Meet Gregory Jennings, a french CG Artist currently working for Dreamworks Animation. Greg has attended Supinfocom school of computer animation for two years, then freelanced for a short while and joined Buf Companie, doing some VfX. A year after graduating, Greg joins Dreamworks Animation as a Lighting Artist and he’s now Cg Supervisor there.
We’re happy to share with our reader his experience about the industry and his carrer path
IT’S ART : You’ve moved a lot since the last years. Can you give us your point of view regarding your experience in each of these countries ?
Greg Jennings – Each country has its pros and cons and it certainly gets harder to move across places once you have a family. France is great because it’s home, the food is amazing and friends and family are close by but the work is limited, especially if you move away from the big cities. India is good too because of the tropical weather, the cultural experience and the ability to travel around Asia, but the traffic is crazy and I still can’t eat spicy food every day ! The US combines the best of both worlds for me – great people and work culture, good life style and different enough from home so there’s always something new to discover.
I.A. – You’ve evolved from CG Generalist, to lighting artist, lead artist and today Cg Supervisor. Do you think this is a usual way artists are evolving these days ? What are the steps an artist needs to understand to evolve?
G.J. – I think there are as many career paths as artists and that’s one of the things that makes it so interesting to work in this field. Everyday I get to work with amazing creative people who come from diverse backgrounds, have crazy stories to tell and somehow work together on a big project for a few years ! Whether you specialize in a specific area or become more of a generalist depends on many factors, some of which you don’t always control. I wasn’t too keen in the beginning but focusing on becoming a Lighter led to new adventures that in turn helped me grow as a person and an artist. To evolve I think an artist needs to step back once in a while and consider what his/her goals are, and open up to what’s around. One of the most important skills I have learnt is to listen to other people’s ideas, take advice, work with other people and be more articulate.
I.A. – What’s the daily job of a CG Supervisor at Dreamworks? Can you speak about your team, the workflow?
G.J. – I currently work with a team of two Lead Lighters, four Lighters and two TDs. A Cg Supervisor in Dreamworks is in charge of overseeing the lighting and compositing of sequences and delivering the final image. It also involves providing artistic and technical guidance, bidding sequences, managing the progress and quality of the work, specifying efficient workflows and most of all working with other departments in order to get all of the elements in place.
On a daily basis I split my time between team management and putting out fires. I prepare things ahead of time, workout the specific requirements of each sequence and deal with potential challenges in order for the artists to be able to do what they do best, which is to deliver beautiful images, without having to worry about anything else.
I.A. – From modeling to lighting and final rendering, there’re tons of iterations. Can you speak about this iterative process and its methodology?
G.J. – Things are very different when working on a full feature animation and the level of organization of tasks is somewhat crazy. Because there are so many departments working simultaneously on sequences, there has to be tracking, validation and handing off of data at every stage. This can slow things down a bit but you quickly learn to work on multiple shots simultaneously and have a more global approach of your work. Story changes can also occur during production which can impact dialogues, and consequently Animation, Cfx and Lighting. The bottom line is that there is quite a bit of back and forth between the upstream and downstream departments in order to achieve the end result.
From a Lighting department perspective, we have to keep in mind these constraints and build our rigs and workflow in an efficient way to be able to turn around notes as fast as possible. This means making the best use of compositing, optimizing geometry and shading networks, breaking out render layers, using AOVs….
I.A. – This industry is really moving fast. What are the major changes you’ve seen during the last years? What’s your vision of the job and industry today ?
G.J. – The industry is moving, literally ! I have moved my family four times in the past 6 years (for the same company) but other friends move around the world from project to project. It’s interesting for a while but it’s not a very healthy life style and it becomes harder with a baby 🙂
My latest concern is the overdose of VFX-fueled movies that are killing the exposure to other kinds of film making. I’m getting bored of being fed the same stories over and over again and I wish there was a stronger will from big studios to use Vfx as a story-telling device. The good thing is that technology is allowing artists to create faster than ever and I’m hopeful that soon it will allow for even more smaller, crowd funded projects with full artistic freedom.
I.A. – What would be the advice you would give to young graduates who want to join a big player of the industry like Dreamworks?
G.J – Put your best work together and give it a shot 🙂 I think junior artists often underestimate their talent and are afraid of being turned down. Making contacts in the industry, visiting these companies, getting information about the hiring process is a good way to work towards that goal, and it’s also a great way to know if it is what you are really after. I’ve seen many artists come and go because they were disappointed by the overwhelming structure of big companies which have their own rhythm and politics you can’t really avoid.
The other thing to keep in mind is that getting your basics right is primordial and any young graduate should put as much effort in their traditional art skills as in learning the latest software.
I.A. – How do you consider your job/work as an artistic work ?
G.J.- What I love about my job is the mix of artistic and technical aspects. I have more of an artistic background and ultimately it’s what I thrive for, but technology and management are equally important in my role as a supervisor and I consider them as complementary skills. All of these come together and help produce the best possible final image.
I.A. – What’s your own definition of art?
G.J. – ha ha ! That’s a tricky question. Art is the product of creation, imagination, emotion. We often think of it as a visual thing, especially in our field, but it relates to so many things it would be a mistake to ignore the diversity of its meaning.
The only certainty I have about art is that it is an essential part of life and a never ending source of joy and amazement.
I.A. – Anything else ?
G.J. – Thanks for having me ! I’ve been following It’s Art Mag for a long time and it’s truly an honor to answer your questions. Best of luck for your new project funding platform 🙂