“Do I really need a degree?”

This question often arises for Singaporean young creatives nearing graduation from polytechnics, LASALLE, or NAFA. Having experienced both diploma and degree programs, my perspective may be helpful to some, maybe you? This blog post won’t compare the nature of Poly vs Uni education per se. Rather, I’ll focus on the intangibles and “paper value” of having an animation diploma vs. a degree.

Parent Expectations: Diploma vs. Degree

Asian parents are stereotyped as having expectations of their children to be doctors, and lawyers, and attain a degree or masters for bragging rights. Stereotypes aside, Singaporean parents do have rightful concerns, because it’s true that starting salaries in the creative field are statistically lower than in other industries. So don’t deny or omit this information when communicating with your parents. (That’s sneaky!) I recommend that you acknowledge their concerns and do your research. Show them success stories and a strategy to succeed, easing their worries. Share with them your industry heroes, those who inspire you, and started their careers with a diploma and steadily progress, gaining world recognition through dedication and upskilling.

That was exactly what I did back in 2005, going to a polytechnic had a social stigma of failure to attain good enough grades for junior college (the straightforward path to university). But my O’level grades were excellent and I knew exactly what I wanted. So, I assured my parents I’d work my ass off to get both the diploma and the degree—and I delivered. Thankfully, the stigma isn’t as strong nowadays, but more conventional parents tend to have stronger opinions, so please be patient with them. :)

Employability in Private and Public Sectors

The private sector prioritizes portfolios over qualifications. For instance, Masonry Studios only hires based on portfolio and interpersonal skills; we’ve never considered academic grades.

So, why do grades matter?

Well, the public sector favours higher qualifications due to the need for systematic metrics. Large organizations rely on certifications due to the difficulty of assessing portfolios, emphasizing the importance of qualifications. Despite these differences, both sectors value competence and adaptability.

The Harsh Realities

In the private sector, animators and designers can potentially climb the career ladder indefinitely, with no strict upper limit on progression. As long as they can communicate and execute design plans, and can negotiate a fair return for the contribution. However, in the public sector, career advancement follows a systematic, almost guaranteed path, but your progression is capped based on your qualifications. While private sector opportunities offer unlimited growth potential based on performance and merit, public sector roles may provide stability and predictability in advancement but come with limitations tied to educational credentials. This underscores the importance of weighing personal career priorities and long-term aspirations when deciding between sectors.

Working Overseas

A degree is more helpful than a diploma in obtaining work visas. Countries and governments use education levels as assessment metrics. Overseas HR departments assist with visa requests, making the process smoother with a degree, highlighting its practical benefits beyond national borders. Furthermore, a degree demonstrates commitment and competence to potential employers abroad.

Of course, there are exceptions. My buddy from NYP didn’t pursue a degree and still had a great time as a feature film VFX animator in Canada for the past decade. All I’m getting at here is that a degree does make it administratively easier.

Salary Negotiation

Diploma holders typically earn less than degree holders, especially in the public sector. However, in the private sector, merit dictates salary (yay!), subject to negotiation skills, underscoring the importance of advocating for oneself in the job market. Knowing your value as a creative, and developing negotiation skills can significantly impact earning potential, regardless of educational background.

Developing negotiation skills can significantly impact earning potential, regardless of educational background.

Conclusion: Animation Diploma vs. Degree

While a degree may not be necessary for CGI/VFX careers in Singapore, its paper value and convenience shouldn’t be dismissed, acknowledging its role in facilitating career opportunities and professional advancement. Each path offers unique advantages, and understanding these nuances can empower individuals to make informed decisions about their education and career paths.

If you wish to read more about the nature of education you get from a local polytechnic versus a university programme, please read The poly vs uni debate.

If you’re new to 3D graphics or looking to level up your skills, you’ve come to the right place. PBR materials allow you to create realistic surfaces in your 3D scenes. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the basics, but first,

What are PBR Materials?

