Friday, December 21, 2012
If you are a UK-based reader by now you may well have settled
down with a stomach full of toasted turkey sandwiches, wearing a
slightly crumpled party hat, and enjoyed the the highly-anticipated
Dr Who Christmas special: "The Snowmen".
I caught up with Mill TV's Matthew Mckinney (CG Supervisor) and
Darren Byford (Lead 3D) to gain an exclusive insight into just how
you approach creating an 'evil snowflake' and the challenges of CG
When did you start working on the Doctor Who Christmas
MM: The 3D team started working on it way back in
June. That was when we began designing the Ice Governess and the
evil snowflake. We worked on other episodes as well in between, but
the ball was already rolling.
DB: I started with a few days on-set in August. I
was there to collect the lighting reference that we would later use
to bed the CG into shots. It's quite odd being confronted by a
Christmas tree in summer.
Can you talk me through The Mill TV's role?
MM: Creating the Ice Governess, the Evil Snowmen,
The Evil Snowflake and lots of snow effects and matte
And your specific involvement?
MM: I was supervising the 3D team. Ensuring we
deliver the 3D work on schedule while pushing the quality as much
as possible. I also built, textured and rendered the snowmen and
the spooky iceflakes!
DB: Lookdev and lighting for the Ice Governess.
That's to say I took Jason's 3D model and textures and developed
the model's surface properties; refraction, reflection,
transparency, bumpiness, surface sparkles, things like that. Then I
broke those characteristics into render passes, which are separate
layers that the compositors use to build and balance the CG for
each shot. Once the overall look was approved I could place the Ice
Governess into each shot's 3D environment and light her to match
the film plate using the on-set reference.
How did you approach the project?
MM: We always try to improve the quality of our
work across the board. This includes design, animation, modelling
and look development. We aim to excel in each of these areas so
that our attention to detail shines through in the final
DB: With Matt overseeing the overall visual
quality I focused on planning, testing and prepping every aspect of
the development and lighting pipeline so that when the backplates
arrived we could complete the shots quickly and to a high standard
while avoiding the kind of dramas that can be associated with tight
What were the challenges involved?
MM: Technically the greatest challenge was
creating an ice creature who would look good in a variety of
lighting conditions. We put a lot of attention into making detailed
bubbles, leaves and algae which is quite subtle but gives the
creature a solidity, as the brief was to make her from frozen pond
water. Designing the characters is of course key to their
successful realisation. Luckily we have Grant Bonser - a fantastic
concept artist who came up with the grinning snowman concept and
Jason Brown a great modeller/ texture artist who created the Ice
DB: CG ice! Real-world ice bounces, bends,
blocks, gathers and scatters light in ways that even computers find
difficult to fathom. The original idea was that the appearance of
the Ice Governess would alter as the story progressed, so I created
different ice layers with different properties, from ice cube
clear, through murky pond water to dense, coloured glass. Although
her final appearance is pretty consistent throughout the show all
of those layers were used to build up the complexity and detail of
the final image.
Did you use any new techniques or
MM: We are continuing to use Arnold to render a
lot of our sequences, having used it first on the Dalek Parliament
episode. Darren set up the lighting and rendering pipeline for the
Ice Governess using Arnold. It was our most complex foray into
using Arnold so far, as the creature was reflective and refractive,
with lots of detail. It proved to be successful, handling the
motion blur exceptionally well, without any of the artifacts we had
experienced in the past. We also incorporated cloth simulations
into the pipeline and animated texture maps for the cracking on the
surface of the Ice Governess, all of which added to the complexity
of the task.
DB: This was the first time I'd used the Arnold
renderer on a production. Its ability to render complex scenes of
reflective, refractive objects complete with accurate motion blur
made it the ideal choice. It's still relatively new to the industry
but it's rapidly gaining ground in both television and film. It
allowed us to add additional detail to our work and moved us a step
closer to the visual quality associated with film projects.
What was your favourite moment whilst working on the
MM: For me, seeing the Snowmen develop from a
sketched idea to fully comped, trailer shots, was really exciting.
It is very cool when a few days after a shot leaves your desk, you
find hundreds of pictures of it in Google Images. It's testament to
the popularity of Doctor Who that it generates such a level
interest and that makes it a privilege to be a part of it.
DB: For a couple of days the filming took place
in a large country house on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. While
Matt Smith was waiting between scene set-ups he'd sometimes sneak
off to the music room and play the piano. He's pretty good!
Will you be tuning in to watch it be part of your
MM: I might be tempted to stroll down my street
to see who's tuned in! It's usually in the million at
Christmas.. which is pretty amazing.
