Check out how Nicholas Illingworth, student of Escape Studios, carved his professional career in the field of Animation and VFX.
Journey of a Lead Technical Director:
Nicholas Illingworthhas worked for leading studios including Moving Picture Company (MPC) and Double Negative (DNEG); he’s shared his background details with us, including why he chose the creative industries, an insight into some of the films he’s worked on and advice for anyone looking to get into visual effects.
Why the creative industries?
I’ve always been creative exploring various disciplines of art from a young age. While having a fine art background, I was always fascinated with mathematics and physics. Initially I went down a more technical route, which ultimately led me to Effects (FX / Simulation). Effects is a perfect blend of technical and creativity. A lot of what we do is grounded in physical reality, so having this technical knowledge is hugely beneficial. I’ve been working in the industry for over 10 years now and spent the last 5 years working at Weta Digital in New Zealand.
What’s your current role? What’s your favourite part of your job?
For the past few years I’ve been a Lead Effects Technical Director at Weta Digital. Effects fits into a unique position within the pipeline, where we can cover many traditional disciplines within the pipeline. From building assets, to lookdev, building shaders, lighting our effects within shots, and rendering those final images before delivering them to the Compositing department. My favorite part of the job is getting onto a project early and having the freedom to experiment with ideas in the early look development process.
What projects have you worked on? And what was your favourite?
If I was to pick out two standout projects from the twenty plus that I’ve worked on, they would be Harry Potter and The Dark Knight Rises. Harry Potter, as it was one of the first big budget films and I got the opportunity to work on some incredible sequences. The Dark Knight Rises because the creative and film making process working with Christopher Nolan was entirely unique and exciting, and an experience I haven’t had since. What separates Chris from the majority of directors I’ve worked with is his clear vision. Chris knew exactly what he required from us rather than fully exploring the creative freedom which comes with post production.
What are you working on at the minute?
Last year was an incredibly busy year. After finishing the Guardians of The Galaxy: Vol 2 I jumped straight into Avengers: Infinity War, followed by Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Maze Runner was a great project to work on, we had such great feedback with the director and special effects team. We heavily researched the physical values for particular effects and made sure our tools and solvers were all physically based. Those tools coupled with the data provided by the on-set special effects team, we were effectively able to recreate their practical recipes digitally. There were numerous shooting restrictions on that movie for safety and budgetary reasons, so we were required to perfectly recreate, generate, and integrate these digital effects with the practical onset ones.
How did you get into the industry and is there anything you would have done differently?
My first entry position was in camera at Framestore. Camera was a great place to start as it underpins so much of what we do, and I got to learn all aspects of the pipeline from that position. I’m still using knowledge I picked up back then, so I wouldn’t change my entry into the industry. While it wasn’t where I wanted to be, it was a necessary stepping stone into gaining the knowledge and experience required for my next position.
What advice would you give to budding creatives?
Landing your first job in the industry is probably one of the hardest things you can do, once you’ve got a few big projects behind you acquiring work can be a little easier. For demo reels, quality is definitely better than quantity. In the industry you could spend a whole year working on a couple of shots with hundreds of iterations, so picking something and doing it very well is a sure way to stand out. Stay hungry, stay passionate, stay creative.
Nicholas Illingworth studied the Advanced 3D 6 week course at Escape Studios in London, and has since worked on films such as Planet of The Apes, The Hobbit and Avengers: Infinity War. Nicholas is currently a Lead Technical Director working on the sequel of James Cameron’s Avatar.