This month, we caught up with Head of 3D Ben Toogood to hear about how he came to work at Aardman, trends impacting CG/VFX, and the projects he’s working on this year…
1. How did you start out in the industry and what is your role at Aardman?
Some of the first work I did in VFX was in and around Soho during the early Harry Potter days. One of the friends I made at that time was lined up to work on “Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit” at MPC and got me involved in the project. It seemed like an ideal job, with a small team producing some charming CG work, so I joined up and ended up having a great time doing it. Following that I had a spell at a number of studios around the world, but wanted to return to the UK and somehow avoid London. As I’d enjoyed “Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit” so much I thought I’d try heading to the source and managed to secure some work at Aardman itself.
12-ish years later and I’m now the Head of 3D here, both working directly on and helping to organise our wide range of CG work. Right now we’re producing some character based CG commercials, a 4D film, VFX for an upcoming Aardman feature, and collaborating with our Interactive team on a number of digital projects.
2. To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?
I’m still very proud of the work we did on “Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit”. Considering how small the team was (and how wrong it could have gone if our CG additions looked out of place), I think we pulled off some great work and I loved the completed film. We were even nominated for the odd award (which doesn’t happen much when what you’re doing isn’t supposed to be noticed.)
3. Name three people who inspire you:
My two boys for their enthusiasm for whatever their current obsession is. Richard Williams (who is often seen around the studio), as he appears to be the closest thing we have to a real life magician and shows no sign of planning to stop.
4. Tell us what a typical day at the studio is like for you?
I’m normally in around 09:00 (post school drop-off) and try to squeeze in a bit of hands-on work before the day-proper kicks off. Right now I’m on a largish project, so once all the team is in we try to have a quick catch up to see where everyone is at and what problems might need looking at that day. Then we’ll usually have reviews with the Director, after which I tend to settle into a steady day of odd jobs, meetings, fielding questions/problems. That’s topped off with cramming renders onto our farm before heading out.
5. What do you like most about working at Aardman?
Definitely the focus on family – both in the work we produce and the way that we produce it. I’m very much a ‘Dad’ now and appreciate that I can live that life and still work within a creative media environment. That seems rare.
6. What new trends and technologies do you feel have had the most impact on the CG/VFX industry lately?
Probably the thing we’re keeping the closest eye on is new approaches to rendering – both GPU rendering and the use of real-time engines for CG work. Most of my hands on work is in lighting/rendering and the bottle-neck and anxiety of a big long render is certainly something I could do without. Unfortunately every time we make rendering go faster, artists and directors find a way to do more with it, so I think average render times have actually gone up during my career. But it feels like we might be on the cusp of that changing. Fingers crossed.
7. What’s your desk/work area like – messy or tidy?
Hmm… I’m at a temporary desk right now, and haven’t been too careful with it. So will probably have to go with messy.
8. What are your goals for the year ahead?
We’re approaching delivery on our big full CG 4D film, so goal-one is to get that done. Goal-two will probably become clear after.
9. How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work at Aardman
10. What has been your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with?
Probably a toss-up between “Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!”. Although I did make a really great pig once that never saw the light of day. That was a great pig.
11. Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?
I love the bonkers “floating-eyeballs-and-mouth” characters the guys at Aardman Nathan Love produced to launch the partnership. It’s great to see something so playful executed in CG. More please.