Artist Spolight: Nigel Schütte

Delivering CG projects that are motivated by passion and uncompromising quality

Posted: Mon 26 Oct 2015

By Claudia Kienzle

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA: For Nigel Schütte—a 3D CG Animator in Johannesburg, South Africa—CG was his passion long before it was his job. While commercial clients and agencies often push animators to give them good-fast-and-cheap, Schütte strives to find the right balance. He wants to keep his clients happy to ensure repeat business, but he’s mindful not to let their tight budgets and deadlines derail his high-quality standards.

“As artists, we always want as much time as possible to craft our worlds. If you're passionate about what you do, then taking shortcuts to meet a deadline cuts really deep,” says Schütte. He values the efficient productivity tools in his “trusty, go-to” 3D animation system, LightWave 2015.

“You never want to hit F10—LightWave’s Render Scene command—with a heavy heart. So I often put in the extra time to get things to a point where I’m happy with the results, rather than submitting something I’m not satisfied with. Ultimately, budget and deadline constraints are huge challenges, but they don't make delivering a quality product an insurmountable task,” he added. “It’s important to find this balance.”

Nigel spent eight years as the Senior CG Generalist and Project Lead for Clockwork Visual Effects in Dubai, for whom he worked remotely from his Johannesburg home office. But, since August 2015, he’s embarked on a new journey, seeking a new full-time employment opportunity to further advance his CG animation career.

Much of his portfolio features work done during his Clockwork VFX days, such as the 5-minute Chevrolet In Motion animation that took him and four other artists five months to create and animate. The project, done in 2010, features 18 incredibly photorealistic Chevys traveling over different terrains and surfaces, including sand, gravel, dust and wet roads.

It was his 3D CG car modeling skills—which he taught himself—that landed him his first professional animation job in 2005 with Luma Animation, a CG studio in Johannesburg, South Africa. The studio spotted his car renders—which were posted on a NewTek Forum in 2004. He had meticulously toiled over these images for about six months.

After the 2008 global recession, the markets shifted and Clockwork VFX took on a lot more work from U.S.-based clients, including Hasbro, Mattel, Topps, Rare and King Isle. “I worked on detail-rich environments and dynamically lit, character-driven, fast-paced commercials for the U.S. toy industry,” Schütte said. “Lots of color, lots of action, lots of quick cuts, and usually an explosion or two just for good measure.”

One such project for Topps was to give the beloved American comic strip character, Bazooka Joe, a 21st Century makeover. With his distinctive black eye patch and red cap, Bazooka Joe was featured along with other characters on small comics that were tucked inside individually wrapped pieces of Bazooka bubblegum. Topps wanted to reboot the Bazooka Joe franchise with a series of commercials that revealed the new, improved 3D CG Bazooka Joe.

Schütte said, “We had seven weeks to produce the two commercials in the second phase of their campaign. As the Project Lead, I was ultimately responsible for fleshing out a rather sparse 2D storyboard into a workable 3D animatic. This encompassed building a wide array of environments, creating an ‘instanced’ crowd, adding CG lighting and texturing. I also supervised the lead character animator, the development of the look, shot breakout, and rendering, and worked with our compositor up until the final delivery.”

At all stages of production, the animatic went through many revisions even up to a week before final delivery. “It's never ideal when that happens, as what follows is a mad rush to accommodate often complex changes without a quality compromise,” Schütte said. “Shots and characters were dropped, new ones were added, and various other rather large changes were requested. With its ability to deliver quick results, LightWave rose to the occasion and we were able to implement all the changes without impacting either the quality or schedule.” 

Adding to the complexity of the Bazooka Joe production process, Schütte was working remotely from South Africa, and therefore dealing with many technical challenges that most on-site artists and animators never have to deal with. For example, there were many links in the chain between his desktop in South Africa and Clockwork VFX’s network in Dubai.

 There was a pipeline connecting all the remote artists with the Dubai-based network that allowed them to work remotely as seamlessly as possible. The process was streamlined to the point where the only difference between working from his Johannesburg home office (pictured below) and the Dubai studio was the time it took to sync his data.

“LightWave makes it easy to manage content,” Schütte said. “I would simply package my scenes and upload the content, secure in the knowledge that everything that was needed was being uploaded, and no time was wasted moving unnecessary files.”

“We also had a robust pipeline between Maya and LightWave and all of our character animation and rigging was taken care of by the Maya animators,” he said. “Data transfer was handled via the Point Oven plug-in. We also had to overcome a few issues regarding point order retention, but once that was sorted out, we had a seamless workflow.”

While working with Clockwork VFX, Schütte used LightWave running on his home office system, a Windows 7 (64-bit) workstation (with Intel Core i7 and 16GB of RAM). The rendering was done in Dubai on a Windows-based render farm comprised of Boxx machines that performed well.

Schütte considers LightWave's render engine a thing of beauty. The addition of unified sampling in conjunction with the perspective camera and the overhauled adaptive sampling engine has dramatically accelerated his tweaking of the render engine for final renders. He says, “I'm looking forward to seeing the changes brought about in LightWave 2015.3 with the introduction of Importance Sampling.”

For Nigel Schütte, the VPR has been essential to every project he’s worked on and he can’t imagine lighting and texturing a scene without its real-time feedback. And the addition of LightWave's linear workflow and nodal texturing a few versions back was also a game changer for him. He says it changed his lighting style and quality immeasurably.

In his work, Schütte finds the LightWave environment simple and elegant and the work he creates with it both challenging and rewarding. The results, he says, are limited only by the animator’s own imagination and effort. “Without a doubt,” he says, “LightWave offers ease of use and fast turnaround times, while outputting consistently beautiful renders. LightWave gives us the tools to create expansive worlds, untold stories, unfathomable effects, and fantastical creatures.”

“LightWave has absolutely given me the edge I need to deliver my jobs on time, every time, without sacrificing quality,” he added. “Finally, I have found the balance I’ve been seeking.”