PBR stands for Physically Based Rendering. Unlike traditional rendering techniques, PBR materials simulate how light interacts with real-world surfaces. This means your materials will look more accurate and lifelike.

“Hang on, materials and textures are different?!”

PBR materials are basically a collection of textures that are designed to be connected as maps into a Arnold/Redshift/<insert your renderer>StandardMaterial. “Hang on, materials and textures are different?!” Yup, read “Difference between Textures, Shaders, and Materials” for disambiguation.

How to Use PBR Materials:

  • Texture Basics:
    • PBR textures include maps for Base Color, Roughness, Height, Normal, Metallic, and Ambient Occlusion, each defining different material properties.
  • Material Setup:
    • Import and map the texture files onto your model in Blender or Maya, ensuring proper UV unwrapping. Be sure to interpret Base Color as sRGB, and the other maps as RAW data.
  • Connect Maps:
    • Link the maps to corresponding inputs of the Principled BSDF shader: Base Color to Base Color, Roughness to Reflection Roughness, etc.
    • If you need a video guide on connect maps, you can find it here.
  • Specialized Properties / Limitations:
    • Certain real-world material properties cannot be properly mimicked by game engines, hence they are not commonly supported as PBR materials. And we’d need to rely on offline renderers like Arnold or Redshift. Like believable murky liquids, colored glass, sheen etc.
    • Examples of specialized material properties
      • Implement opacity, translucency, and double-sided rendering for realistic leaf materials.
      • Implement thin film for oily, iridescent, or pearlescent materials.
  • Surface Imperfections:
    • Enhance material realism with surface imperfections like smudges, fingerprints, and water droplets, adjusting their blending and strength accordingly.
    • These maps can be layered on to supplement the base PBR material that has been pre-designed.


Using PBR materials is a reliable and predictable way enhance the realism of your 3D projects, and you can find them for free at PolyHaven. With a bit of practice, you’ll be creating realistic materials in no time. For a more detailed guide on doing this Blender, please visit “How to use PBR Textures in Blender”. Also, I’ll write about the common misconceptions of PBR Materials, just to help student-types out a little bit with all the confusing terminology and less intuitive features. Happy rendering, and stay tuned!

Differences between Storyboarding for Entertainment vs Advertising

Storytelling is the process of visualling a time-based medium, like movies and TV shows to commercials, into panels of images meant to be “read” as sequence. It’s a quick and powerful tool that communicates to directors, animators and other creative teams, as well as external parties like studio executives if it’s an entertainment product, or clients if it’s a advertisement project.

In my past life, I’m a storyboard artist on a Emmy-nominated Children’s TV Show – Oddbods, and worked freelance as a storyboard artists for various advertising studios around the world. In this article, I will share some general tips on how to be an effective storyboard artist. Additionally, I’ll delve into my personal experience as a storyboard artist, shedding light on the diverse applications of storyboarding in the entertainment and advertising industries.

Story and Boarding: The Essence of Storyboarding

Storyboarding, as the term suggests, can be broken down into two main components: story and boarding.


The story aspect encompasses the fundamental process of fixing and refining the narrative. Before creating a storyboard, I’d logically breakdown the story, using tried-and-test frameworks like Blake Snyder’s – Save the Cat 16-beats, gaining an in-depth understanding of its plot devices, narrative arc, emotion arc, and the transformation of the characters. I act as a gatekeeper, flagging any inconsistencies or aspects that don’t resonate with me, and I’d flag them at meetings with the director or showrunner.

For example, if I read the script and I find that a character reacts in a way that’s seemingly unmotivated, I’d seek clarification from the director. “What did they hoped to achieve with that acting choice?”. It usually sheds some light on the directors intent, and I’d communicate what I find is out of place, seek alignment, and look for alternative acting choices that won’t be out-of-character. It’s for the better of the story, and ultimately it’s really for me to get my work done properly. Without a genuine belief in the story, it becomes nearly impossible to effectively translate it into a visual form.


