Siobhan Doyle talks to Smart Futures about her career as a lead modeller.
What are the main tasks, responsibilities and skills required?
I mostly use Maya with a little ZBrush to model and sculpt the characters, sets and prop assets for use in 3D animated TV shows. Most of the shows I work on are preschool or not much older and can be seen on Disney Junior, Nick Junior and CBBC among many other networks.
We usually start with an illustrated book or some basic designs which are then developed into 3D. I help bridge the gap between the designs and the final look of the show, working with a small group of artists and production. With the core characters and central sets established, we work with larger teams to create all the assets required for the show.
At this point, my tasks lean more towards supervision. I do what’s called a technical approval on all the models made by the team before they go to the art director and producers for final approval. That means I have to make sure the modelling is up to standard, that they are consistent with the initial designs and that they will work when in motion. The last part is particularly important for mechanical models such as bicycles, or any of the characters.
Describe a typical day?
Every day is different depending on what stage of production we’re at and how our priorities are shifting to keep up with deadlines. At development or pre-production stage I might spend days or sometimes weeks working on a single model. I will spend a lot of time discussing the direction of the modelling with the director or art director and I’ll work with riggers and animators to develop the technical aspects of how the models will move.
In the middle of a production, I’ll often spend a lot of the day looking through models from other artists, opening them up and quality checking them. At this point it’s important to be flexible and to communicate with the production team and other artists. Sometimes workloads will have to be shared around and sometimes I’ll have more time to work on modelling myself.
What are the things you like best about the job?
Working in a creative environment on a project with an end product is very rewarding. It’s great to be around other artists and it’s great to be able to show your work to the children in your life. Finding a toy of a character you modelled a year ago is also an excellent perk.
What are the main challenges?
Like in all supervisory rolls, there are times when I get to do very little of what inspires me and find myself reduced to drawing over other people’s work. It’s great working directly with junior modelers, but working with offsite artists or production teams can be challenging.
Who or what has most influenced your career direction?
I knew someone studying on an animation course when I was a teenager. I’m not sure I would have known it was an option otherwise, so that definitely helped. But I was also into computer games, and that inspired me to see that I could combine my love of computers with my love of art in a viable career.
When I started work, my title was a little broader, as I doubled as a texture artist. My managers worked with me when it was time to specialize so that I ended up moving in a direction that fit with me. I’ve worked in the same company since I graduated college, so it was internal promotion that led me to my current role, but it definitely helps to have a broader view of how the industry works, and to talk to peers about the possibilities.
My career would be a lot more open if I was more willing to travel, but family and friends are a huge part of my life. I think I’m very lucky to have a place here where I don’t have to sacrifice that.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
I have a good work life balance, although that depends greatly on my own unwillingness to sacrifice it. It’s not uncommon for a lot of overtime to be expected in the TV industry. I feel secure in my position and have mixed feelings about progression. Too often, people feel the need for career progression for money, which I think is the worst motivator on the planet. I think it’s more important to find a place where you fit the best.
On the other hand there are plenty of areas I’d like to spend more time on, such as show development and working more specifically with characters. I certainly believe that there are opportunities for me to define my own role more within my industry. In creative careers it’s often the creative drive that inspires us to progress more than anything else.
What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?
I did art, music, physics and French. Obviously art had the greatest influence on my career as it allowed me to get into a good animation course. Nothing else made much of a difference.
What is your education to date?
I went to St Pauls in Greenhills, which I felt was very strong in the arts. I often wonder if I would have become a scientist in a different school.
Since then, I spent five years in Ballyfermot College, where I complete the PLC, diploma and degree in animation. It seems like a long time, but I really think it was worth it, especially the degree, in which I got to make short films alone and with a team. The best experience for anything is doing that thing.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
The basic art skills of observation and design were very important. Life drawing, painting and sculpture help a lot with these. Obviously it was important to learn how to use the software, although I’m working with different software than I started on now, so any modelling programs are a good place to start. I think it would have helped to have more specific guidance in various areas of 3D digital art. We got one module, which covered everything, but there are more courses available now if you know what you’re interested in.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
You have to have some talent in art and design, but it’s mostly the drive to work hard and improve that will get you by. Knowing the software is a big plus, but don’t be too hasty. I didn’t touch any 3D software until my second year of college, and I learned to use Maya and ZBrush on the job.
There are a lot of cheaper or commercial free licenses of 3D programs available, but don’t be put off if you find them confusing. They are incredibly complicated and it’s best to start off simple, but if you learn good techniques and practice, they become second nature. No matter how long you work with this kind of technology you have to be able to learn and relearn everything, because it’s always changing and there’s always more to know.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
I went straight from college to work, but that’s not always an option. A lot of people do freelance for a while first, sometimes for years. There are often short films or start up projects going that are looking for entry level work.
If all else fails just do it yourself. Anyone can make their own short film or web series with enough time and determination nowadays. And be careful about doing work for free, because if you’re not getting paid you might as well be getting the valuable experience and exposure you need on your own project rather than someone else’s.