DB: Absolutely! I was a fan of the show before I
began working on it and I'm still a fan now. Even if I need to
watch the edit for work reasons I still try to avoid watching the
end of an episode so I can enjoy it when it's aired. On Christmas
day I plan to settle down in front of the TV with a small,
celebratory glass of scotch, on the rocks naturally!
Thursday, December 20, 2012
There are a few things that make Christmas complete. Family,
friends, shiny new toys, drowning in wrapping paper, pigs in
blankets, finding yourself eating the rejected Quality Street
toffees even though you don't like them and of course, Wallace and
Gromit! This winter, the new offering from Wallace and Gromit comes
from a team up with Google, to star in a festive video that aims to
connect family and friends this holiday season.
Appearing together with a number of other Aardman Animation
characters for the very first time, the video features Wallace and
Gromit in a Google+ Hangout with Trixie and Captain
Cuddlepuss from Creature Comforts, Shaun the Sheep and Ginger from
I caught up with Merlin Crossingham, Creative Director for
Wallace and Gromit for an exclusive insight into this magical
meeting of much-loved characters.
How did the Google+ creation originate?
From my point of view this was first pitched to us as a concept
created by adam&eveDDB on behalf of Google as part of their
on-going advertising campaign. We all loved the idea, as for many
of us who have worked with these characters for years (decades in
some cases) they are like family.
How did you approach the project?
With great enthusiasm, who wouldn't?
What were the challenges involved?
The biggest challenge for us was the need to have the characters
present continuously on the small screens at the bottom of the
monitor once they joined the hangout conversation. It may seem like
an obvious thing to say but animation takes a long time, and it is
most definitely not live, so making sure that all the characters'
choreography worked was critical. This wasn't 'just' a minute of
animation it was nearer four, and once we started animating the
edit had to lock, as one change in a timeline had a huge domino
effect on the other characters' actions.
It's a huge event for everyone having so many Aardman
characters together at once… At what point was the decision to do
The decision to have all the characters together was intrinsic to
the original brief, of bringing the family together. However our
characters have always been very much kept in their own worlds. I
think the only reason they hadn't come together before was that
there had been no reason to, the Google+ job gave us that reason
with a great idea, and it specifically needed their worlds to
remain apart, but be brought together in a hangout.
Did all the characters get on (personality and
Luckily as it was a video conference none of them had to actually
meet, I think there would have been potential problems with
dressing room size between Piella and Ginger. Shaun and the gang
just muck in and so long as you can take destruction, constant
eating and incessant bleating in your stride, they behave very well
on a shoot. As for Wallace and Gromit they are old pros, Gromit
never misses a beat.
Did you use any new techniques?
The basic stop-motion techniques we use are as old as cinema
itself, however we embrace the latest digital capture and
compositing techniques both within Aardman and at post facilities
like The Mill, wherever it is needed. We use whatever technology is
best to achieve the creativity needed for the job.
What was your favourite moment whilst working on
The best thing about working on Google+ was being able to work
with characters that I never thought I would get the chance to work
with again, but all in one project! The film runs like a
brief history of my career at Aardman.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
It's been a vintage year for The Mill's Christmas partying; from
1920s frolicking in Los Angeles to a getting lost in a Christmas
tree maze in London.
This year party goers became the paparazzi as each office had an
Instagram-off, with the photographer of the best party snap being
awarded a Lomography Dreamer Diana F+ camera.
It was a tight competition with hundreds of entries from New
York, London and Los
Angeles but the winners are…
New York: Alexandre Allain - 3D Artist Animator
London: Chris Scott - Flame Assist
Los Angeles: Chris Bayol -
3D Artist and Christina Thompson - Producer
A special mention also goes to the following adventurous use of
iPhone visual effects apps…
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Following on from The Mill Wish Machine
there are more festive charity flutters in the air this week as BBH
launch Home For Xmas which aims to raise money for
children's charity Barnardo's to help fund their work with young
people and support the fight against homelessness this
Visitors to the site will be able to pledge a donation of as much
or as little as they can. In return, BBH will show their
appreciation by selecting an entrant each day and making a snow
globe containing a replica of their home! The site will be live
until Friday 21st December.
The intricate scenes inside the snow globes will be designed by
The Mill's 3D designers, based on the winners actual home and
street! The designs will then be brought to life using a 3D
Dominic Goldman, Creative Director at BBH comments: 'We wanted
to help raise awareness for this terrible problem in a different
way. The combination of a simple donation and address entry, in
return for the possibility of a beautiful bespoke 3D printed
snowglobe of your home, seemed appropriately festive and hopefully
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Back in October we revealed the launch of Umbros search for
street art talent, and the fact that The Mill resident
director, artist and all round champ mcbess was participating as a
mentor to one of the selected finalists.
