Interview With Till Nowak
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3DTotal: Hi Till, it’s great to have the opportunity to interview you! Do you think it’s possible to sum up your accomplished career history in a few lines for the readers?
Till: Through my parents I was always surrounded by art and creativity, but I was the only one in the family who became interested in computer graphics in the early 90’s. I got my first professional animation job for TV when I was 19, for which I founded my little animation studio “frameboX”. I worked mainly for classic design agencies and advertising until the success of my animated short film Delivery in 2005, which changed my focus from the advertising world to independent art and cinema. Delivery won around 35 awards, for example at the AFI Fest in Hollywood or in Annecy, which opened the doors for exciting contacts and working relationships with companies like Aardman Studios or HR Giger. I am now working as a mini-production company, because I love my freedom and independence. I create independent artworks, light installations, concept art, classic design and illustration work, as well as animation for TV and cinema.
3DTotal: That sounds like quite a variety, what projects are you working on right now?
Till: Right now I am working as a designer for Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures for the full CG feature film Arthur Christmas, which will be released end of 2011.
Before that I had finished my first music video for the German pop group Ben*Jammin. The video is based on shaky hand camera footage enhanced with visual effects. The band meets a mysterious urban guru who teaches them how to let the whole world jump. I directed it and created the basic concept and visual effects. It was screened at Siggraph 2009, in New Orleans.
3DTotal: With a project like that are you in charge of the live action and directing too, even the concepts? Or do you concentrate on the CG only?
Till: During the three days of shooting that video I had a great team of helpers, particularly the cinematographers Ivan RoblesMendoza and Michael Kuhlmann who perfectly created the handheld camera feeling I wanted. Besides that, yes, I did all the jobs you mentioned and also developed the initial concept. For this project it was good to have the director and CG department in one person because I knew exactly how the effects were going to work and how the video needed to be shot – and obviously there were no discussions between the director and the effects people! Generally, the degree of responsibility in my projects differs. Usually I am working as a designer and CG professional for other directors instead of directing myself, but this could change some day in the future.
3DTotal: Looking at your projects would it be fair to say you have an interest in the dynamics side of 3D? What are the pro and cons of using heavy dynamics in projects?
Till: I love working with particles, in abstract works as well as photorealistic effects. When simulated digital particles are affected by forces and deflectors they develop a life of their own, become a living mass – in an artistic sense – and so they become an easy and efficient tool to get rid of the digital cleanliness. This is the visual aspect I love about particles, but generally I avoid all kinds of heavy simulation in my work because everything is so dependent on fast results that I don’t do anything I have to wait for, like fluids or hair. I also don’t like baked simulations, in fact almost all my effects are still controllable in real time because I need this direct access or I get nervous. So I avoid getting stuck in the technical side of using dynamics and keep the artistic control and instant feedback.
3DTotal: That sounds like a great way to work with 3D whilst keeping it as artistic and spontaneous as possible. What methods do you use/avoid to enable this real time working method?
Till: In many cases the solution is very primitive: I just avoid them by not being available for heavy fluid or hair work. This kind of work usually consists of too much technical VFX and results in less artistic control for me. But besides avoiding it, here is an example of my technical approach to something like this, the Begerow logo animation [wmv]. It shows some liquid interacting with the surrounding obstacles. Here I used simple deformed cylinders, which are covered and revealed in certain areas and made round and wobbly using some modifiers. So there is no simulation, but it still looks like fluids. Another example is the shaved hair on the floor besides the bumblebee
which is just groups of cylinders copied, rotated and placed on the floor instead of growing or simulating it, or the destruction of a pre-sliced glass wall [Click Here] with a so called “mesh bomb” space warp in 3ds Max, which works in real-time.
3DTotal: One project listed on your website [Click Here] really caught my eye because it’s just so different to what we normally see on artist’s sites and that is the light installation ‘EDGES4’ [Click Here] for the Berlin Fashion show. Can you tell us a little about how this project was realized and how the amazing effects were achieved?
Till: After I already had done three other installations I was invited to do this projection and stage design by the lingerie fashion label Trés Bonjour. Frank and Vio also provided the fantastic team that made the whole thing possible by building and organizing everything. I created projections for two separate video projectors, all synchronized to a 15 minute soundtrack by the Zerb. So the whole experience was over after 15 minutes, which is quite different from my other installations which ran over five days. The topic of the
show was “deep sea geishas” so I worked with particle flow to create bubbles and created an underwater feeling. The particles and other animated graphics interacted with the structure of the room, for example the bubbles bounced back from the real-world wall mounts. The reaction between projection and underlying geometry of the real world is the basic concept of all my video installations, which you can find [Click Here]. Artistically it is the transformation of my projection mapping based CG workflows into the real world where it erases the borders between reality and virtuality, which is related to what my life as a CG artist feels like.
3DTotal: The final effect is really quite incredible! What sort of feedback do you get from the live viewers for these installations?Till: The reactions are usually positive, sometimes enthusiastic. Many people would like me to create such an installation for their companies, homes or offices, but at this point the high effort compared to the short lifetime of it becomes an obstacle. Strong projectors are expensive, the projections have to be adjusted carefully at the start of every cycle and the projections are only visible in darkness, so that these installations are always a temporary and volatile experience.
3DTotal: With so many high profile 3D projects under your belt, when you think back which ones really stand out for you and why?
Till: Certainly the most important project for me was Delivery, because it brought me a lot of attention and changed my creative focus totally. When the film was just finished I never expected how much it would change my life by bringing the independent side of creativity in front of the commercial one. Another important project for me was “Salad” which brought me an incredible amount of feedback and made me become a personal friend of HR Giger and Leslie Barany, or “Dishes” because it’s one of these simple ideas I am looking for.
3DTotal: A lot of upcoming CG artists dream of making it on their own as freelancers. What do you think are the two most important pieces of advice you can pass on from your experiences?
Till: To keep things simple and to finish pieces. Actually both of these are the same thing - many talented people have great ideas, but find it difficult to finish projects because they get bogged down by technical problems and so they never publish things. But publishing is important to get feedback, learn from it and move forward. To bring your works to a presentable state and then get them into online forums, film festivals, etc. can be the motor for a career and a lot of fun, too. But an early and important component in this chain is the working efficiency, which for me means treating the technology as a tool and not as the art itself. Therefore I have very little interest in geek talking about the speed of my computer or the thousand plugins, scripts or whatever exist; I only want to hear about them in the moment I need them for something specific, to keep it as simple and time-effective as possible.
3DTotal: Sounds like great advice Till, thanks again for chatting with us, we look forward to seeing what you come up with next!
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