Q & A With Ryan Rogers
- Ryan, would you share your job title and a brief description of your job responsibilities. Also, how long you have worked at the Oscar winning Rhythm & Hues studios?
- Can you give an example of what you might do on a 'typical' day?
- Can you give an example of something that surprised you about your job when you first started?
- What projects have you worked on in the past?
- What do you find most rewarding about your job?
- What qualities does someone need to have to be successful in this field?
- Describe how you got your first job.
- How did being part of Project X help prepare you for this career?
- What film did you work on for Project X?
- How did your work on Project X translate to the real work world of VFX?
Responsibilities: I am a Technical Animation Supervisor and have been with Rhythm & Hues since my graduation - which is about 3 1/2 years now. I am in charge of everything that comes out of our department for the projects I'm working on. I guide the process so that our team achieves the particular effect or look that has been requested. Recently the supervisor role was also put in charge of setting up the character cloth and fur rigs. This is a separate setup from the actual character rigging and has different needs for rigs than character animators do. My responsibilities also include reviewing, providing notes and approving all shots that my department is involved with. I have to make sure that all of the motion, clothing wrinkles and deformations, have the look and feel of the characters and that cloth and fur/hair matches what is being requested by our visual effects supervisor.
Our studio is global in scope. We have artists working through what is our night, their day in India and Malaysia. I typically start my day going through any emails that were sent overnight. I usually jump right into trying to address whatever issues came up, but usually, before I can get too far into fixing these issues, it's time for a meeting. Sometimes it's a meeting for reviewing shots with the VFX supervisor or to get a download of information about notes coming from the client or just to meet with my team to make sure everyone knows what their priorities are for the day. I need to check in so I know where everyone is at with their shots. When I get back to my desk, it's time to jump back into whatever I was doing before the meeting. I may get about a half hour into whatever the issue was - maybe I have the chance to solve it - and hopefully move onto the few shots that I'm actually doing the shot work on - before it's time for another meeting.
Almost always the mid-day meetings are reviews of the shots that were rendered the day before. After this meeting, its lunch and after that, more meetings. Usually back to my desk around 3pm or 4pm. By this time a huge pile of takes (playblasts) would have accumulated from the artists on my team. I go through these, giving them notes, telling people what to fix and suggesting methods for them to use in order to achieve the look that I know the VFX supervisor is going to want to see. After that, it's time for another meeting, usually discussing with other departments how we're going to work together to achieve a look, or solve a technical issue. Back at my desk by around 5:30 pm where I make more notes on people's takes, possibly running around to the artists' desks to help them fix any technical issues they might be having. 6:00pm rolls around and it's time to go home (on a typical day). In crunch mode times, there are still another 4 hours to the work day. Usually we do one more round of reviews with the VFX supervisor, grab a quick dinner, then back to my desk to give more notes, work on my own shots, fix any outstanding technical rigging issues, write any tools that need writing and do R&D for other technical issues we're trying to solve.
The 12 hour days are my favorite days as a supervisor because they are usually the only days that I get a good chunk of time to be hands on, working on shots and doing what I like to do. Most of the time the responsibilities listed above take priority so I have to figure out how to fit all of that within 8 hours instead of 12!!!
From the time I get to work in the morning until the time that I go home, it's non-stop go, go, go!!!! I am lucky that I enjoy what I do because it doesn't feel like work at all. It's physically draining, but at the end of the day I usually go home happy, looking forward to getting back to it the next day.
The casualness of the environment - On my first day I didn't know what to expect. I dressed in slacks, nice button up shirt, the whole 9 yards. I quickly realized that some of the other new hires were wearing jean shorts, tank tops and flip flops. We're lucky enough to be in an industry where you don't interact with the public.
The camaraderie - Spending 8-12 hours a day 5-7 days a week with your co-workers gives you no choice, you have to become friends with them. The friendships get stronger the smaller the team is that you work on.
My first project was "Alvin and the Chipmunks 2". Since then I've worked on "Yogi Bear," "Hop" (as both a rigger and tech animator), "Alvin 3," "Life of Pi" and I'm just wrapping up production on "R.I.P.D."
For me the most rewarding thing about this job is that every day I work on something new and exciting. Everyday I'm faced with a new challenge - someone finds a new way to break things that I have to fix - or the VFX supervisor asks us to do something that we've never done before and then we have to figure out how to make it happen. I am constantly learning new things about the pipeline or about our software, or new ways to achieve something more efficiently. I get paid for something that I love to do, not many people get to say that about their jobs.
Determination. This quality has embedded in it all of the other qualities that you'll need. You'll need to work harder at this then almost anything else you've done in life. If you aren't progressing with your skills, learning new things and pushing yourself to another level, then the next guy will be, and he'll be the one getting hired instead of you. The only person who is going to get you to where you want to be, is yourself.
While I was at Cogswell, we had a guest speaker named Brad Heibert, who was a rigger from Rhythm & Hues. He spent the day with our rigging class answering questions and viewing our reels to help us improve our chances of getting hired after graduation. Brad mentioned that they were currently hiring tech animators for their next project ("Alvin 2"), and that tech animation was closely related to rigging. You had to have a similar mindset, work through issues using logic instead of a guess and check approach. There would even be a possibility to move into the rigging department from that position should things work out (which I got to do a bit of on HOP). After viewing our reels, he gave us advice on what he would like to see more of, what he'd like to see less off, that sort of thing. We then sent in our adjusted reels to RnH. As it turns out, Brad was the one reviewing the reels for the hiring process. Two of my classmates and I applied. We all received requests for phone interviews and were hired on soon thereafter.
I would say that Project X was the single most influential thing I did while at Cogswell. This was the project that taught me that I had what it takes to become a professional. It taught me that I could work on a VFX project 10-12 hours a day, every day, with few or no days off and little or no sleep and then get up the next day and be excited to do it all over again. It prepared me for the road ahead. Strict deadlines, demand for high quality, extreme pressure and stress to perform to the best of your ability and beyond. My first project, really felt like it was my second as I had already run through all the steps during Project X. This time it was just at a new location, on a new project, working with new people.
Before Project X came along, most of the senior projects at Cogswell were done in pairs as is the case in most colleges. With such a small group, you really don't get any sense of how to interact within the much bigger picture of a real production. It also forces both people in the project to become generalists. In a real project there are so many different aspects to the CG production pipeline. With a two person project it's really hard for people who want to be specialists to gain enough know-how to produce the high quality final product that is expected in a real studio.
The single most important thing that translated from Project X to the real world of VFX was working on a collaborative project where you were not the only person you were trying to please. As a rigger, working in a group project with other people using my rigs was invaluable. It is one thing to rig up a character to the point that you can move him around and be semi happy with the deformations you are getting. It's another beast entirely to rig a character and then give it to other people to animate. They will find ways to break your rig that you never knew existed but then you have to find solutions for them. The back and forth collaboration on Project X helped me in my current position tremendously. As a supervisor, I am the representative for my department. I have to be able to clearly verbalize with the other departments what I am able to do for them or exactly what I need from them. I also have to be able to verbalize how I want something to look on screen when giving notes. I have a picture in my head that needs to be explained in words, heard and interpreted by another individual then translated into their work.