“Working on Togo was an enormously positive experience for me. It was great to broaden my knowledge and ultimately my skills. It was really a fun show.”
Arna Diego is a Lead Animator at DNEG in Vancouver, who has worked on the likes of Pacific Rim: Uprising, Venom, Togo, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Not only an accomplished Lead Animator, Arna is also a mum who recently came back from maternity leave. Keep on reading to find out about her career up to this point, what it was like to work on Disney’s Togo and learn about dogs’ facial anatomy to develop a state of the art rig, and how she juggles parenthood and her work.
Hello Arna! What brought you into the world of VFX and Animation, what’s your journey?
I started with a Bachelor of Arts in Animation. I ALWAYS knew that I wanted to be an Animator, from very early on in primary school. I was one of those kids always drawing. When I discovered what the concept of animation is – all these drawings layered to create the illusion of movement – that was sort of a light bulb moment. I think I even wrote in one of my year-end books at school that I wanted to be an Animator later. After my degree I moved to London, joined DNEG in 2011 as a Junior Animator to work on John Carter, went to other studios, moved to Vancouver and came back to DNEG in 2015. I am currently in a Lead role.
What are your career highlight(s) so far?
It’s mainly about the experience I have working with people on a show, more than it is about the shows themselves. One of the movies that I’ve enjoyed the most was Togo, at DNEG Vancouver. It was an enormously positive experience for me: the role I had, how we developed the rigs, the people I worked with, our dynamic, the time I was given to learn about dogs’ facial muscles and anatomy… It was great to broaden my knowledge and ultimately my skills. It was really a fun show.
What is your day-to-day like as a Lead Animator?
I recently came back to work after a year on maternity leave and my days are packed! Luckily, I still work from home and daycare isn’t far from where I live. So I drop my daughter off and head back home to get started with my day – I grab a coffee, catch up on emails, make sure the team knows what they need to do and is on track. I also animate a lot, test rigs, collaborate with other departments, look at processes, etc. Then it’s already time to pick up my daughter so I take a break from work to really focus on her, be present and in the moment. I compartmentalise a lot to be able to do it. I’ll usually log back on for a little while after she goes to bed to finish my day.
When I came back to work after my maternity leave it took me a little while to get back into it. You’ve been a mom full time for a whole year and you have to re-adjust to work, add it to your routine. It is difficult to juggle between parenthood and work life. Being a Lead is a demanding job which requires a lot of brain power, but getting back to the Animation crew was a very positive experience – it’s nice to exercise my other talents and to be someone, in addition to being a mom.
What do you like the most about your job?
Talking with people, collaborating, developing something together as a team. For example we have a really good team on the show I’m on currently, and in no time we made a great functioning rig and beautiful animation for a very difficult creature. Even though we are a small team because it is the start of the show, we managed to do it quickly because everybody is really talented. It’s a top notch team, really. Sometimes I pause and think to myself “Wow I’m working with industry superstars. We’re doing some really high level stuff and I am part of it”. It’s a good motivator!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Do what you love, keep enjoying it but don’t take notes personally. It is tricky for a lot of artists, especially Animators, because what we do is artistic but it’s also a job. You can be really proud of your work and deliver something that looks great but don’t take it personally if it goes through many iterations, changes, or gets scrapped by the client. Be prepared for that duality because it will happen, but don’t stop enjoying what you do or lose your artistic sense either.
What was the best shot you worked on?
It’s a shot on Pacific Rim: Uprising, when the Mega Kaiju fights with Saber Athena. I spent six months on that particular shot. We didn’t have a lot of previs to work with, so I designed the shot pretty much from scratch, added a bit more camera work than what was initially planned, blocked how the creatures would move, refined the action to be more elaborate and fun. It was hard but it turned out to be a very cool hero shot.
Time for some rapid fire questions – What’s one thing that is always on your desk when you work?
My coffee cup and a notepad.
What’s your ‘special power’ at work?
When it comes to my own work I don’t settle for ‘good enough’. I always want to keep striving for more, to get that ‘little bit’ more.
What are you most looking forward to every day?
When I pick my girl up at daycare, she is so happy when she sees me.
How did you feel on your first day at DNEG?
It was cool, a lot of people were just starting. I think I felt nervous because I was very young, it was one of my first jobs. It’s fun and weird to think back on it, I am such a different person now.
What is your best memory so far at DNEG?
I guess my best memory is when I knew that I was seen. I got to establish my name and show people what I could do on Alpha. Up until then I worked on a lot of car shows at DNEG, and I don’t think any of the Animation Leads and Supervisors really knew what I was capable of doing. With Alpha I got to establish myself as a strong quadruped Creature Animator at DNEG, and show what I could do. The funny thing is, I wasn’t even supposed to work on the show!
Finish this sentence: DNEG is…
Ambitious, and focused on moving forward. So much is happening right now, we’re expanding, broadening our horizons. DNEG is very forward thinking.
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