Aaron Hopwood

How did studying at Escape Studios help you into the world of Animation?

If I had to put it down to one thing I’d say that it’s the way that the environment is structured. For this I’m referring mostly to the way that the group projects are used to both teach you how to go about a project in the same way that it happens in industry, but also to work as a realistic simulation of how it would go about (at least in a smaller studio/production). Everything from the structure of Pre-production/Production/Post-production phases, the layouts and interactions of teams, the use of and inclusions of dailies etc. This simulation of what a real working environment is like, I feel, was the major thing that helped me when starting as everything that was happening was already familiar to me as we’d already been doing it for 4 groups projects over the course of 2 years.

What have you been up to since you left Escape Studios?

As I mentioned before I just finished up production on this year's Christmas ad for John Lewis. I was involved in it from as soon as I started at Untold, during the pre-production phase of the ad. Being the only animator at that time working on it full-time I ended up doing all of the Pre-visualisation animation.

After the filming wrapped we had a couple of weeks where I worked with my lead, Tim van Hussen (ex-MPC), on the character movement development and general motion tests. This involved trying out different types of walk/run, bipedal/quadrupedal, as well as what aspects of different animals to include in his movements. We ended up including a large amount of dog motion in his runs, some penguin in his walk, and a little bit of baby elephant in some of his locomotion. 

When production finally got underway I got handed my shots and we got into it. I was given the snowman sequence where he picks up the carrot, burns the snowman, and then reacts to what he’s just done. I’m pretty happy with the way that the shots, and ad in general turned out: a lot of it is helped by great lighting, FX, and comp.

Aside from a couple of acting changes and switching up of shot order everything went along pretty smoothly for the most part and I’m quite proud of what the studio has produced.Aside from that I also did the pre-vis development and animation on the Samsung Space Selfie ads that were going around a little while ago. I also did a little bit of VFX work at Nvis before starting at Untold doing some generic creature animation.

Where do you currently work and what are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working as a VFX artist at Untold Studios. Although I can’t say what I’m working on exactly at the moment it is still related to the last ad that I just put out; that ad being ‘Excitable Edgar’ the 2019 John Lewis and Waitrose christmas advert.

What is it like to work as a VFX Artist at Untold Studios?

The atmosphere at Untold is genuinely really nice. The floor that we have is almost entirely open-plan with one big room with a bunch of desks for artists, producers, and company founders and managers, all in the same space. Everyone in the office is chilled out and friendly for the most part and you end up talking to everyone from runners to the owners while getting a bagel or a coffee in the morning. Recently, me and a couple of the other artists started up a page in the work Slack channel for people to put up sketches and doodles people have been doing in their note-books as something to do while waiting for playblasts or renders.

What work are you most proud of working on and what is your most notable achievement?

As much as I’m proud of the work that I did on the John Lewis ad, the thing I’m most proud of working on is still the short film we did as part of the third year of the course: JERICH0. The fact that it was entirely our creation and that it turned out as well as it did (on the budget that we had as well…) still makes me proud. That twinned with the festival success that we’ve had since releasing the film, ending up in around 43 festivals at last count including the Student BAFTAs, BFI International Film Festival, and many others. This film and every member of that team still makes me proud and probably still will for quite some time to come.

If you had to sum up your time at Escape Studios in one word what would it be and why?

Comfortable. The atmosphere I experienced at Escape Studios, even though it was still for a degree, was the most enjoyable time I’ve spent in during schooling/work. The type of students that this sort of course attracts are generally all really nice and fun to talk to, and the same goes for the tutors and staff. Even feels pretty much on the same level so you can always approach anyone and have a chat about anything. I’ve lost count of the amount of time that we spent just talking with our tutors or studio assistants about the projects, playing on a switch in the breakout space, or just having a chat about nothing in particular.

What is your advice for those considering entering the industry?

Whether it’s animation, games, or Visual Effects that you’re planning on going into I feel like the key thing you ABSOLUTELY need is to love what you are doing. If you don’t love it when you’re starting out, or while you’re studying it you will come to hate it in an actual job. This industry is incredibly demanding, and will most definitely test you even from the most junior position.

What’s your favourite animation and why?

For me this coincides with my same pick for “Favourite Film” and “Film that got you into animation”, which for me is and always will be Wall-E. I just adore the way that you can understand and totally get everything about his character and emotion without a single word of dialogue. The expressive, but subtle acting creates such an endearing and believable character.

What course did you study?

I studied as part of the first undergraduate course for ‘The art of animation’ between September 2016 and May 2019. I recently graduated with a first and received a commendation award for best overall performance on the course.

This simulation of what a real working environment is like, I feel, was the major thing Escape Studios helped with when starting as everything that was happening was already familiar to me as we’d already been doing it for 4 groups projects over the course of 2 years.

Aaron Hopwood