What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Andrew Hickinbottom, and i am a freelance character modeler for illustration and animation.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Not sure on the ‘crazy’ side of things, but my first ever job was working in my dad’s factory as a general handyman doing various laborious jobs like sweeping, painting and grass cutting, before moving on to being a machine operator and packer there. I once worked in a videogames shop as well. Since i got my first job doing what i love, i cant see myself doing anything else – i’d whine too much!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I modeled all but 2 of the characters in an advert for the International Olympic Committee at Nexus productions in London. Really nicely stylised characters – I was really pleased how that job came out. Also, I was the lead character modeler on the 3D sections of a 2D / 3D cartoon series called ‘friends and heroes’ – i made over a hundred characters during the series production run of 2 years. The art director i worked with was an really inspirational guy who worked with Disney, and he taught me a lot about character design, appeal and composition. This job helped me find my style which i progressed it to what it is today. Im proud of all of my personal projects too, but that’s because they are labours of love – i can take as long as i want on them, without deadlines, client feedback or budgets complicating things. Im especially proud of the limited figure run i had made from one of my personal pieces (Trixie) and are now selling via my website.
How did you become interested in animation?
As a kid i loved cartoons. Garfield, Tom and Jerry, Transformers, Looney Tunes, Disney. I doodled a lot and was pretty good at drawing for my age. I always wanted to become a cartoonist, but i figured that was one of those unrealistic young ambitions (like the classic ‘i want to be an astronaut’!), so i went to college to do art, and then went to university to do graphic design. Unfortunately, my early drawing skills were pretty much buried now i was using computers and doing typography all the time. Since i got my first proper computer, i was always intrigued by 3d graphics due to Tron, videogames, and later on, the TV series Reboot and Babylon 5. It was well known that Babylon 5′s effects were done on an Amiga computer which seemed amazingly achievable to me. I had an Amiga, so i used some free software on the cover of a magazine (imagine 3D) to begin experimenting with this new artform. While i was at college and university, my self-taught intrest in 3d graphics grew and grew, and with video games like Virtua Fighter and films like Toy Story being released, i realised how much potential 3D animation held. As soon as i finished my 3 year graphic design course at university, i put it behind me and decided to do 3D as a career instead.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
Im from Wolverhampton in the UK, but now i live in London. I have always been experimenting and teaching myself 3D animation as a hobby, alongside my university course in graphic design. I found the reality of graphic design somewhat boring compared to the limitless potential of 3D graphics, so i changed my mind about what i wanted to do. One of the courses we did in my final year at university was ‘professional placement’. Its a bit like work experience at school, but more grown up. I got my placement at a local company that did 3D graphics and graphic design. I ended up doing 3D graphics there when they saw my passion and skill for it. As soon as i finished university, i worked there full time, and that was my ‘foot in the door’ so to speak! The first job in this industry is always the hardest to get.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I mostly work from home, so its pretty relaxed. Get up early, have an hour down the gym, start work at about 9:30. Depending on the amount of distractions (the internet can be a pain sometimes!) i tend to finish work around 6:30 / 7:00, though the flexibility of working from home means you can work whatever hours you want, as long as you get a day’s work done. Its important to have a regimen though, or you’ll find yourself stuck at a desk all day AND all night.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like the initial modeling part the most. Fast, assertive blocking out and shaping can be fun and you get to see the character take shape before your eyes in a short space of time.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Relentless fine tuning and tweaking. Some clients can (rightfully) be quite picky, and although it can take me a day or 2 to model the rough form of a character almost to completion, it can often take longer to fine tune it to the clients’ preference. Also, im not a fan of techy stuff, so if there are bugs, geometry errors or render problems, it can be a pain to sort out and gets in the way of the creative process.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Nothing especially fancy really, as my simple style of modeling doesnt require masses of processing power. I have an off-the-shelf Dell inspiron i5 dual core machine with 6GB ram which is a few years old now. I work in 3DS Max 2010, though im planning to upgrade to 2013. I use Vray for lighting and rendering, and do any texturing and post-processing in Photoshop CS5.5. I have a wacom intuos 3, but i dont really use it unless im painting complex textures. I have Zbrush, but im still getting to grips with it. Despite 3D CGI being a very technical orientated artform, i am quite old fashioned in my ways.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Some jobs i get can be quite samey and un-inspiring. Not many clients are willing to pay to take stylistic risks and tend to go for ‘safe’ styles already established in Pixar / Dreamworks / Disney type films. I love pushing what can be achieved with 3D, and creating unique, intresting styles, so its a bit dissapointing when some really nicely stylised initial 2D concept sketches gradually get made more realistic and standardised as the project goes on. One other thing is that being a freelancer means that you are bombarded with job offers one month (and are too busy to take them on), and another month you could have no work at all. Fortunately, the lack of work bit doesnt happen that much to me these days, so when i do get downtime, i tend to enjoy myself and do some personal work.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I havent really met many super famous people on my travels. I am friends with some of my favourite artists on facebook though, such as Shane Glines (my favourite illustrator), Otto Schmidt, Anna Cattish and Alberto Ruiz. Although i dont know them that well personally, i often comment and interact with them and vice versa, and i’d love to meet them in person if i had an oppurtunity to do so. I occasionally bounce emails back and forth to Dean Yeagle too, who is a friend and a long time inspiration to me. I am good friends with the talented French pinup artist Serge Birault, and have met him several times. Ive met Maly Siri in Paris, too. I’d love to go to the big american conventions such as San Diego and meet my heroes in person! A trip to Pixar or Disney studios is hopefully on the cards the next time i go to America too.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
The sudden death of my dad was tough. I guess any other recent hardships cant compare to that.
Any side projects or you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Ive not done any major personal work for a while now, but i have some downtime here and there, so i intend to start something soon. I have many ideas for personal pieces, so whatever is inspiring me at the time, i turn into a personal piece. I dont want to spill the beans though – i like my stuff to be a surprise, as part of the drive for me when doing personal work is ‘the big reveal’ when i finish it!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Not really. 3D is my job, as well as my hobby. I occasionally go to Dr Sketchy (burlesque life drawing sessions) to draw, but my skills dont improve. Its more of a piss-about than a serious life drawing class with tuition and everything. I play on my Xbox360 and spend too much time on the internet. Ive started exhibiting my work at London comic conventions too. I like to travel the world, but only if i have the money, and someone to go with.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
The best advice i could probably say is to keep practicing. I learned the basics of 3D modeling myself through trial and error back when it was a relatively new artform. Around this time, there were no courses, training DVDs, magazines or web tutorials to help me out, so the means to learn the technical aspects of 3D modeling are more numerous than ever these days. As far as the aestetics go, its important to be original. 3D modeling and animation has become a very saturated market in recent years, so its getting harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. Either be exceptional at what you do, or do something different that no-one else has done.