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Diversity and Trends in CGI, Lighting Design & Photography – Movidiam Interview

Alastair Dixon: diversity and trends in CGI, lighting design & photography

CGI and VFX Lighting Supervisor Alastair Dixon  has provided VFX work for almost every format of visual media in a career spanning over 10 years. Idents, music videos, commercials and a feature film from iconic stop-motion studio Aardman, to name but a few. Movidiam spoke to Alastair about his career with Aardman, the importance of combining different passions and keeping on top of the technology changes within the CG industry.

Link to the original post on Movidiam HERE

You’ve worked on several productions for Aardman, one of the biggest names in animation. What is it like being part of a studio with such a legacy?


It’s brilliant here, there are so many talented artists working across a variety of mediums from stop motion to CGI animation. The diversity doesn’t stop there as we produce for so many platforms too, including commercials, film, TV series, games and virtual reality. Being surrounded by all this and such lovely people makes it a brilliant place to develop yourself as an artist.

Leading from that, was ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’ a fun project to be involved in? What are the challenges of being involved in a lengthy project in comparison to the shorter contract work you’ve also done?

“The Pirates!” was a great film to work on, It was my first major feature film project so it holds some special memories for me. It was really interesting actually working at the Studios where the film was being hand-animated. Every morning on the way to my workspace I would walk past something different, from huge model pirate ships to miniature sets of London in the time of pirates.

Working in feature film allowed me to really concentrate on perfecting the lighting in the shots I was working on. I really enjoyed being able to produce work to the best of my ability because of the longer time schedules. A caveat to that is that you may only get to work using one discipline (lighting for me) throughout the project. You have to really love that discipline to be ok with that.

A look into the BTS of Aardman’s ‘The Pirates’ feature stop motion film

Moving on to the question about the difficulties of longer form, I have actually found that there tend to be more challenges when working on shorter projects due to the time constraints. With shorter projects, which may have only a 3 week timetable from start to finish, you need to be able to deliver quality work in a fraction of the time that a feature length production may have. Consequently, you don’t always have the luxury of time to be able to indulge in your artistic side. You do, however, benefit from a diverse range of experience and types of projects, which can help broaden your skill-set and enhance your showreel.
Artists in this environment tend to have skills in three or more disciplines as the teams are smaller. Mine for example are lighting, texturing, modelling & compositing.

How does your particular role and approach differ when dealing with stop motion, as opposed to CG animation?

 

The only time I personally deal with stop motion are when:
– Trying to emulate a stop frame look in CGI by creating high detailed assets with plenty of intentional imperfections in the surface and shading models. In these situations our animators would provide animation on twos (not every frame) to give it the hand animated stop frame feel everybody loves and expects from Aardman.
– I need to integrate CGI Elements into plates with stop frame animation. I would usually gather important lighting information from the set for this, including set measurements and HDRI images, used for accurately replicating lighting rigs.

You have been involved in different music videos of big renowned bands such as Coldplay, Massive Attack or Goldfrapp, as also commercial work for brands like Channel 4, Evian, Mercedes or Sony. What are the main takeaway points from shifting in different formats? Is there any field in which you feel you can boost your creativity more?

 

One major thing I have learned from working on music promos is that creativity can really shine due to clients often being less involved during the project. It’s also the classic case of promos typically having fewer decision-makers be involved in other projects, meaning the final sequence will end up with a much stronger and clearer story and look as this has been defined by a relatively small number of people – essentially, how the Director first envisioned it to look. The finished spots will also be much longer than a commercial, depending on the promo, which allows for a more interesting story to develop. The downside to working on music promos from a business perspective is that the budgets tend to be relatively small. This means that some of the funding may get absorbed by the production company. A positive is that everybody will usually end up with a beautiful piece of art for their showreel.

Music video for The Staves ‘Winter Trees’. Texturing, Shading, Lighting, Rendering and Precomp by Alastair Dixon. Lighting & Rendering done with V-Ray.

