In the Spotlight: Alex Weight's Journey – A Dynamic Q&A Session
Dive into the illustrious career of Alex Weight, a dynamic force in feature film, advertising, and television. From senior roles at Animal Logic to directing the 'Frog Kingdom' franchise, Alex's expertise shines. As a key speaker at SIGGRAPH Asia 2023, join us in exploring his impactful journey, from 'Peter Rabbit' to the award-winning horror film 'Prank.' Uncover the depth of Alex's influence in the animation and film industry, and don't miss this chance to witness his creativity at SIGGRAPH Asia 2023! Fox Renderfarm, recognized as a leading cloud rendering service provider and render farm in the industry, took pride in sponsoring this significant event and engaging in an interview with Alex Weight.
Partake in this enlightening interview as we delve into the artistic odyssey of Alex Weight, unveiling the unique qualities that distinguish him from the rest.
Alex Weight, writer & director & senior roles across animation and VFX
Fox Renderfarm: Your career in animation and VFX spans over three decades, which is truly impressive. Could you share with us what inspired you to pursue this field and how you got started?
Alex Weight: Sure, I grew up in an artistic family. My parents were both artists, so was always exposed to art from a young age. I went to a Japanese school for my early years and watched and read a lot of Manga comics that I fell in love with. At first, I thought I wanted to pursue 2D animation, but after finishing Art school and getting a job as an in-betweener, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought. So I went back to college and studied computer animation to transfer those skills. My first job was animating logos for commercials at a small production house. There weren’t many places that were producing animation in Sydney back in the early 90’s.
Fox Renderfarm: How has your international experience influenced your approach to creativity and storytelling in animation?
Image from Frog Kingdom 4, directed by Alex Weight
Alex Weight: It has helped a lot. Traveling helps you become aware of different styles and ways of Storytelling. The biggest difference I saw was when I started working with an Animation Studio in China (Shenzhen). I had to learn different ways of telling stories through body language and movement, as many of the tropes we rely on in the West don’t work globally. It was an exciting challenge to learn these new techniques. It has since helped me create my work with a more universal approach.
Fox Renderfarm: In your experience, how have you seen the animation and VFX industry evolve over the past decade, especially in terms of technology and creative approaches?
Alex Weight: Absolutely. Even more so over the last few years. It feels like new software and tech comes out almost monthly nowadays. It's very exciting. The biggest change I have seen is the ability to create content faster, with less technical skill. Years ago, animation was as technical as it was creative. That has changed now, so it allows Animators to focus more on the performance and creativity of their shots, rather than spending hours wrestling with technical issues. This same thing has occurred across other departments as well.
Corrupted © UTS Animal Logic Academy
Fox Renderfarm: Following on, with more than 25 years of experience in the industry, how do you see the animation industry evolving in the next 5-10 years? Do you think cloud rendering services play a vital role in it?
Alex Weight: AI is obviously the big thing we are all keeping our eye on. There is potential to really shake up the way we create Animation. Or, it could simply be a tool that helps us work more efficiently. The scope and capability haven’t quite been worked out yet. But I can see it having a big impact on the industry over the next 5-10 years. Hopefully, it takes over even more of the technical component and allows the artists to continue to focus on the creative.
Hardware is changing just as quickly. So is the cost of running render farms. Plus, many studios are now moving into a hybrid model with artists working on the same project from all over the world. All these things mean that running a localized render farm will become more expensive and harder to run. I imagine more and more studios will move to a cloud rendering service before long.
Fox Renderfarm: The animation film 'Frog Kingdom 3 & 4', in which you served as both the writer and director, is very remarkable. Could you share with us what you consider to be the most important factors to consider when creating a compelling story for an animated film or TV show?
Image from Frog Kingdom 4, directed by Alex Weight
Alex Weight: I think the most important thing to consider when writing in general - regardless of whether it's for film or animation - is to have stories and characters that are relatable. Themes that are universal. When we came up with the story for Frog Kingdom 4, we wanted to have something that children everywhere could relate to - A child who has expectations put on them by their parents to be responsible, yet they dream of doing something wild and exciting. This theme would work if it was portrayed by humans, or in this case, frogs. I think if your story can work across different styles and genres, then you have something that will resonate with your audience.
Fox Renderfarm: What is your creative process when working on a project, and how do you ensure that your vision is realized on screen? Is there any pipeline that you usually use?
Alex Weight: I used to be involved in pipeline discussions, but I have to say I don’t do much anymore. It’s not up to me to tell people how to work. Just to look at the big picture. That being said, the standard USD-based pipeline seems to be the one that is becoming more popular nowadays and works well.
For my process, after writing the script, I like to spend a lot of time with storyboards. Working with boards is the best way to save time and money in the long run. Making story changes once people are animating, or even lighting is hugely expensive. It always happens, but it's best to minimize it. This is why it's very important to do as many iterations as possible with the storyboards where it is faster and cheaper.
