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Interview with Chris Nichols

By Richard Tilbury

Web: http://www.porkpiesamurai.com/ (will open in new window)
Email: moc.liamg@iarumaseipkrop

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Date Added: 26th April 2012
You mention on your website that you began your career as a prop modeler, but how did you come to be involved in the CG industry and what prompted you down this path?

I started in 2007 as a prop modeler at Bardel Entertainment, but previous to this I lived in Australia and had prepared for a year before moving to Vancouver.

After high school I did three years of graphic design where I was introduced to digital art. We learned a lot about Photoshop and a bit of Cinema 4D and I knew I wanted to get into 3D. After graduation in 2004, I did a year of animation at the same college, except the course was really underdeveloped and we had to source outside help to come in and teach us.

We tried to make a faux episode of the Animatrix as a year-long project, which pretty much fell on its face half way through the year as most of the class had dropped out and the five of us that were left eventually shrank to myself and another guy by the end of the year.

He moved into my apartment and we set it up as a small studio, working day and night. This was where I really learned a lot about modeling and texturing, both from him and the film.

We never got the film finished, but had enough material to make into some sort of trailer so we flew over to Sydney and visited a bunch of studios to show off our work. We had a good response and got some helpful critiques, and even got to do some short term work at Digital Pictures. As it turned out we both got hired closer to home to work on a short film called Ironbird for close to a year before we decided to move to Vancouver to look for work.

I ended up at Bardel and my friend got hired at Blur down in Venice.

Your collaboration with your friend sounds like it was a real learning experience and a good introduction to working in a team, but what crucial lessons and skills did you learn at Bardel that have helped in your subsequent career?

Working in a structured studio was interesting in that I had been used to working in a loose manner. It takes some getting used to, being productive from 9 - 5, meeting deadlines and communicating with other areas of production such as rigging and texturing.

It's a really satisfying experience to get an asset through and watch as each part of the pipeline takes it to completion in the shots.

I noticed you worked on the film Invictus as a texture artist. Can you describe your role in the project in a little more detail and tell us what types of texture work you undertook?

Initially I was hired at CIS to work as a texture artist on the film, which involved painting dozens of the stadium crowd digital doubles, rugby player digi-doubles and any props or set pieces. A lot of what I was doing was projecting face and body photos onto geometry the modelers had made and creating variations of clothing and accessories.
A few months before the film completed I got to work on some environments for the film such as the U.N assembly in New York, working with a matte painter to provide models and textures that were used for the scene.

It is interesting to hear about your role on Invictus, because it not a film that contains any obvious CG. How big an impact does the project make to your day-to-day job, or is modeling and texturing pretty much the same ultimately?

Well, on Invictus the background crowds were not supposed to be something the audience paid any attention to really; they just had to look and act normally and not pull focus from the action. However they also had to look real from any camera, and work in the crowd engine. Ultimately it was like a game pipeline, using normal maps for surface detail and mid res diffuse and spec maps for the surface.

The thing with this sort of project is that we need to get through loads of models quickly so only a small amount of time should be assigned to each character. I think it would take about a day to texture a full character from start to finish.

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