A still from the Global Goals Campaign film for the UN. Look Development & Lighting Supervision by Alastair Dixon; created at Aardman Animations.

You have also done some modelling, cinematography, photography and even trail running. Do you feel dabbing in different disciplines is more rewarding on a personal level?

 

Mixing it up for me is what keeps things interesting. I’m always wanting to learn new styles and keep up with trends in lighting design and photography. I believe that having these combinations of extra interests helps us grow into better artists by developing the skills to create what’s special and unique to us. You also find ways to make those interests complement each other, which in turn helps you to be more creative.

Expanding on your photography work, you have made several beautiful time-lapse videos and taken a keen interest in landscape, adventure and travel photography. Will that ever take more of a prominent role in your career?

 

Being able to develop my own ideas full time has always been on my mind. The trick is finding a way to make it pay its own way, and the mortgage! At the moment I am really enjoying adventure and landscape photography outside my full time job. I have a strong passion for trail running too which is taking me to some extremely beautiful places around the world. I always take my camera for before and after the race to capture the majesty of these places in my own way.

Some stills from Alastair’s photography work. Top – Alastair trail running. Middle – Gran Canaria. Bottom – Chamonix in Mont-Blanc.

Is this work you’d potentially like to share with the Movidiam community? How did you first come about joining Movidiam?
I would love to share more photography work with Movidiam. I was invited to join Movidiam in the early days. I knew it would grow to what it is today as it’s obviously a great way to collaborate with like-minded artists to make project ideas a reality.

Working in a company like Aardman, do you feel that there are changes you are currently tackling within the animation and CGI industry? Perhaps on the way you work or collaborate? How do you see a platform like Movidiam being useful in this sense?

 

With technologies and the way that people are using them in advertising and television changing so quickly, it’s important to keep on top of these changes rather than get left behind. Aardman does this very well.
I can see platforms like Movidiam becoming really strong influencers in the way that teams of artists and production are formed and managed. It could be a really fast way of finding the perfect team for medium to small scale projects that we win, but maybe don’t have the floor space to bring extra freelancers in for. Movidiam would allow more remote workers to get a piece of the action. Systems for remote lighting and rendering in the CGI industry is something that seems to be developing pretty quickly at the moment, especially with the introduction of the Google cloud render system called Zync.

Any upcoming projects you are currently working on which you can share some details about?

 

I’m currently working on a couple of in-house short films/stings that you should definitely keep an eye out for early next year. Unfortunately I can’t say much more about them at this time.

‘Ray’s Big Idea’. Lighting Supervision & Texture Art by Alastair Dixon.  Software used: V-Ray for Maya, Mari, Photoshop, Nuke. Created at Aardman Animations.

‘Aurora Bears’ concept art by Alastair Dixon

 

3 Fundamental Ingredients To A Beautiful Image – Viewbug Interview

“ViewBug community member Alastair Dixon is a Visual Effects Lighting Artist & Photographer based in the UK. His passion is capturing beautiful moments and sharing his adventures through images.”

Link to the original post on Viewbug HERE

What are you trying to capture/say with your photography?

I’m nearly always trying to capture the emotion that I feel prior to taking the picture. Whether it be spectacular lighting, atmospherics, or unusual colours. The next challenge is how to translate that “feeling” to an image that others can relate to.

Roque Bentayga & Roque Nublo, Gran Canaria by alastairdixon

How do you know if your images are visually interesting?

I believe there are 3 fundamental ingredients to a beautiful image.

● Composition

● Lighting

● Having a subject / interesting focal point

Sometimes it’s hard to get all of these. But, remember there are many ways to make an image work that may not be visible to the naked eye. Think focal lengths, filters and post editing.

Oh and don’t forget to get a second or third opinion on your photo, mine usually comes from my wife.

The true test of how visually interesting my image is can be seen clearly after sharing on my social media channels in the form of “likes”. My big following happens to be on Instagram.

Sunset in Key Largo by alastairdixon

Do you think about perspective when you shoot?