His mentee, the street art supremo Ewa Mos, took the battles by
storm to win the search and have her artwork feature in Umbros
latest campaign, one of which currently towers over Old Street
roundabout in London. I caught up with her to learn more about her
journey… and what mcbess was like as a mentor!
Tell me a bit about yourself?
My name is Ewa
Mos. For friends Moscva, from Poland, but now Birmingham based.
I'm a young graphic designer, illustrator, videographer and
I just finished 6-years at Fine Art School in Cracow
and now I'm graduating from Graphic Communication &
Illustration at Birmingham City Univeristy.
I have worked with
many dj's and events agencies.
I've collaborated with Don't Panic,
MISBHV, DesignWars, SUPERSWEET, wall-over, DIM MAK and ADIDAS. I am
the most happy I am when I can join photography
I love to create extraordinary images thanks to my quite unique
mixed-media style; weird things, skulls in candy colors, hands,
hearts and skulls.
All of my works are hand drawn and colorized in
I also love to paint, because of my Fine Art background so
street art is a way to continue this passion.
In the future I would like to become magic mermaid, pirate,
skateboarder or ninja.
Tell us about your fellow shortlisted street artist
From the first moment we met I knew they were cool guys. We were
very open and you couldn't believe we are going to compete in a few
hours. I had a great time and mostly because of awesome company!
Georgia, Dyox and Kris are amazing amazing artists! Honestly I
didn't think I have any chance (especially when I was looking at
Kris do his mural during the battle to get to the final) The funny
thing is none of us is actually from the UK; Georgia was born in
Australia, but now she's based in Berlin, Kris is from New Zealand,
but now lives in London and Dyox is Spanish. After the semi-final
we were saying we should make a funclubs of each other, I'm so
impressed with their mad art-skills!
Georgia Hill is great typographer - the fact
she can draw so many straight, perfect lines is uncanny for me!
speak for themselves and more than that, she's lovely and chilled
out girl. Kristian Douglas (hyperlink to
www.kristiandouglas.com) is an amusing guy! I don't think there's
any person who wouldn't like him. He's also amazing at drawing. He
just knows what to do. I love his cartoon style… Funny, but very
professional. And DYOX (hyperlink to www.dyox.es) the most
chilled guy in the world I reckon! When I saw his mural work
I thought it was Aryz another huge Spanish street art creator.
He's master of colour and details! I told him whilst we ate
sophisticated 'dinner' in McDonald before the final battle that I
didn't care if I lost because he absolutely deserved to win.
What's the biggest similarity and the biggest difference between
you and mcbess?
I don't even dare to compare my work with mcbess as I can stare at
his art for hours and analyze.
He's been one of my main
inspirations for years! So you can absolutely see his
influence at my work. I think the biggest similarity you can find
is round, soft shapes and same taste for often dead weird things,
with a love for tattoo culture and style. Also neither of us take
it too seriously. The biggest difference is 'temperature' of our
work. mcbess' art-works are always a bit dark and mysterious thanks
to amazing shadings and b&w, whereas my style is more obvious
What's mcbess's teaching style?
I'm not saying this just to be polite, but I have truly loved
mcbess's work for a very long time. So, I wasn't excited about
photoshoot with Mitch Jenkins, even with the battle (!) as much as
meeting mcbess. I got to meet my hero! He's extremely nice person,
so it was an honor and pleasure to have a chance chat and then draw
with mcbess. I was a bit tongue-tied, but then I realized there was
no reason to be because I didn't feel he was coaching me to be
honest; it was more like meeting with friend and discussing ideas
with no pressure! He gave me very useful advice regarding the
composition and details and helped a lot during the battle when I
was so stressed (he got us a proper dinner during the battle!) I
really didn't want to let him down.
How did the battles go?
It's a huge adrenalin rush, almost like an extreme sport. It's
90 minutes (in the final only 60!) and you probably think that's a
lot of time but actually it feels like a second. I was also busy
trying to ignore the crowd behind me.
At semi-finals I had kind of outline idea, I had something in my
mind, but then got another cool idea just before battle in the
morning at train to London.
I also found it very helpful to have a
chat and sketch with mcbess just before the battle. But even if you
plan something… there are too many emotions, so it looks completely
different then you assumed in the end!
In the final I had perfect
idea prepared, but just before the battle we found out we had to
match a theme so that design was completely freestyle which is
quite hardcore for me as I like to be prepare. I decided to stay
with skull motif as they bring me luck before (and I like creepy
What new things did you learn about street
I always was very close to Street Art but gave it up for a
while. Thanks to Secret Walls I found passion again and this kind
of adrenaline, excitement and spirit of making live art.
thing I learnt is that streets are open for anyone and any kind of
art. There are no boundaries!
