David Davis talks about his new job at Imaginarium

David Davis is a talented animator who graduated from Alex's character animation course at Escape Studios. He has recently joined Andy Serkis' new motion capture studio Imaginarium, a digital animation studio based in Ealing, London, dedicated to the creation of digital characters using Performance Capture technology, such as a new adaptation of Animal Farm, which Serkis will direct. We asked David to tell us a little about his new job.

Andy Serkis will direct Orwell's classic totalitarian satire Animal Farm

Animation Apprentice: You just started working at Imaginarium, Andy Serkis's new Motion Capture Studio. What's that like?

David: It is a lot of fun! I get to do a variety of things. Sometimes I am at motion capture stage helping run things, seeing actors performing which is actually pretty interesting and fun to see. The rest of the time I get to deal with all the animation in 3D. All the projects are narrative driven projects. No spinning logos, or infomercials (not that there's anything wrong with that, but I went into animation because I like story telling).

Animation Apprentice: You come from a 3D animation background, with traditional keyframe animation skills. How easy has it been to adapt to Motion Capture work?

David: It was hard in the beginning. It was new software to learn, new technical terms to understand. But a lot of the knowledge does transfer well. Knowing how to solve the knees popping on a walk cycle is a skill that is useful in all 3D animation whether it's motion captured or keyframe animation. Some things like understanding animation in a graph form is pretty vital in Motion Capture as it is in keyframe animation too.

Motion Capture data. No need for animators?

Animation Apprentice: What projects are you working on? (don't tell us any state secrets though - we don't want to to get you into trouble!)

David: I am working on the Cinematic sequences for a big computer game release next year as well as the Animal Farm remake. I will be put on some other projects I probably shouldn't mention too much about next year as well. It seems to be mostly feature film and computer game cinematics related for foreseeable future.

Animation Apprentice: What software are you using?

David: I use a program called Blade which is the software that runs the motion capture cameras. Motion Builder which is a very large animation software package that is useful for both keyframe animation and also bringing in motion capture data to apply to characters and then edit and tweak. Finally there is occasionally a bit of work done in Maya, like modelling and bringing characters into a 3D set.

Animation Apprentice: Do you have any projects of your own and do they involve motion capture?

David: I do have some projects of my own but I do not use motion capture in them. My own personal projects are still keyframe animation based. I used to dislike motion capture. Something about it being too easy and the lack of artistry to it made me a bit skeptical. But I quite like it now when it is used well. I have come to realise how much of the quality is dependent on the actor/actress that gave the original performance. There is a temptation to forget that it's a real person giving a performance when motion capture is used. A lot of the quality of the performance is based on who performed and good performers can create amazing motion capture based animation. But despite liking motion capture a lot more now than I did in the past, I do still enjoy traditional keyframe animation too and use it in my own work. I guess I would say that I now regard them as different styles. Just like one style of painting is not better or worse than another. They can give different looks and you can appreciate each on its merits.

Animation Apprentice: What kind of skills do you need to get a motion capture job and what advice would you offer someone trying to break into the industry?

David: That's a tough one. Generally I would say feeling comfortable around 3D software interfaces is quite important. All the software is different, but they all have similar tools. Being a super expert in one software packages is less important than understanding the principle behind how things work, or at least being able to pick it up quickly. There is no one background that all the employees at Imaginarium have other than knowing what a graph editor is and how to use it. Once you know that you only need to find out what button in the menus brings it up in each program.

The best way to break in is to learn how to use a software package like Motion Builder. Put together something demonstrating you know how to use it, and then send it to as many places as you can and don't be afraid to apply to the same place twice. Sometimes people may like you, but not have space for you the first time around.

The only other thing I would add about my move into motion capture is that it's surprising how creative it still is. Admittedly a lot of the creativity occurs with the actors and actresses on the MoCap stage. But it's not exactly a bad thing to be creative with a real person instead of just a mouse and keyboard. Imagine the things you could do as a keyframe animator if the character you were animating could give you their opinion on what seems like the most natural way they would act in that situation.

Editor's Note: IMDB Pro describes Animal Farm as being "In Development" and due for a worldwide release in 2014.