An interview with Andy Butler, Associate Director at DJSCGI

Andy Butler, Associate director at DJS, Visualisation Grand Chien, and all round good egg answers some questions on CGI, life and chicken husbandry.

Andy, What first lead you into working in Vis?

In all honesty I fell in to Arch Vis with no knowledge at all about it, but after seeing it could be done, I instantly had a lot of passion to do it and knew I wanted to do it for my career. I was all set to join Southampton Institute of Art and Design to do a BA Hons in Graphic Design, but over the summer I applied for some work experience. I had no offers, but one reply from a company saying they were having an open day and I went along. They were a small studio of 4 artists in a typical dark room surrounded by noisy hardware and lots of monitors. I watched their showreel and knew instantly this is what I wanted to do. I asked if anything comes up over the summer to let me know and a couple weeks later I had a letter saying a position had become available as a junior visualiser and would I like to apply. I figured I had nothing to lose, applied and got the job. I cancelled my BA Hons and started work straight away. They trained me up 3D modelling using AutoCAD and then importing it in to 3dsmax1. It’s grown from there so I feel I was extremely lucky to find a job I’ve been doing for 20 years and still absolutely love.


What trends have you seen come and go over the years and what new trends are you excited about?

There are good trends and bad trends.  Over the years computers have become a lot more powerful and that trend is continuing at a rapid pace. When I first started the architectural visualisation world was quite small and the computers used, although powerful for the time, couldn’t handle a poly count that was too high. I remember when I dealt with a maxfile with over 1 million faces and we all said that was really detailed. It was an entire shopping centre. Now one tree can have upwards of a million faces and we scatter it around and don’t even bat an eyelid. We used to do 2D trees and people on planes that looked at and followed the camera for animation. The results were great in the 90’s but if you did that now it would look terrible. For stills, trees and foliage were always added in via Photoshop.  With the libraries of 3D assets available now and software like AXYZ Anima and Forest Pack, it is possible to use 3D assets for everything. HDRI lighting has been a trend for a few years, and in my opinion it’s improved the standards a lot, but it’s made images across the industry all look the same. It’s down to the artist to push them past the accepted norm. Most trends seem to start off slowly until someone creates a really good looking image, and are invited to do a “how to” to showcase their workflow. Then you tend to see a lot of images copying that style and it starts to trend, I don’t like this as everything starts to look similar. I have a Pinterest board that I save my favourite articles to but always from a technical point of view as a reference for future work and to improve my techniques. I find online resources can be very helpful, and I like to add my knowledge on forums such as CGarchitect when I can. The CGI industry seems to be a very sharing community and I like the fact some of the more well-known studios share their knowledge and workflows. New renders seem to be the next best thing. I’ve been using Vray solidly for years, but am becoming more and more interested in Corona and like the look of Fstorm. They simplify the rendering process, enable us as artists more time for the detailed work, rather than fiddling with settings to get rid of noise and therefore wasting time. The introduction of VR headsets is also looking very promising for our industry. Initially I thought it would be a fad and die away, but it is gathering pace and I’m excited to see where that goes. We are currently producing full 360 VR images that give a great user experience, these are a lot of fun to do.


Describe what you think are the three most important factors in creating a great visual?

Only three? Well, that’s a tough one. I don’t think I can. I think the best artists have a far greater knowledge of a lot of things than most people realise.

The most common things most artists would say are a good eye for composition, lighting and a knowledge of how materials work. These are absolutely essential in creating anything that is believable, especially if you are aiming for realism.  But on top of that there is colour, scale, interpreting 2D drawings correctly, understanding how photography works, software knowledge, hardware knowledge, understanding design, building construction, knowing accepted standards in architecture, project management and the list goes on. The three most important for me would be:

1. Have a plan and clear direction. Sourcing reference images at the start to work from, making sure they are not other CGI’s but actual real life photographs.

2. Plan your time wisely. Have set reviews and get everyone to have a look.

3. Take time to learn. I have been doing this for 20 years but I’m still learning, even from juniors. Don’t think you know everything because you don’t.


What would be your top tips for yourself if you were 19?

As a person that likes to help and teach, I find nothing worse than reading  “I’m new to architectural Vis. How can I recreate this image?” If you want to succeed research things yourself, the internet has so much useful information and that chances are it’s there for you with a little digging. If you have researched and tried, then show what you have achieved and ask for advice. The CGI industry if very friendly and we all want you to succeed and the chances are if you show that you are making progress, you’ll get far more help, than if you just ask without showing where you’ve got to. If you are learning something new, make sure you understand why each step is happening and don’t just copy it blindly until you get the final result without realising the process. Don’t be scared to speak your mind too. There is nothing better than brainstorming an idea and putting your point across. If you don’t understand something then say so, don’t ignore it and hope it goes away. Don’t take criticism badly. Think of it all as a helpful positive thing. We all want to produce the best work, so the more constructive criticism you have the better, as long as you learn from it. Don’t grumble when the client makes some changes, changes are part of a CGI artists daily problems and they are inevitable, make sure you build in time and cost to do them.


What has been your most challenging project in the last year or two?

In 2015 we completed a project for The Royal Atlantis hotel which is being built in Dubai on the Palm Island. It was tricky for various reasons. Managing all of the supplied information was tough because the design kept changing along the process of the CGI’s. So making sure the most current information was available and easy to find, through hundreds of drawings was critical. The whole team was working on it, so managing the 3d scene and breaking it up in to individual parts that could be worked on independently and then all brought together was essential.  The end result was great though and it was a ‘world project” and I was really pleased with what we delivered.


What is your favourite piece of CGI tech/Plug ins?

I am a big advocate of using plugins and scripts to increase workflow and have dabbled in creating a couple of scripts for things I felt I needed every day. The first thing I do when I run in to a problem ,or an idea of how to do something quickly, if I don’t have a script already, is to search the internet to see if there is something that can help. But, without question my favourite script that I cannot do without is called RPManager. It allows me to control pretty much every feature of 3dsmax and VRay and setup multiple stills or animations in one maxfile. You can control all of the render outputs per camera. Any property of any object which means you can move furniture around to get the best composition when you are in the process of picking the best angle with the client. My favourite plugin would probably be Railclone. There is no better feeling, than compiling a Railclone flow that creates a really cool looking, completely procedural building façade, or floor pattern and then when you have a small tweak, it all updates itself automatically. It’s a tough piece of software to master and I still have a lot to understand but it’s so powerful I always try to create my landscapes and building elements using it whenever possible.


Describe yourself in 3 words?

I’m not very good at describing myself ………………………I’d like to think I come across as knowledgeable, patient and kind.


Favourite Film?

I have many favourites, but currently it would have to be Deadpool.


What has chicken husbandry taught you about team working and CGI?

Owning chickens is such a fulfilling thing to do. If you look after them properly, feed them, water them, give them a warm place to sleep and a perch to sit on they supply you with the most amazing eggs. They also individually have their own personalities and are very friendly, although they will find their own pecking order by fighting.  This is quite similar to running a team of CGI artists. If you supply them with the right hardware and software, feed them with good projects, keep them warm and happy and offer a nice comfy chair, they will reward you with awesome CGI. We have a great team of quite different people at DJS CGI, each with an individual background, but as a team we work extremely well together and luckily there is no fighting and no real pecking order.


Gregg StoneComment