Spotlight: Richard Rosenman

Spotlight: Richard Rosenman

Profile Picture credit: Mauricio Alas

Name: Richard Rosenman
Age: 39
Currently employed at: Hatch Studios Ltd.
Job description: Director / Owner
Previous work places: Redrover Animation Studios, TOPIX, Hyper-Active New Media Inc, Phoenix Animation Studios, Academy of Design

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Richard Rosenman is already a common household name in 3D/VFX circles. And it may not ring a bell at first, but there’s a fair chance you’re using Richard’s tools or plugins already. But Richard is also a highly skilled animator/VFX-artist, as well as head of his own studio.
We talked to him about his year-long experience with commercials/advertising – past present and future of the CGI industry.

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CGF: Tell us a little bit about yourself – your background and how you
got started doing 3D.

I was first introduced to CGI in high school when I saw the film “Young Sherlock Holmes”. It included a shot in which a stained glass window came to life in a cathedral and this made an impact on me like nothing else had before. My mind understood that this wasn’t real yet my eyes were deceiving me. This began my fascination with CGI and before long, I’d found one of the first consumer-based 3D packages on the market; 3D Studio for DOS. Needless to say the software was extremely limited but it gave me a clear understanding as to how CGI worked. I mastered this throughout my high school years and by then I knew I wanted to pursue a career in this field. Further research led me to Sheridan College’s classical animation program which every professional at the time recommended prior to the computer animation program as understanding the fundamentals of animation were essential for computer animation. Sheridan was extremely prestigious at the time and I got accepted out of about 600 applicants. It was a grueling three year program and by the final year, only about 60 of us graduated. Luckily, that was during the 1996 animation boom and I had no trouble finding work. As a matter of fact, many of us were even offered jobs prior to graduating at Fox Animation Studios to work on “Anastasia”.
During Sheridan, I began working for Phoenix Animation Studios in Toronto, on a classically animated film called “Mumfie’s White Christmas”. My position was as a classical animator and after that stage ended, I jumped to traditional background painting using gouache and watercolor.
Upon graduating, I accepted a job in Vancouver, BC, working as a classical animator for a CDROM game called “The Fennels Figure Math”. This started my transition back into computer animation as the job involved classical and computer animation.
Near the end of this contract, I moved to San Francisco for a period of 3-4 months where I worked with McGraw Hill Interactive, assisting with the technical side of the game.
Upon returning from San Francisco, I decided to go fully CGI and got a job at TOPIX Animation Studios in Toronto as a CGI artist primarily focused on 3D commercials. At first I was quite focused in character animation but within a few years, I was directing spots and found myself more interested in lighting, rendering and compositing. One of my spots at this time involved the first ever Mental Ray implementation of global illumination using Final Gathering.
In 2001, I left TOPIX to lead and start up the CGI department at Redrover Animation Studios. Within a number of years, I had assembled a very talented team and we were producing cutting-edge 3D spots, focused on character animation.
In 2006, I left Redrover studios and decided to start my own business with other partners. We launched Hatch Studios in June, 2006 and have been doing well ever since. Hatch specializes in computer animation and motion graphics for commercials, film and print.


(c) Richard Rosenman, 2007                                              (c) Toblerone, 2008

CGF: What does a typical work day look like for you?

I am a director and have been for over a decade now so a typical day at Hatch involves managing a team of artists on one, two or three concurrent projects. At one point I was directing up to five projects at a time but I couldn’t keep up. Directing is ensuring the resulting project is produced to your creative vision and standards. This means overseeing every aspect of 3D production, including storyboarding, modeling, texturing, animation, lighting, rendering and compositing. Directing also involves presenting to agencies and clients on a weekly basis and managing them as well, often ‘holding their hands’ through the production of CGI which is often difficult for them to understand. Additionally, I enjoy compositing so I generally comp every final project (and therefore still manage to get my hands dirty in production). Finally, because our studio is a small studio, I also take on the responsibility of tech support, ensuring our server is running smoothly and our renderfarm continuously working properly.


(c) Bick’s, 2007

CGF: You have an impressive commercial portfolio, dating back 15 years –
what major changes have you seen in the industry over the years, and how
do you keep up? Is it still as exciting and new as it was when you first
started?

Thank you! I’ve seen it all throughout these years. It’s incredible to look back and remember how a shiny teapot sitting on a checkered floor was cutting edge 3D computer graphics at Siggraph back then! I’ve seen the hardware industry advance at such a fast rate that $80,000.00 Silicon Graphics computers we were using for Softimage were quickly replaced by $5000.00 PC’s. (This prediction I actually made at one point but was laughed at!)
I’ve seen the industry expand in availability of 3D consumer software from just Softimage & Alias Power Animator to XSI, Maya, 3dsmax, Modo, Blender and many more. I’ve seen the cost drop and become affordable to individual artists everywhere, not just million-dollar corporations.
But probably the single largest leap in CGI for me was global illumination rendering. This brought the quality of images from 40% to 100% – from realistic to photorealistic. My first introduction to GI was with Mental Ray’s Final Gather which I believe was one of the earliest examples of consumer-accessible global illumination rendering technologies.
Today I am keenly interested in the advancements in GPU rendering as the benefits can result in hundreds, sometimes thousands of times in speed improvements. When the industry went HD, I saw a massive setback in achieving renders that were now 1920×1080 vs the previous 720×540. The rendering times shot up to more than 6 times longer while the hardware remained the same. GPU rendering could be a significant game changer in rendering if they figure out how to work past the limitations.