Also it doesn't have to be planned,
it can be more spontaneous.
Finally, it's huge shame but I had
never been around Brick Lane before, so that was a great experience
and very inspirational.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Head of Nuke, Hugo Guerra has had a big year. Reaching pretty
much every corner of the globe with his infamous keynotes, lectures
and teaching, I caught up with him to talk through his top events
1.How do you select which events from around the world
Actually, I don't really select, people usually invite me over
to teach. I started back in 2005 to use Nuke, it was pretty new in
the VFX world, especially in London where Shake was a dominate
compositing application. So I was very visible in forums helping
people and teaching, so started getting a lot of contacts from
schools and companies. But yes it is true, I have been traveling a
lot this year! I've been making VFX classes, workshops, keynotes in
Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Netherlands and Russia! spreading The
Mill everywhere I can. You just wait... next year I plan on going
to Brazil, India and maybe Japan.
2. How was the user Hiero event at Envy?
This was a great event, I'm very glad The Foundry hosted it. I
presented a keynote with some of the pipelines and projects The
Mill used Hiero on. I got some great responses and shared some of
our tricks and techniques to a crowd of mostly curious people about
what Hiero was. I then saw a great presentation by Prime Focus and
their Hiero pipeline. At the end we all hit the Envy bar and just
shared and talked about Hiero, Nuke and VFX. It was a great night
of VFX Soho sharing.
3. What were this year's IBC highlights?
I was invited to speak at The Foundry booth. I made 4 different
keynotes from Mill projects using Nuke and Hiero and in the end
presented 9 times, every time to a full house! It's always great to
speak to large audiences, it gives me great inspiration. I
presented the Max Mara hologram project, the Audi Hummingbird,
the William Hill casino live and a CGI commercial pipelines
keynote. The highlights where, of course, The Mill keynotes, but,
the food, wow, the lovely folks at The Foundry took me to some
sweet places to eat!
Also I have to say going to see the Stanley Kubrick exhibition was amazing, I was
in heaven, my heart was racing the whole time. He is my favourite
director of all time, I have every single DVD, book and Blu-ray
done by him, but to see the props live, the famous f0.75 lens, wow
it was amazing. But my photos speak for themselves, it was mind
blowing. I really recommend it since it is on world tour at the
moment. If you can see it, it's a once in a life time experience,
but make sure you give it 8 hours or more, it's huge.
4. Who did you saw talk at IBC?
I saw some amazing presentations from MPC about Total Recall, it
was very good, they had some sweet Nuke pipelines. A summary of the
presentation here is well worth a read. I also walked the
floor a lot looking for the new updates from Autodesk, Nvidia,
Sony, Canon and I was especially curious about the new Blackmagic
Cinema Camera. I recently got one so a review will be up on the
5. What do you think of Amsterdam?
It is the second time I've been to IBC, and it is a great city,
very pretty and great night life. There is, of course, a lot of
crazy places… I had a great time in some really nice restaurants
with the wonderful people at The Foundry and also had a great time
with Campus i12's Sofia Delis.
6. How were you involved in the Campus i12 recruiting
I have been teaching at Campus i12 since 2007 and I was invited
a few times already but never manage to really get there because of
work. But this time I represented The Mill amongst 20 companies
including Ghost, DNeg, Filmgate etc… it was really a impressive
achievement from Campus i12 staff.
7. How was the VFX Festival keynote?
The VFX festival was great, I myself have been teaching at
Escape since 2009, and was really happy with this event. It
is a great way for Escape to share some of there amazing classes
and teachers to the VFX audiences. I presented the Max Mara
hologram project to a full house, a lot of people come up to me at
the end to learn more about it, since it was such a special project
from a creative and a technical point of view. I also had the
opportunity to see an amazing presentation by MPC about the FX and
particles work in the film Prometheus.
8. How can the VFX Festival grow for 2013?
I think it could be a bigger venue, because lots of my students
and friends couldn't get a ticket since it was sold out. 40-60
people per keynote in London is too small, it could easily be
9. Have you met any key talents to look out for along the
Yes I have, we have plans to get a few of my students as interns
next year, the Campus i12 school's quality is exactly what The Mill
is looking for in their talent force!
