Interview with Zeina Masri on How to Become a 3D Animator

Interview with Zeina Masri on How to Become a 3D Animator

We want to thank Zeina Masri for taking the time to answer some questions and give some great insights into her journey on becoming a 3D Animator.

The Journey

What's your current role and what does it involve?

I’m an Animator, I bring CG characters to life creating the illusion of thought, emotion and personality to tell a story.

Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?

I work at Cinesite in the Feature Animation department. It’s a full service Studio that encourages movie makers and IP owners to be imaginative and explore new ideas. We’re currently working on a few films targeted for global release in the near future.

When did you first realize you wanted to work in this industry?

I’ve been fascinated with cartoons since I was a child. When I was 8, Toy Story 1 was released and I was fully convinced by the realism. It suspended my disbelief and I questioned if my toys were alive too. I decided then that I wanted to Animate for a living. It’s that magic of feeling truly immersed in the entertainment that I hope to pass on in my work for future generations to enjoy.

How did you get your first big break?

I applied 2-3 times a year until 6 years later Blue Zoo hired me as an Animation Fixer. They are a multi award winning studio based in the U.K renowned worldwide for their Children's TV and Commercials. My job consisted of quality control; correcting intersections, planting feet of floating characters, and animating once in a while. Eventually my patience and hard work paid off and I had the privilege of growing at Blue Zoo. I worked on 3 TV shows over the span of nearly 2 years.

Describe the journey you took into your current role?

...“we have decided to move forward with other candidates who more closely meet the needs of the position”

I received hundreds of these rejection emails; my story is not one of an overnight success. Have faith. For years I took every job I could and worked in fields ranging from Architectural Visualization, Advertising, Augmented Reality, Medical, TV, VFX; until finally reaching my goal of specializing in Feature Animation. I'd like to take a moment to thank my family and friends for their limitless support and believing in my big ambitions.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team?

In the morning I get the notes from my Lead pertaining to Client feedback received the day before. I animate, then show the latest version internally to the Animation Director. I get more notes and address the feedback before Client Review towards the end of the day. The Client gives new notes and the routine continues the next day.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?

Whether I’m at work, critiquing entrants from The Rookies, or animating a personal shot; SyncSketch is my preferred platform for visual communication. It’s a free collaborative review tool which I use to analyze reference, make cartoony draw-overs, or leave annotations for Artist feedback. Check out my fast and effective workflow to animate from reference using SyncSketch and the free Maya Plug-in.

Animbot is a robust Maya toolset for Animators. It’s developed by Alan Camilo the creator of aTools, a popular plug-in for most professional and novice Animators. I use it for selection sets, arc tracking, to tween, mirror, create overshoots, fake constraints etc. For a quick run-through of the features, watch 150 Ways to Animate Faster in Maya.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

Besides the Animation Leads and Directors as mentioned, I work side-by-side with Production Assistants and Coordinators. They record Client meetings, take notes from Director feedback, delegate shots, help determine bid days, send tickets to Rigging etc. They make my job easier and help shows run smoother.

After the success of Maleficent (2014) and Cinderella (2015), The Walt Disney Company produced a series of live action and fully animated remakes. More are confirmed in the future which will raise the bar in photo-realistic CG, create additional jobs, and enable Artists to work on films they grew up watching.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

I believe all animals should be treated humanely, especially in the Entertainment Industry. Thanks to advancements in Visual Effects the use Digital Doubles, risky stunts and cruel performances are no longer tolerated during a production or on set.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?

Women currently hold only 20% of the creative roles in Animation. Films have a global reach and an audience that spans across a diverse scope of age, ethnicity, and culture. The industry has a responsibility to ensure it represents women equally both in front and behind the camera. Women in Animation is an organization on a mission to guarantee equality in the creation, production and rewards of Animation.

Career Advice

Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?

No, but I recommend Online Training Courses such as ianimate. In my case, I graduated with a Bachelors and Masters in Computer Animation, then continued to achieve an Advance Diploma from Animation Mentor. This helped me get into the industry as I had skills across the entire pipeline. Later my multiple degrees assisted in obtaining VISAs for working abroad.

What tasks would you typically ask a junior artist to handle?

A few weeks after Training, I’d expect a Junior to have grasped the proprietary pipeline and have a firm understanding of the tools. Depending on the team size and studio, a Junior may be asked to fix intersections in shots returned from lighting. Help busy Animators address notes on previously approved sequences. Animate crowds, or simpler shots that are short and with no more than a few characters.

What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?

A good understanding of the 12 Principles of Animation; i.e solid body mechanics and weight. Appealing poses in the body, face, and hands. Original acting choices, clarity in staging, and demonstrated skills in both realistic and cartoony styles.

Genuine enthusiasm, a professional attitude and good communication are also essential.

What skills seem to be missing all too often?

A very good Polish Pass in Junior Animator’s work. This improves with experience but in the meantime, try uploading your work to SyncSketch and asking classmates or willing industry professionals to review your shot and leave feedback. Remember everyone was a Junior once, don’t be afraid to ask for help and remember not to take criticism personally.

Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?

  • VFX: have a small but polished variety of creature shots to showcase your understanding of different weights, body mechanics, and flight. I recommend free rigs by Truong. Begin by stitching together multi-camera views of animals. If you want to animate a fantasy character, make a compilation of similar animal references.
  • Games: playblast using multiple views to prove cycles look good from all angles. If you’re struggling to improve in body mechanics, get up and act it out. Feel what muscles you’re moving and try filming your own reference with more than one camera or mirrors.
  • Feature: you may wish to specialize in cartoony or subtle acting but when starting out, show you are capable of doing both styles to help you become more employable.

What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?

Demo reels are too long. I understand you invested a lot of time and energy but try to be objective and only select the best parts. You can always have separate uploads for breakdowns and add links in your video description to watch the entire short film.

Remember: quality over quantity, tailor your reel for each studio, and you’re only as strong as your weakest work.

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

Enter the The Rookies contests for a chance to be discovered by Recruiters and top industry professionals. Even Runner-ups get job offers as proven by Aldric Lopez in his success story.

If you’re serious about a career in CG, don’t give up. It requires a lot of patience, dedication, and hard-work. Try attending events like CTN, LightBox, Effects America, Siggraph, BFX, or FMX for Masterclasses, and to network with Recruiters.

If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?

Animation is important, but so is your mental and physical health. Make a more serious effort to stretch and stay hydrated. Take regular breaks, go enjoy the sunshine; and get some fresh air.

Photos by courtesy of Joshua Janousky, and Cinesite