Interview with Robb Innes: Co-founder and Director at PIXL VISN Media Arts Academy
Fox Renderfarm, the best render farm, is deeply committed to supporting education and wishes to contribute to the development of the CG industry. We are so proud to form cooperation with PIXL VISN Media Arts Academy and offer its students an affordable pricing scheme to support educational purposes.
Mr. Robb Innes, Co-founder and Director at PIXL VISN media arts academy shared his story about how he founded the great academy with Fox Renderfarm. Besides his devoted journey in the VFX and animation production education, he gave his advice to CG students and practitioners about how to gradually improve professional skills and go further in the career path. Check out our exclusive interview and don’t miss out a single inspiration.
Co-founder/ Director, PIXL VISN
Fox Renderfarm: Hi Robb, thank you so much for accepting our interview! Please briefly introduce yourself?
Robb: I’m Robb Innes, one of two founders and directors of PIXL VISN media arts academy in Cologne, Germany.
Fox Renderfarm: How did you encounter CG and get started in the CG industry? And could you share with us how you set up the wonderful PIXL VISN media arts academy?
Robb: When I was a child growing up in Vancouver, Canada, I regularly watched a 3D animated cartoon called “ReBoot.” which was one of the first computer-animated tv series in the World. One day I noticed that it was made in Vancouver, and I realized that I could work on animation without moving all the way to California. Later, I was fortunate enough to learn television production in high school and worked on some nationally broadcast television shows.
A few years later, I enrolled in a 3D animation and VFX education where I met Andrei Stirbu. After we graduated and throughout our careers in the industry, we remained friends. By the time we started talking about starting a school, he was a lighting supervisor, and I was working as a VFX generalist and on-set VFX supervisor.
Co-founder/ Managing Director, PIXL VISN
At the end of 2010, we quit our jobs and moved to Cologne, Germany, with a couple of suitcases and the dream of opening an animation school. A little more than one year later, in January 2012, the first class started their education.
Fox Renderfarm: Could you give us a brief introduction to PIXL VISN media arts academy?
Robb: PIXL VISN specializes in training artists in Film, Television, Games, and Advertising, launching hundreds of careers in the industry. Since 2012 we have developed into the largest academy for the visual effects industry in Germany and can count ourselves among the World’s best schools in the field.
Pixl Visn Showreel 2019
Fox Renderfarm: PIXL VISN media arts academy ranked 3rd in the Best 3D Animation Schools in the World and 10th in the Best Visual Effects Schools in the World by The Rookies in 2019. Could you give us more details about this honor? How do you feel about that?
Robb: It is a great honor to be ranked so highly by the Rookies, mainly because of how schools are rated. Aspiring artists enter their work into an annual contest, and schools are ranked based on how their students did. So, the contest is based entirely on our graduates’ actual outcomes and not some checklist or the judge’s opinion of what might make a good school.
I am very proud of the alumni for all the effort put into the work they submitted to the contest, of the instructors who guide and mentor them along the way; and of the staff who work to facilitate it all.
Fox Renderfarm: Students at PIXL VISN made really fine artworks with beautiful details. Could you share with us how PIXL VISN can keep bringing out excellent students?
Robb: There is a lot of hands-on learning. Creating 3D artwork is a skill, and like any skill, it takes continued practice to develop. A cycle of Lecture-Project-Feedback is ongoing and repeats from the first week of class until the last. And that keeps going long into our careers.
Our instructors are also experienced artists currently working in the industry, so they can, of course, explain all the theory and practical knowledge to our students. But more importantly, they can give great feedback and guidance because they are doing that already with professional artists.
Teamwork is also a big part of the industry, and we work to encourage that. Throughout the education, we guide small groups of students through a variety of projects where they work together. Many of the best projects on our student’s demo reels were also from small teams.
PIXL VISN student Janina Haftka Demo Reel 2019
Fox Renderfarm: Are there any particular artists you want to mention who graduated from PIXL VISN that you think are inspiring or motivating, for example, who have created amazing projects or worked in excellent studios?
Robb: There are enough that I am afraid to start listing them because I will wake up tomorrow and remember a few more that I should have mentioned.
Many of our students have worked on very cool projects, though, like a bunch of Marvel films, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, just among the things I watch personally. I have been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember. So, watching the Mandalorian and knowing that 20 of our graduates worked on it was really awesome.
If I had to pick out just one, then our very first student, Jonas Ulrich, who started at PIXL VISN in our first class back in 2012. After several years in the industry, Jonas is now working as a Senior VFX Coordinator at Industrial Light and Magic. This makes us very proud at PIXL VISN.
Series that Jonas Ulrich involved in
Fox Renderfarm: What is in the future for PIXL VISN?
Robb: Our core purpose is really to enable aspiring artists to pursue their dream job. We will continue to strive to be the best place to learn Visual Effects and 3D while making our education available to more people in Germany and around the World.
I was fortunate to grow up in a city that became an early hotspot for the industry, so there was more opportunity to enter the industry and then grow and develop. Today, artists at companies all around the World work together to create the Films and Games we all enjoy.
Being a part of bringing the same opportunity to more people is great.
PIXL VISN student Marius Pörsel Demo Reel 2018
Fox Renderfarm: How do you feel about the CG industry in Germany?
Robb: In the decade since we moved here, Germany’s CG industry has seen continued development, driven mainly through American productions. Large and renowned VFX studios like PIXOMONDO, RISE FX, Trixter, Scanline, Mackevision are working on international and award-winning projects. German film and television studios have also started making use of all the CG talents here, but there is still room for growth.
State funding has spurred growth in the gaming industry as well. Ubisoft has a large studio nearby in Dusseldorf, and their artists make regular guests at PIXL VISN.
