#UNITATHOME | Q&A with our new Head of Creatures & Characters Adam Dewhirst.
As we all settle in to life during Covid-19 here at UNIT ensuring all our talent are happily set up working remotely from home to ensure the safety of the team whilst still being able to collaborate on all client projects – we are shining a spotlight on some of our key talent to hear more from each.
We’ll be taking a look at what creative work they are busy with, how they are handling and mastering remote working, how they are approaching collaborating in different ways, how they are learning to navigate the world of virtual events and relationships, what measures they are taking to stay sane, and how they are learning new creative past-times or hobbies that can even improve their creative output.
Our first of the #UNITATHOME series is a Q&A with our new Head of Creatures & Characters Adam Dewhirst.
Tell us about your at home remote working set up Adam?
I’m fortunate in that we decided a couple of years ago to move my home set up out of our living room and into a garden office / shed! It means I still sort of leave the house each morning to go to work. I think that’s important because it really draws a line between home life and work life and I can work in my office undisturbed until it’s home time. Positives – the commute is super fast as it’s at the bottom of the garden. Negatives – there is no heating! Eeek.
What are your plans for heading up the Creatures + Characters department within UNIT?
GROW GROW GROW! It’s such a great opportunity to lay the groundwork for a really exciting and forward facing creature department within a boutique business like UNIT with so much strong work that has already gone before. I’m bringing in all my experiences, learnings and ideas from DNeg, Framestore and The Mill and really keen to take these to new levels at UNIT. I want to create a really enriching team environment where everyone is encouraged to grow and develop with a little healthy competition. To kick things off we are developing a new high res digi-double with full anatomy and a huge range of versatility for shape, race, age etc. We are going to train the entire team in human anatomy, so we know it cold. I’ve got life drawing and life sculpting on the cards, as well as a few visiting lecturers and internal training workshops. My aim, and I know one shared by UNIT Film & TV MD Michael Elson, is that we will be the asset team everyone envies!
What are your favourite creatures and characters you and your teams’ have created?
Rocket Raccoon will always be my favourite. I’m a massive comic book fan, and getting to work on the first Guardians of the Galaxy film was a dream come true! We also made an incredible panther whilst I was working at The Mill NY for a Cartier ‘Ramadan’ ad – full skeleton and muscular system. It really was such a meaty and inspiring project to work on. I also have a fondness for the dragon we created for Playstation VR for the launch of Skyrim – it was a beast! Considering we only had the game ready model from the original PS3 title to start from, it allowed us to really push the detail and take the design to a place it hadn’t been before – when the commercial launched on youtube, a lot of people thought we were showing footage from the new game, but alas no – still it was nice to think that our work was so well received.
Any bespoke creature systems you are working on right now?
At UNIT we are looking into integrating Ziva into our workflow. We have a creature we are building right now that has a very unique anatomy. It’s quite unlike anything that I have ever seen – we need an intelligent way to drive its motion, so Ziva is a really logical choice. I think with any creature, be it fictional or real, it’s important to do your due diligence and create a basic anatomy for the design. It helps create such strong foundations for so many other departments – rigging, animation, groom, VFX. It’s definitely something I want to push into our workflow here at UNIT. I’m also always looking for new ways to work and new tools to use. With any downtime I enjoy sculpting on the iPad. I’m trying to sculpt one creature every night for the next month (maybe longer we will see). It’s a good challenge for a number of reasons as it’s good practice, forces you to speed up, and grows even more experience in the software you’re using. I’m going to post short “Forger tips” as I go along so others can learn from what I’m picking up. I’ll post all to YouTube of course!
What technology / apps / new software / systems are you using most right now and which ones you recommend?
App wise, I’m loving Forger and Shapr3D – I use Forger for sculpting on the iPad and I use Shapr3D for hard surface modelling. Both are very robust tools if you only have an iPad. Honestly, if I was forced, I could accomplish a large amount of my work through these apps – mobile working is getting closer and closer to a real reality for disciplines that have low computing requirements. I don’t think you could light and render on an iPad, but modelling is definitely getting close. I’m posting many of my sculpts and workflows on my instagram account @dewhirstAdam. I’m just beginning to push some of these ideas into tutorials, so stay tuned for updates on that. For my desktop set up, I think Houdini is the future, it just became so powerful in the last few years. At UNIT we use it for lighting, shading, groom, effects, procedural modelling – it’s all developing, and it’s very exciting.
What are your isolation top creative / innovation tips? And tips for personal survival?
Find new ways to be creative! I think it’s really easy to slide into a pattern of watching endless TV, but we have an opportunity right now to learn and develop and try new things. I’m doing a lot of craft projects with my kids right now, but i’m also trying to push my own learning when I get the chance. And weirdly these two worlds are beginning to collide. I’m actually taking my kids drawings and trying to illustrate them in 3D and I’ve been doing so much drawing for them (to colour in) that I’m now thinking of taking some character illustration courses. Guys like Jake Parker and Anthony Jones from Robotpencil, offer some incredible tutorials. I’m setting myself the challenge of becoming a better illustrator coming out of Covid.
Tell us more about your recent Twitch live tutorial with the University of Lincoln? How did it come about and what happened? I responded to a shout out from the lovely Holly Watt (Lecturer at the University of Lincoln) on Instagram asking if any industry professionals wanted to do a Q&A session. I offered my services – fortunately Holly had already been to one of my lectures, so she was familiar with my work, and we hit it off! It’s such a great idea, and a really easy way to provide direct feedback to students who are also stuck at home. We settled on a 30 minute Q&A session on Twitch.
What were you talking through? It was a general Q&A, although I tried to steer away from “How to” style questions, as that’s a more dedicated kind of session. I had a few models open in Zbrush – not to walk through, but to illustrate some points when needed. There was a great question about how I approach working from a 2D concept, and fortunately I had an example of that very task ready to go. It’s something I often do to stay sharp – take an illustration and try to convert it to 3D. It’s such a great test to try out. Mostly I was just talking about my experiences, what I look for when hiring artists and how you go about being the most employable person you can!
How do you find using Twitch? You also use YouTube for your tutorials right? Tell us more…
It was my first time using Twitch, but actually it was really easy. I created an account, downloaded Twitch Studio, and that was pretty much it. The university shared my user name, so i just went live about 5 minutes before we were scheduled to start the Q&A and let people into the chat room. From there, it was a pretty continuous stream of questions – which I just answered over my mic, whilst showing some work in ZBrush. This format works really well, so i’m offering it up to any educational facility. Free Q&A for 30 minutes. Just reach out and I will try to schedule you in. I’ve used YouTube to post a few tutorials in the past, but mostly these are simple workflows and i’ve never tried anything live! I have to say having used Twitch, I’m sold! It’s a great format for this sort of thing.
You have amassed a strong characters and creatures FX online community – how important is it to you to teach and bring on future talent and generations? And remote working doesn’t change much if everyone is already engaging and sharing online right?
I think it’s really important to continue teaching and providing training to future generations – online, in person, at events – I welcome it all. Working remotely does not change this, if anything without my daily commute to and from UNIT HQ, I should have more time on my hands to do this sort of thing. I’m basically online all day, so I just don’t see why you wouldn’t want to give back? It is daunting the first time you do any sort of teaching, but if you have a knack for it, it’s definitely worth pursuing, it is very rewarding, and I really enjoy it!