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Last week artist Rob Roth and artist's producer Keri Elmsly met up
in Miami for some sun and fun at Art
Basel. The two met last year while working in Sao Paulo for The
Creators Project where Roth was Art Directing for The Mill on the
'David Bowie Life on Mars Revisited' video
installation and Elmsly was producing another amazing installation
for United Visual
Artists. They decided to meet up again for Art Basel and check
out what was happening at this yearly art fair -- five crazy days
of creativity, exhibitions, parties and more parties. Here is their
report along with some great images they captured!
(Photos clockwise: Brian Knep 'Erect from Exempla series 2008'
at SEVEN, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, 'Bifurcation' 2012 at bitforms, The
Black Lords by Desi Santiago at Lords South Beach Hotel - photo by
Both Keri and Rob agreed that SEVEN was the best overall show.
Rob's stand-outs were the crocheted Gas Masks by Nathan Vincent at
The favorite performance was Boychild at the Westgay Pool Party
at Shore Club and the best party was The Black Lords at Lords South
Keri singled out the Horse Head by Monica Cook at SEVEN as one of her favorites
and thought the Pulse party at Shore Club was the best event.
Good times and lots of bubbles were had by all! You can view
Keri's full photostream here.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
On Friday afternoon, The Mill London opened its Great
Marlborough Street doors to clients, acquaintances and friends for
a festive party. There was steamy mulled wine, mini mince pies,
high spirits and it was all sound-tracked by the in-house DJs
perfect party mix.
It was also a first opportunity for everyone to get a closer
look at the shiny new Mill Touch and also tweet in their wishes as
they gathered around the
snowstorm installation. There was a fine selection of winter
woollens, Christmas jumpers and party dresses on display, proving
Folk pop-up was well timed!
A real highlight was a rare performance from the Kings
Cross Hot Club who played on as the party stretched out late
into the wintery evening.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Last month, LA's nuke artist Becky Porter and flame artist Tara
Demarco took a rather unusual vacation. Heading for a fortnight in
Patagonia, Argentina they embarked on an action packed itinerary of
hiking, backpacking, and kayaking.
The trip included trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier, hiking the W
route in Torres del Paine in chile, and a 2 day kayak and camp trip
to the otherwise uninhabited Gable Island in the Beagle
This heady list was topped with a visit to Ushuaia in Tierra Del
Fuego. Ushuaia is the most southerly city in the world, with a
southern latitude of 54.0000° S, they also refer to the area as El
fin del mundo (end of the world).
As well as everything else they achieved on their vacation, the LA
ladies definitely receive the sought-after title of "Taking a Mill
kit bag to most exotic location"! Let's see if anyone steps up to
challenge their title in the future…
Thursday, December 06, 2012
You may remember the dazzling work Myoshka aka Director PK
created for Maharishi earlier this
year and now he has taken on an entirely different challenge in
adapting his unique optical artwork for the fantastic D&AD annual
I caught up with Myoshka to pick his geometric brains about the
power of yellow…
Tell me about the Power of Yellow?
It's a campaign for D&AD annual Student
Awards for 2013. I was commissioned to adapt my optical artwork
as static and animated versions for the project. With D&AD
being the benchmark for the industry I work in, I was thrilled to
be given the opportunity to create artwork introduces this legacy
to a new generation of thinkers, visual artists, communicators and
How did you get involved in the project?
Lu Howlett the art buyer from Brothers & Sisters approached me after
seeing my optical art.
Will you be viewing the student awards
If I'm asked perhaps, but this was more about my work as an artist
than the work I do in advertising, or my opinions about it!
How did you approach the project?
With squinted eyes and without the aid of my glasses.
Your style is always entirely unique, but what specific
inspiration did you draw from for the final design?
I try to develop styles that are suited to the client and project
when in a commercial environment. This particular project had more
of 'me' in it than most as it was a commission - optical art is a
passion for me. This specific piece was inspired by Bridget Riley's
- 'Blaze', a personal favourite of mine. It was
fun to put my 'spin' on it with modern technology and to put it in
Your work is often monochrome, how was it incorporating
such a bold colour? Did it alter the creative
It was sunny to work on..! There were some considerations but this
was all about the optics - yellow and black do the trick
What is coming up for Myoshka in 2013?
Bigger. Better. The murals and public art is going to be the work
I'm really most looking forward to doing.
I'm continuing to work with Maharishi as guest artist on the
clothing lines and have my own products that are being developed at
the moment. There's a book, another show, more tattoos. It's going
to be a busy year. And that's without my day job at The Mill.
Thanks so much Myoshka/PK for this insight. Word has it, that
after the first batch of Myoshka designed Student Awards 2013
posters were printed and distributed to the a college, the artwork
proved so popular that a number of posters were instantly swiped by
Next on Myoshka's mural mission is a 5m installation at AKQA's
London HQ, more on this to come…