High-quality VFX and CG were once rarely seen outside of film, whereas today, it is common to see tv-series and advertising with outstanding FX. Computer graphics is finding a home in more and more industries, such as real estate, fashion, and retail. Small studios and agencies are developing and specializing in Germany since the demands for these services are growing.
Since Corona, cinemas are locked, and cinema productions are on hold, and much business has shifted to gaming and streaming, so studios had to re-orientate. But once cinemas open again, there will be even more assignments for the industry.
Fox Renderfarm: Any artists or artworks that inspired you the most?
Robb: A single CG feature film can take thousands of talented artists working together to create imagery you see on the screen, so it is hard to single anyone out. But the original VFX artists like Dennis Muren and John Knoll at ILM deserve acknowledgment for having paved the way for the generations of us that followed.
VFX artist/ supervisor, ILM
VFX supervisor/ CCO, ILM
On the more technical side, I admire the work of Paul Debevec. His research in computer graphics has had a huge impact on the way we light and render for VFX.
Senior Staff Scientist, Google Research at Google
It is also rad to see computer graphics being accepted as an artistic medium. An early pioneer being Meats Meier. Anyone that has been working in the industry for a while will have seen his surrealist creations displayed on the loading screens of the software we use.
Optic © Meats Meier
Fox Renderfarm: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in this field but have rarely learned any CG software, how can they learn and improve more effectively?
Robb: There are many great resources to learn more about the industry online, including our own YouTube channel. FlippedNormals and Corridor Crew are also great channels that talk about the industry.
Top Tips for Improving your ZBrush Sculpts © FlippedNormals
We Compete to Make the Most SATISFYING Simulations © Corridor Crew
Going back to the Rookies, they have built an excellent platform for aspiring artists to learn more about the industry. It’s not just the contest for new job-ready artists like our graduates. They have regular challenges for all levels and articles about getting started in the industry.
There is a never-ending supply of tutorials out there on every subject imaginable, and 3D is no different. Some of them are great resources, but so much of it may be obsolete or was not great to begin with. I have watched paid tutorials where the instructor was flat out wrong on the subject. But even with the best tutorials, feedback and support are far more essential to learn and develop. And it’s an integral part of our education.
For more personal advice, we have regular open days where there is an opportunity to meet our students and ask us questions directly. Then, if anyone wants to see hands-on if 3D is right for them, we have a One-Day Workshop for beginners. You can learn about both on our newly updated website.
Fox Renderfarm: Any advice for students who are ready to step into their CG career? Are there any tips you think that can make students get a job more easily or get a better position?
Robb: To get a job as a CG artist, you have to get good at it. It is as simple as that. But getting good enough to launch a career in the industry takes time, it takes hard work, and it takes guidance and support.
For anyone who has decided that the CG career is right for them, studying at PIXL VISN will help get you there. Built right into our education is the best tip of all, that is to practice every day. It is easy to get distracted by shiny new tools and wanting to learn what every single button in Maya does. Our students are no different. We are constantly reigning them back in and keeping them on track to developing their skills and improving their craft.
A demo reel is how an artist proves they are good enough for the job at any skill level. It is important to not just copy tutorials one-to-one, but actually create your own artwork that demonstrates you can be a productive artist. Because it's so important, we dedicate considerable time in our education to planning and preparing the reel, as well as regular feedback and guidance.
For aspiring artists, it is also important to pay attention to render quality. If you are not careful, Renders can also take a lot longer than they need to. Optimizing them is crucial, even if using an affordable service like Fox Renderfarm.
Our students repeatedly hand in rendered projects within deadlines, so it reinforces the importance of optimizing renders and getting the most out of the computer.
Fox Renderfarm: What do you think are the most important qualities that a 3D artist should have in his/her career? Could you give some tips to CG artists about how to constantly improve techniques and artistic sense?
Robb: I find the most important traits of 3D artists are passion, curiosity, and humility. The first two help make developing and growing as an artist a lot easier. It is tough to get good at something you are not passionate about or have no interest in learning. Humility because computer graphics is a team effort. Arrogance and ego get in the way of that and just make the work suffer.
A general tip is to always use references. Don’t assume you know how something should look. This applies to every stage of the production, from modeling all the way to lighting and comp.
To keep getting better as an artist, start projects, finish them, and then move onto the next one. The more times you finish a project, the faster you will grow. Finally, show people what you have learned. Whether it is teaching a school or just showing your peers a new technique that you learned, explaining anything to others strengthens your understanding of the topic.
PIXL VISN student Lucas Sinewe Demo Reel 2019
Fox Renderfarm: How do you like Fox Renderfarm’s rendering services?
Robb: I am only familiar with the services from helping students, but what I see looks great. The process is straightforward, with a lot of available renderers. The technical support I have seen Fox Renderfarm give in troubleshooting their renders is great.
I can say that one of our teachers has been using Fox Renderfarm for over 4 years and is very happy with the service. No matter what time of day it is, there was always someone to help him with any problems. The process of uploading and downloading works smoothly, and loading the credit works without problems. In case of problems with renders or the file you uploaded, their TD tries to give possible solutions.
Fox Renderfarm: Any other things you want to share with CG enthusiasts?
Robb: The films you see and the games you play are not made by a handful of wizards in Los Angles. There are tens of thousands of people around the World working in computer graphics and the future will continue to see more demand for the skill.
There are many different jobs under the umbrella of “CG Artist,” and it is actually more common to specialize. So, you also do not have to be incredibly artistic in the sense of being good at drawing or sculpting. If you are, that is great; those skills translate well into a number of the roles you could pursue. But there are also positions that are suited to more technical people that are good at building things and solving problems.
It is not a crazy dream to work on the next Star Wars; our alumni do, and so can anyone who works for it.
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