working in this industry?
What I enjoy most about VFX is that it’s constantly changing, and we get to work on new challenging projects quite often. New characters, studying different anatomy and body mechanics and working out technical challenges on each show keep us growing and learning. I’m never bored, and I consistently feel like I’m progressing and being challenged as an artist and a leader.
How has animation progressed over the last decade and where do you think it will go in the future?
Animation, possibly more so than other departments, tends to be a department where we are less affected by the changing of software, and more focused on continuing to develop our artistic abilities. Technically the way we worked ten years ago could still be applied today, which allows us to focus a lot on continuing to work on our craft, studying animal movement and behaviors, acting choices, anatomy, etc. While technologies have advanced and given us some easier and quicker ways of achieving our end goal, through rigging and tool development, we can still focus on the same elements of our job. I expect to see it continue in the same way in the future, with tech just assisting us as it improves with time.