Hayden Jones is one of our VFX Supervisors at DNEGTV. Hayden has spent the last 16 years in the VFX industry: From industrial design, through games development to Film and TV VFX, he has worked on nearly every size and shape of VFX project. As one of the VFX Supervisors at Double Negative TV, his role revolves around every aspect of the VFX process. From initial meetings with clients, through script breakdowns, designing concepts and on-set supervision, all the way through to supervising the artist teams and working on final shots.
How did you get into VFX?
I was probably hooked on VFX after I watched Star Wars at the Wolverhampton Odeon – I was five. After that I spent most of my time doodling spaceships in the back of my school textbooks.
On leaving school I studied for a degree in industrial design and, on finishing university, decided to get a job in the game industry. I worked as an artist and game designer for nearly three years which gave me time to learn how to use Softimage on a ridiculously expensive SGI machine.
I paid for myself to go to Siggraph and managed to persuade a rather gullible head of 3D at Cinesite to give me a job, sixteen years on – we’re still working together.
Is there anything you wish you had done before you joined the industry which would have better prepared you for your career in VFX for TV?
I wish I had more time during school and university being taught traditional art techniques. I have had to study this around the pressures of work, which is never ideal. Also I’d really liked to have been able to write code. I’ve tried a couple of times to learn this, but have now decided to leave it to others!
Is there any advice you would give to someone coming into the business?
I think you need to approach the industry with your eyes wide open. It’s up to each artist to not only work out what work they enjoy doing, but also to see how they best fit into the industry. I’d suggest asking established VFX artists, they are normally quite happy to share a bit of knowledge. Also, one of the hardest things to learn when coming into the industry is that you have to concentrate on what the client wants for a shot, not what you want. This is so often a stumbling block for many junior artists.
What natural skills do you think lend themselves to doing your job?
Communication is probably the key skill to have as a VFX supervisor. Most of your time is spent talking through ideas with artists and clients, so being able to communicate concepts both verbally and through drawings is an absolute must. I also think you need to have a wide knowledge of VFX, not just current 2D and 3D techniques, but a historic appreciation of film-making in general.
Are there any particular training / courses you’d recommend?
Coming into the industry, I’d definitely recommend the Escape Studios and FXPHD courses; they seem to give the best all round education for starting in the VFX business. But learning shouldn’t be something that happens only at the start of your career. One of the joys of the industry is that there is always something new to learn. Maintaining and improving upon your drawing, sculpting and photography skills is important at every stage of your career.
The worst and best thing about your job?
The best thing is seeing a shot or sequence finished, looking great and having a happy client and VFX team.
The worst thing is when sometimes, due to time pressures and budgets, you have to finish a shot without being able to make it absolutely perfect. As the saying goes, an artist never finishes work, they merely abandon it!
QUESTIONS FROM SOCIAL MEDIA
From Chen ZG: Hi Hayden, what is your daily routine like? what does it take to become a supervisor? how many artist are you taking care? before you become a supervisor what will you doing?
Wow, Chen, that’s a lot of questions! I think I’ve answered your question about what I did before becoming a Supervisor above. As to a daily routine? One of the great things about the job is that every day is different, so no two days are the same. If I’m in the office, I like to try and check in with all the artists first thing to make sure they have everything they need and all the necessary information about the shots they are working on. Then my day can be anything from client meetings and bidding shows to designing concepts and helping out working on a shot.
I’d say, to become a supervisor, you need a combination of great communication skills, lots of imagination and good working knowledge of VFX and film-making techniques.
As to artist count? Depending on the show’s needs, TV VFX teams can fluctuate anywhere from between 5 to 30 plus artists.
From Kyle Terry: What are some of the creative problems/solutions faced amidst TV production vs turn around for feature films?
From Thibault Houdon: Is there a huge difference between a TV workflow and a feature film one?
I suppose the main creative problem / workflow challenge facing TV is that the budgets and timescales are tiny when compared with Features VFX. However this can also be one of the most enjoyable things too. You don’t have time to become creatively ‘snow blind’ to a shot as you could be working on several shots (or even shows) in a single week and it’s quite usual for TV VFX artists to have less than a day to complete a shot. It is a part of the work that is both creatively challenging and interesting. It’s also not uncommon for our artists to be in creative discussions with the Directors or production teams on a project as direct communication allows the shots to be completed quicker.
From Efflam Mercier: What sort of new softwares and workflows are you exploring on current TV productions?
I think the most exciting area of technology for TV VFX is integrating previz with onset capture. Allowing directors to see what a shot will finally look like, whilst shooting on set will bring big advances in TV digital environments and storytelling.
From Dudy Cemed: Hi DNEG. What are the key to be a VFX Supervisor? Do we need knowledge or skill on every single process? Like modeling, texturing and rendering. Thx.
From @Ketsi_aiita_n: Are there any qualities that you think make a good VFX Supervisor? How best can you get people on board with you when leading them?
I’d say the key to being a VFX supervisor is to be able to imagine what a shot could be, communicate it to the team and work with them to think of an approach that can bring it to reality. I think that it’s good to have an overview on all aspects of the VFX process, but realize you don’t have to have to be a master in every single one. You need enough knowledge to be able to communicate with your team, understanding and steering their ideas and solutions.
And, it sounds obvious, but I’d say that enthusiasm for VFX and film-making is another essential quality for a supervisor. You have to be excited by the work and pass down that excitement to the team you are working with. Film making is a huge collaborative effort, making the whole team understand that they have a crucial part to play in the process is essential to keeping the VFX machine on track.
From Max Auer: What aspect / aspects of the whole vfx process do you personally like the most?
I love working with a talented team of artists, like the ones we have here at DNEGTV. It’s a great day when you can start a shot off with an idea, and the team pulls together and creates something really amazing.
From John-Michael Le Baron: With so many companies moving to the short term contract model what is your outlook on artists who may be seeking a career or growth and would like a little structure to be able to settle down and breath? When does being an artist become a job instead of a contract? Thank you
Hi John, that is a really interesting question. At DNEGTV we really like to create a team and keep them together. We also enjoy developing people from juniors to senior artists so we try to keep our contracts as long as possible. Saying that, we are constrained by the peaks and troughs of the industry. As a department we try to stabilize this by having our team work on multiple projects concurrently, thus allowing us to keep our artists challenged, interested and employed for as long as we can.<p>
From Claudio Tassone: Hi Hayden, can you tell us something about the challenges of the compositor compared to the challenges of the 3d artist in this kind of production?
Again, I’d have to say that the time scales involved in TV production are the biggest challenge to both 2D and 3D artists. Compositors need to know how to best use their time to create the maximum visual impact for a shot. 3D artists have to really understand the best approaches to FX shots, thinking about possible client requests and how to expediently turn them around.
From @Ketsi_aiita_n: How do you motivate your slowest worker? And what was your most rewarding project?
Motivating slower workers is often helped by how you structure the team around them. We have some great senior artists in DNEGTV and we normally try to make sure all of our juniors have a senior sitting next to them. This gives them a role model to help them with new techniques and aid them with keeping pace.
From Claire Pollock: Cat or dog?
Nice to hear from you Claire and at last an easy question – DOG!
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