Perspective is an interesting one. You can change it in so many ways in this modern age. Changing a lens, moving your feet, even sending a drone up in the sky! I think the willingness to go one step further in finding a new perspective is very important and it’s what gives a great photographer that edge over an average one.

Do you use tripod or flash?

I use a tripod for long exposures or when I’m not traveling on foot for too long. I don’t have a super lightweight travel tripod yet, if I did then it would probably always be on me. I sometime like to get creative by compositing various shots taken from the same point, you can’t do this without a tripod.

Atmospheric Sunrise from Mount Batur, Bali by alastairdixon

What time of the day do you prefer to shoot?

The golden hours, every time. But if I had to choose between sunrise and sunset, it would have to be sunrise. You get extra drama and depth through morning mist a lot of the time.

Sunrise from Mount Batur, Bali by alastairdixon

Are you looking for a unique subject?

I’m usually after a person in a huge landscape. That’s not particularly unique, but it’s the perspective in which it’s taken that makes it unique for me. Having the human element in shot gives a sense of scale and also the viewer has something to relate to.

How are you choosing to stay close or far from the subject?

By changing the lens, but if I don’t have the perfect focal length for the shot then I’ll move myself into the correct position. If it’s just me, then I’ll often put the camera on a tripod, set the timer and let it shoot a timed burst.

Coby & Champers by alastairdixon

Do you think of the rule of thirds/how?

This all depends on the shot. If you want to stand out nowadays, you really need to stop thinking about rules too much. Except for my three key ingredients for a visually interesting shot of course.

Do you think of symmetry or reflections?

If they are there then yes. I decide what’s making a particular view interesting, and then work with it to make it the subject or even complement the subject of the shot.

Beautiful Chamonix, France by alastairdixon

Do you pay attention to the subject only or also background and why?

Please see my the three key ingredients above.

What do you prefer; B&W vs color?

Colour, always. It’s much harder to balance tones in colour than B&W. And I like to challenge myself. I think you can get way more emotion with colours in a shot too.

Dragon statues at Lake Bratan, Bali by alastairdixon

What mistake do you see photographers doing often?

The biggest mistake is lack of composition and interesting subject. Without these, the image will end up looking like a complicated mess. Keep it simple for better results, every time. I can forgive lack of beautiful lighting as it’s much harder to seek out.

What is your most important lesson you’ve learned that has improved your photography?

Make the effort to get in the right place at the right time, (yes, sometimes that means very early mornings or late nights!) and follow the progress of other photographers that you love the style of. Do this and over time you will evolve into a better photographer.

Love by alastairdixon

Check out Alastair Dixon‘s profile to see more inspiring shots!

WINNER – Love Contest “Peoples Choice Award”

WINNER – Love Contest “Peoples Choice Award” – “LOVE”

I have long wanted to get some dramatic shots of the beautiful Bluebells here in the UK during Spring bloom. So after about 30 mins of google research, I discovered West Woods which came up trumps because of its close proximity to where I live and its picturesque setting for the perfect selfie portrait.

 

THE IMAGE

 

HARDWARE:

  • Camera Body: Nikon D810
  • Lens: Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f4

 

EXIF DATA:

  • Aperture: ƒ/4
  • Focal Length: 70 mm
  • Shutter Speed: 1/125
  • ISO 100

 

View the

Competition Finalists

HERE

 

WHERE WAS IT TAKEN?

This photograph was taken at West Woods, in Marlborough, UK. I was scouting for the perfect location within the woods for a portrait shoot which would show the beautiful Bluebells in bloom; and this was it.

 

TIME OF DAY

This image was taken during the morning. I chose this time of day to keep the crowds away and to try to get the lovely morning light casting long harsh shadows through the trees.