Fox Renderfarm: Given the rapid pace of technological change, how do professionals stay abreast of the latest developments in hardware and software that impact animation and VFX? Are there specific forums or communities that are particularly valuable for staying informed?
© SIGGRAPH Asia 2023
Alex Weight: There is so much information online at the moment it’s almost impossible to stay across it all. I have to admit that I don’t spend as much time reading up on technology as I used to. I tend to read through LinkedIn, as generally all the big announcements and technological advancements turn up there. Then I can do a deep dive into a topic after I discover it there. Apart from that, attending events like SIGGRAPH is the best way to stay on top of the trends in the industry.
Fox Renderfarm: Real-time rendering and interactive experiences are gaining prominence. How do you see these trends shaping the future of animation and VFX, and what challenges or opportunities do they present for content creators?
Alex Weight: The line between real-time animation and feature/VFX animation is getting more blurred every year. They used to be two very separate industries with specific skill sets. Now, if you are an animator or modeler, there’s almost no difference. Engines like UE5 can render high poly assets in real time. People at home can create feature-level content using these engines by themselves, to a level that would have taken teams of people in the past. It's an exciting time, as it means we are getting stories and content created by minorities and voices that haven’t been heard before in mainstream media.
Fox Renderfarm: What is your approach to managing a project from start to finish, and how do you ensure that the project is delivered on time and within budget?
Alex Weight: Phew, that's a big question. How long have you got? I would love to take credit, but when you talk about productions at a large scale there are so many people involved that help the project get delivered on time, it's simply not up to just one person. From my side, the thing I can say that has the biggest impact on the delivery of a project is spending the right amount of time and budget on pre-production. Every time I have seen big delays in projects, I believe that (for the most part) they could have been avoided if there was more time spent upfront ensuring all the questions were answered before rushing into production. It’s the most important thing to do for any project.
Fox Renderfarm: What are the latest technological advancements in animation and VFX that you are excited about, and how do you see them impacting the animation and VFX production pipeline, or even the upcoming trends of the industry?
Alex Weight: I think the biggest advancement we will see over the coming years will be the implementation of AI into current software. I don’t believe that people will lose their jobs, but I do think that these advances will help artists create faster, and also give more opportunities for variations and alts.
Fox Renderfarm: Throughout your career, are there any particular projects that hold a special place for you? Could you share some highlights and achievements that you are particularly proud of?
Alex Weight: I think my favorite project was “Legend of the Guardians” Directed by Zack Snyder. I was the Animation Supervisor on that, and it was such a great experience. I still think the quality of animation in that film is amazing. We had to create owls that respected the movement and anatomy of the real creature but could perform and emote like characters. They balanced this line of real and stylized. The animators did a fantastic job of hitting this, and it still holds up today.
Fox Renderfarm: Have you ever used cloud rendering services in your past projects? If so, could you share your experience with us and your thoughts on using cloud rendering services?
Alex Weight: I haven’t personally, as I am removed from the technical side of rendering - I just get to see the final result. However, I believe that some of the companies I have worked with have used cloud rendering services. Especially the ones who have artists overseas. In those cases, being able to have an artist publish assets to a cloud service, and then have the render appear locally at the host company is a huge benefit. Whereas in the past they would have to upload the render to a FTP site, then we would have to download it etc.. which would take a huge amount of time. Cloud rendering manages this in a much more efficient way.
Fox Renderfarm: For cloud rendering service providers like Fox Renderfarm, what advice do you have in terms of catering to the needs of animators and VFX artists?
Alex Weight: For me, it comes down to ease of use and the interface. The ability to see what is being rendered on the farm, how long the renders are etc… for both the artist and production. Once you get into the rendering side of things, the interface and interaction can get very complicated very quickly. Having this process be easy to use would be a huge help.
Fox Renderfarm: Finally, as someone with a wealth of experience in the animation and VFX industry, what advice would you offer to individuals who are either aspiring to enter or just embarking on a career in these fields?
ALA Retrospective © UTC Animal Logic Academy
Alex Weight: Follow your passion. For me, that is simply the best thing you can do. Know what it is you want to do, then do it as much as possible. As much as it is great to be a Generalist, you need to specialize in something. Be a holistic specialist. Look online and see what other people are doing, and enter competitions - The Rookies is a great place to join and try some of these out. And, if you want to specialize and learn what it's like to work in the industry, I teach a one-year accelerated Master's degree in Animation and Visualisation at the UTS Animal Logic Academy. We run the Academy like it's a studio. It's a lot of fun. Come join us!
Thanks again to Alex Weight for accepting our interview! Wishing new heights in you and your team’s professional career!
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