Tim Birks

What is your name and your current occupation?
Tim Birks, I’ve recently finished working on Wizart Animation’s Snow Queen animated feature due for theatrical release on 31st December 2012.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I was lucky enough to get my first animation gig whilst still in my 3rd year of university, however whilst studying at college and university I like to consider my dues to have been paid by stacking shelves at 5am and grafting throughout the summer breaks at various colleges, jobs included cutting down trees with a blunt saw and sweeping gutters!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I was proud to have been a part of production on the CG animated TV series, Jellikins (or Jellabies as it was renamed for American TV), not only was this my first animation gig in the late 90’s but it was also the first CG animated TV series to be produced in the UK, seems like such a long time ago now!  More recently I’m proud to have been apart of animation production on ‘The Snow Queen’ feature, the Russian CG industry is still developing and they have overcome so many obstacles to get this film made on such a limited budget, the finished product is outstanding and I’m glad I was given the opportunity to help out.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Birmingham, UK.  I’ve always worked in the West Midlands, UK throughout my entire career so far, apart for a brief stint in London. The industry is very scattered and animators do migrate a lot, not good if you have a young family hence my reason I try to stay in the Midlands. The life of an animator is not very ‘family friendly’.  I’ve just been lucky so far, there seems to be a small group of us ‘Midlands dedicated’ animators who always end up working together on the same projects!

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Recently I have been working remotely so I usually begin work as soon as I wake up.  Animating on Snow Queen has been a very different experience for me, for the majority of my career I have been doing TV animation at around 150 frames per day, obviously at this rate you have little time to plan and execute a shot, you just kinda have to churn frames out as best you can and not look back, however working on Snow Queen I could spend an entire day planning a shot without even switching a computer on, it allowed me the time to really consider my acting choices and add a few extra polish passes, a privilege I seldom have working on TV animation production!

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love giving characters weight, attitude, intention, action, reaction and motivation, doing these things requires time, effort, consideration, planning, preparing and execution which is all a part of the challenge I love, I also love getting paid to do it!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I’ve been lucky enough throughout my career so far to have worked with some exceptionally talented riggers, however I’ve work on some projects where I’ve continuously had to wrestle with the rig which can stall momentum and hinder work flow, animators are at the mercy of the technical knowledge of the rigger, if certain elements of functionality are not included it can make my job even more challenging than it already is!
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
As I jump from project to project I can guarantee that I’ll either be using Max, Maya or Soft, as an animator I probably use about 5% of these applications functionality so from one release to the next I hardly notice any difference, thankfully!  I just need to know where translate and rotate is! In recent years tools like USB Flip cameras and even mobile phones have become very useful for quickly capturing and editing live action performance for reference purposes.

 What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
 As a freelancer, job security is constantly an issue, you always need to be on the lookout for the next gig and if the work dries up it can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.  You have to be very well connected to survive as a freelancer and maintaining industry connections is vital.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I recently met Patrick Osborne (Disney) at VES London who gave my reel a great critique, I was slightly awe struck and wished I could have been more eloquent when speaking to him!  I have also had the pleasure of working with John Saull who is probably one of the most talented and also least known animators in the UK, he definitely fits into the category of Animation Greatness without being a ‘celebrity’!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
My glass is always half full and often I’ve put way too much trust and faith in companies securing work, paying on time, delivering promises etc.  My wife can often see through this and warns me well in advance and has always been right, however my stubbornness and loyalty often make me stay with company longer than I should.

Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I currently play guitar in the band Butterfly Stone, we are a five piece band originally formed by Emmy Award winning composer and producer Mark Willott. The original idea was to create music without compromise, beyond the limitations of what a standard rock band can deliver. A unique combination of guitars, horn sections, full orchestrations and dirty underground synths are just part of the collaboration that we call upon to create our original sound.  Check us out .  (shameless plug!).

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I’m an enthusiastic brewer of real ales using traditional techniques and methods, I have begun experimenting with different recipes and ingredients in an endeavour to create the perfect beer, they’ve all tasted like dishwater so far, it’s a constant learning curve though, like animation!

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Advice, where do I begin?   Do lots of life drawing, do as much as you can all the time and just keep improving all time! When you do your drawings just do quick 5 minute poses and learn how to do ‘educated scribbles’ rather than concentrating on detail, it’ll help when you plan your animations.   The life model should be able to hold a really dynamic pose for 5 minutes as the long comfortable poses tend to be boring.  It’s good to always question your ability, that feeling of ‘not being good enough’ will keep you on your toes and motivate you to improve.  To be an animator is to be very tormented, you should always feel like there’s more you could have done in your work, poses you could have pushed or held back, timing tweaks, different acting choices, you will be tormented!  Being over-confident or even arrogant will lead to down fall, being humble and open-minded enough to admit to flaws, imperfections, poor acting decisions is very important, by taking on board criticism during viewing sessions ensures you learn and improve, animation is a lifelong learning process, you always improve.  The stubborn animators who refuse to accept criticism tend to not last very long in the industry, I’ve worked with a few and they are very frustrating to work with!  Make sure your reel is strong,  do more than what the lecturers request, partake in the 11sec club in any spare time you have, join the forums, just immerse yourself completely.  When you do look for work, always ask for opportunity and not money, do the job that no else wants to do for a while just to gain experience and contacts!  The animation industry tends to suit travellers, nomads and generally people without any roots, ties or family.  It’s really not for the feint hearted, if you don’t want to move around the country the best advice I can offer would be to get to know all the local companies, try and gain work experience there, become acquainted with the bosses, network with other animators who have also decided to stay in one area, stay together as a group with your fellow animators, huddle together for survival!   Many of my colleagues do seem to have a back up specialism, however I don’t because I’m lazy and focused only on animation!  They are usually an animator/vfx or animator/wedding photographer or animator/lighter, I would definitely suggest doing this as it widens your spectrum when seeking employment.   However having said all this, your employment chances at any company in any location depend solely on the strength and quality of your abilities, there’s a lot of competition for work out there, you need to be the best!  So yes it’s a high risk industry I guess, no real stability, but what the heck who wants stability!  Pursue your goals and stay focused, be the best that you can be and don’t let anxiety or doubt stifle your potential!   Don’t Panic!


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