 

LIGHTING

In reality the day had patches of cloud, and in this particular shot, the sky had become overcast. This actually contributed to the vivid colour of the bluebells and gave a nice even exposure. The tree canopy gave a nice soft dapple lighting effect as well 🙂

 

IMAGE PROCESSING

I spent about 30 minutes editing in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for this shot. It was mostly adjusting tones with radial and grad masks. Using my Nikon D810 body was quite honestly a bit of a revelation because it produced amazing results right out of the box without much editing required. This meant I could spend more time on practical things like composition and directing myself and Helen into endearing poses 🙂 The Nikon D810 boasts 36 megapixels which produces images of astonishingly high resolution. This meant I could get creative with post cropping.

 

FEEDBACK

You can’t guarantee that the lighting conditions will be how you intended them to be, but you can get resourceful and make use of the light that you have..

  • If you have any in-depth questions regarding the image processing side to photography and photoshop methods, please ask me in the comments and I will try to help your out with answers where possible. And please subscribe & follow for photography tips and inspiration.

 

For more images taken at

West Woods

Click Here

WINNER – Landscape Painting “Peoples Choice Award”

WINNER – Landscape Painting “Peoples Choice Award” – “Roque Bentayga & Roque Nublo, Gran Canaria”

After being inspired by an image seen on Flickr, I decided to try and find a similar viewpoint on Gran Canaria to shoot these two magnificent rocks in the same image.

It took a long time to find the perfect secluded spot, and an even longer time to drive back to the hotel on the extremely scary singly track mountain roads, with no barriers..in the dead of night.. :/

So worth it for this image though 🙂

 

The Image

 

View the

Competition Finalists

HERE

 

Where was it taken?

This photograph was taken near Tajada, in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands that has an amazing view of both Roque Bentayga & Roque Nublo; two famous geological landmarks on the island. It took a lot of scouting and homework to find the perfect spot before sunset rolled in. I was staying on the island to race in the Trans Grancanaria Marathon. What an amazing experience that was! I got to see so much of the island, it almost felt like a photography scouting adventure.

 

Time of day

This image was taken during sunset. My priority was to shoot Roque Bentayga & Roque Nublo in the same frame and I wanted to do this from a different perspective from what you may normally see.

 

Lighting

Other photographers have taken images of these rocks from the opposite side which means you can see the sun setting behind the rocks but at the cost of silhouetting the rocks formations. It was important to me to see the warm colours and tones on the rocks from the setting sunlight. The angle of the setting sun also gave the rocks more form and presence.

 

Image Processing

I spent about an hour processing this image in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. On this particular day there was a lot of sand in the air blown in from the Sahara; what the locals call “Calima”. This produced a bit of a washed out original image but it also gave the landscape a greater sense of depth. So I knew that later, by playing with contrast and gamma I would be able to keep the depth of the atmosphere but also bring out a far richer range of tones over all. In photoshop I like to overlay various grades and patch them into certain areas of the image to draw focus and enhance interesting features. Landscape photography for me is a blend of what your camera can capture for you and your imagination. Some people can be afraid of image processing or maybe even anti it. If the final image is eye catching and makes you and others feel something special then its a successful image, no matter how you got to it. I recommend to anyone out there who hasn’t dabbled much in it to go and have a go because it really can compliment your photography, and really make the features you noticed at the time of the shot, shine.

 

Feedback

For me, its all about the light. With that in mind my priority with pretty much any landscape shot is to make sure I am in the right place at the right time, in order to capture the most dramatic lighting possible. Of course, being in this situation can very easily occur with luck too, so you have to be ready to snap at a moments notice. This happened to be the case for the photograph in question. If you have any in-depth questions regarding the image processing side to photography and photoshop methods, please ask me in the comments and I will try to help your out with answers where possible.

 

  • If you have any in-depth questions regarding the image processing side to photography and photoshop methods, please ask me in the comments and I will try to help your out with answers where possible. And please subscribe & follow for photography tips and inspiration.

 

Hardware:

  • Camera Body: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • Lens: EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM with a UV Filter

 

EXIF Data:

  • Aperture: ƒ/11.0
  • Focal Length:105.0 mm
  • Shutter Speed: 1/40
  • ISO 100

 

 

For more images taken in

Gran Canaria

Click Here