(c) Ford, 2010

CGF: Your name is also associated with the development of numerous
plugins (DOF Pro, Lumiere a.o.) – How is the developing process with
software, and what usually makes you think “I need to make this”?

As soon as I became interested in computer graphics, I was equally interested in the mathematics behind it. How does, for instance, a ray get traced and what is the algorithm to shade a point? These questions led me to a heavy involvement in computer graphics programming very early in my life. In high school, I created a full-featured 2D platform game in a 3-month competition against some friends. The game, at that time written on an Atari ST later became quite popular and gathered a huge following. That evolved into crude computer painting algorithms and one of my first explorations in this was with NeoPaint, one of the earliest digital painting programs long before Photoshop existed. PC’s only had capabilities of up to 512 on-screen colors at once. This then led to 3D programming and one of my earliest projects was a crude sphere shading program that would allow you to set multiple sphere locations, sizes and light sources and would then render the frame. It even supported simple linear animation.
Jump to 2005. Depth of Field is one of the most sought-after yet computationally- expensive effects in computer graphics. Every time I finished a project, I’d have to abandon DOF due to time and the post process plugins available on the market were not up to my standards. So I decided to create my own with the help of a very talented computer physicist named Martin Vicanek. DOF PRO (Depth of Field Generator PRO – http://www.dofpro.com ) literally exploded upon its release and hundreds of major broadcast design and film studios have purchased licenses, which is delightful for me to see.
Lumiere (http://www.lumierefilter.com) came next, a high-quality glow filter that would produce glows according to how I wanted them, not the limited options that were presented to me in Photoshop.
MBL PRO (Motion Blur Lab PRO – http://www.mblpro.com ) came after that, a very powerful complex motion blur generator that is targeted at photo retouchers and digital artists. This came to fruition after getting so frustrated with Photoshop’s extremely limited (and crude) motion blur filter.
I have so many more ideas but of course, I am primarily first an artist and only secondarily, a programmer. If there’s any After Effects developers’ out there reading this, get in touch with me!
My biggest challenge these days is trying to stick to either the arts or the tech, not both. Each requires a completely different side of the brain and it’s actually quite challenging jumping from one to the other.

CGF: Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. Where does yours come
from?

My inspiration comes from mainly film, as it once did so many years ago when I saw “Young Sherlock Holmes” and from some of the brilliant work I see on the web. This usually comes from the work on Vimeo.com, CGTalk.com, Evermotion.org and Motionographer.com. Some of the most impressive pieces often come from the most remote places on earth which is impressive to see – that almost anyone can now have access to the software required to unleash that kind of creativity.
With film, I remember there came a point where I was no longer able to distinguish what was real and what was CGI. I have a good eye so I was always able to spot computer generated imagery. One year, this became a blur and I had to accept that CGI finally achieved perfection. Now I truly and wholeheartedly believe there is nothing that can’t be created.

CGF: Fractals. Are they a bit of an obsession to you?

Ahhhh… fractals. I do love them. Having read about my interest in computer graphics programming, it’s obvious to see how my interest would eventually extend into that field. How could anyone not be fascinated by a mathematical algorithm that can produce such beautiful imagery?
When I first found out about these, I immediately set out to code my own derivatives of these including the Mandelbrot Set (See “Fractus” in http://www.richardrosenman.com/project/?cid=212 ), the Buddhabrot (See “Buddhabrot” inhttp://www.richardrosenman.com/project/?cid=224 ), and most recently with the magnificent discovery of the Mandelbulb (See “Mandelbulb” in http://www.richardrosenman.com/project/?cid=262 ). The result is a couple of totally free, high quality fractal generation plugins for Photoshop that everyone can enjoy.
Additionally, 3D fractals are my latest endeavor and I’ve created two beautiful image sets showcasing these glorious forms. You can check them out here:
3D Fractals: http://www.richardrosenman.com/project/?cid=192
Fragmentarium: http://www.richardrosenman.com/project/?cid=272

CGF: Do you have a favorite project of your own (personal or
commercial), and can you tell us a bit about it?

One of my favorite commercials of all time is actually an older one I directed with my creative partner Larissa Ulisko, called Ford “Rollercoaster” (See Ford “Rollercoaster” in http://www.richardrosenman.com/project/?cid=165 ). I’m very fond of how this one turned out because it was so radically different than any other spot I’d seen, or done. Part of the unique look was Larissa’s contribution of wonderful motion graphics work which is so different than my style. It was surprising how Ford allowed us to push the creative envelope so far with this spot as it’s untraditional of the type of spots we generally get to produce.
Although not a favorite, I co-directed a short film in 2003 while at Redrover called “Plumber” (http://richardrosenman.com/project/?cid=82). “Plumber” was unique in that it was the first long format film I’d ever produced, averaging five minutes in length. Add to that complex fluid dynamics included in almost half the film and full global illumination rendering which was still extremely new at the time, and you have a very impressive piece of CGI. It was so unique, as a matter of fact, that it landed us a nomination for “Best Animation” in the 2004 British Academy Awards (BAFTA) which we attended in London, England.
I have many other spots I am proud of and even more I am not. It’s funny how it never feels as if a spot is finished – rather just released it into the wild when you run out of time.


(c) Ford, 2009

CGF: CGSphere is still going strong on its seventh year! Did you see
that coming? How did it all start?

CGSphere, also known as The Sphere Project, was a fun idea I had at the time and proposed to a friend (Michael Kocurek), for a competitive website dedicated to the CGI creative community. The premise was to download a template of a 3D sphere and see what you can do to it, while not breaking certain fundamental rules. The obvious renditions would come first: planets, sporting balls, etc, but the really unique and intriguing ones came afterwards. See the top rated submissions here: http://www.cgsphere.com/gallery/?gsort=1&page=1. We built the website and when we launched it, it immediately attracted more than half a million hits a day, effectively crashing the servers. We moved it over to a stronger one and since then, despite a few hiccups, it has continued to evolve. Unfortunately, only a fraction of the 3D artists out there at this time know about CGSphere and since it is a free website, we cannot afford advertising so anyone spreading the word helps! The site has also received a great number of amazing volunteers throughout the years that have given their valuable time towards providing new and updated sphere templates as well as our wonderful moderator who has been with us from the very start; Nick Jensen.
I also have a number of other developed websites under my belt. One was called “Pixila” which was a very powerful and customizable digital artist portfolio site developed by myself and Michael in 2007. In 2008 I launched “Greeblelicious”, a portfolio website devoted to Greeble artistry. Both of these sites flourished at one time or another but have since been taken offline. It takes a lot of resources to maintain websites sites so I have learned I cannot expect all of them to succeed.

CGF: Do you still find the free time for personal projects?

I went through a period of time in which I shifted my focus from personal projects to other hobbies. It’s not healthy to work for 8 hours a day on the computer and then another 4 again at home. This shift in hobbies turned to film, which I am also keenly interested in. This includes DSLR filming and also the art of color grading which I find fascinating.
Lately, I have been focusing again once more on personal CGI projects. This is because running a CGI company is very different than working on the projects that bring you satisfaction. You often don’t get to choose the type of work you do and there are quite a number of creative limitations when working in the commercial production field.
More importantly, working on personal projects keeps your skills sharp. As a director I may not be required to model or animate, but I should certainly be aware of current-day technological limitations and advancements so that I know what’s possible to achieve.


(c) Crystal Light, 2009

CGF: Speaking of free time – what do you do for r’n’r?

I am fortunate enough to have a strong group of friends with whom we visit lounges together on the weekends, or host parties at our places. Many of my friends are not in a similar industry and I find this helps keep a level head with interests coming from other inspirational sources. Likewise, traveling is a big hobby and something that I try to do often when I get any downtime at the studio.
Staying active is important in our field which requires us to sit at a desk all day so I play squash and visit the gym weekly.

CGF: Future plans… Are you still doing 3D in 10 years… or 20? Are
you secretly working on CGTeapot.com? Will monkeys or machines inherit
the earth?

Although I try not to think that far ahead, I suspect I will be working in a closely related field. Perhaps film will envelope more of my life or computer programming will intrigue me even more. And of course, when you throw family into the mix, you never know what will come.
Additionally, I’ve become more and more interested in collaborative work with fellow artists and associates. Producing a partnered project allows you to challenge the methods and techniques you often employ and allows you to establish new ones. An artist is often appreciated for his style but if he doesn’t continue to evolve, he will become stagnant. Just ask the monkeys…


(c) Ford, 2008

CGF: Any famous last words or bits of wisdom you’d like to share with
our users?

Not necessarily wisdom but rather something I’ve seen throughout my career. Students entering this field often try to learn as much of the software as possible and I’ve seen resumes with pages upon pages of software they’ve mastered.
Software knowledge means very little. Having a carefully tuned creative eye is everything. Understanding staging, composition, lighting, color theory; these are all essential skills that will make any artist sought after. Software is easy to learn but these creative skills aren’t. I’ve seen photographers that have never used a 3D program produce some of the best renders I’ve ever seen due to their eye for lighting. Likewise I’ve seen some classical animators that have never touched a computer produce the best 3D character work I’ve ever seen.
Thanks for your interest in my career, Nick. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my interview.
Cheers,
-Richard

– and a big thanks from us here at CGforum to you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us.