On the other hand, boarding encompasses the technical and artistic skills required for effective visual storytelling. Contrary to popular belief, being an exceptional draftsman is not the sole prerequisite for a proficient storyboard artist; perhaps the main requirement for an illustrator.

While strong drawing skills undoubtedly enhance clarity, allows emotive expressions, and overall draftsmanship quality, a great director / story artist can convey emotions and framing even with simple stick figure drawings. However, honing drawing abilities empowers artists to push acting, expressions, and improve clarity for both internal and external teams. We can think of boarding as the grammar and vocabulary for telling a great story, just in a visual way.

Entertainment Boards: Solving Visual Challenges

My journey as a storyboard artist began in the world of children’s entertainment. I started the job cleaning up storyboard panels from senior story artists, and I did poorly in the first few weeks on the job because I was focused on drawing nicely, and didn’t spend enough researching on the lores of the show, the characters, their antics etc.

Working on a non-dialogue show like Oddbods presented a unique set of challenges. Scripts that were not inherently visual, and forces the story team to find visual solutions. One effective technique involved drawing every other panel to suggest character positions, emotional changes, and thoughts. This meticulous process often resulted in hundreds or even thousands of panels, meticulously crafted to convey the desired visual narrative.

Commercial/Advertising Boards: Simplicity with Impact

Storyboarding for commercials and advertisements demands a different approach compared to the entertainment scene. With limited time available for media buy, simplicity becomes paramount. Typically, commercial boards comprise only 12 to 24 panels, requiring concise storytelling. Despite the brevity, each panel needs to be meticulously crafted with high detail, shading, and even color to suggest values. This level of detail is necessary when presenting the boards to marketing executives and CEOs, ensuring a visually compelling pitch.

The Diverse World of Storyboarding

While the core concept of storyboarding remains consistent across industries, the execution varies significantly. My experience in both the entertainment and advertising scenes highlights the distinct challenges and requirements of each. From the extensive panel count of entertainment boards to the simplicity and impact of advertising boards, storyboard artists must adapt their skills and storytelling techniques to meet the unique demands of each project.


Storyboarding serves as a vital bridge between storytelling and visual representation, enabling creators to transform ideas into tangible visuals. By combining the mastery of story development with the artistic skills of visual composition, storyboard artists play a crucial role in shaping narratives across different industries. I hope by sharing my personal experience having drawn storyboards for the entertainment and advertising industry, and actually teaching how to storyboard at schools and aniation studios, you have a better idea on the lesser known side to storyboarding.

To explore my storyboard work, visit my storyboard portfolio.

Shaping Brands with Vision and Communication

In the dynamic world of branding, advertising, and design, creative direction plays a pivotal role in shaping the identity and success of a brand or agency. At the helm of this creative voyage stands the Creative Director, and as one myself, I understand the importance of vision and effective communication in this role. In this blog entry, I will delve into my personal philosophy of creative direction, emphasizing the significance of communication and bridging the gap between artistic vision and client expectations.

The Role of a Creative Director

In creative/ad agencies in Singapore, the Creative Director is a role with huge responsibility.

As a Creative Director, I shape the creative vision and empower the artists. I’m the driving force behind conceptualizing, strategizing, and executing creative campaigns. I possess a unique blend of artistic talent, strategic thinking, and effective leadership. I oversee a team of talented creatives, including designers, copywriters, animators, and more, guiding them towards achieving a unified vision that aligns with the brand’s objectives.

My Philosophy on Creative Direction

I firmly believe that creative direction is a collaborative process that involves working closely with fellow creatives and clients to explore the boundless potential of 3D animation and motion design in driving creative campaigns. However, I also recognize that effective communication is paramount to the success of any project. When interacting with clients, I understand that they often prioritize the business and marketing aspects over the artistic details. Therefore, I adopt a language that resonates with the clients, enabling them to comprehend the impact and value that the creative work will bring to their brand.

Bridging the Gap

One of the challenges faced by creative professionals is bridging the gap between being a craftsman and a strategic thinker. Many artists start their careers focusing solely on perfecting their craft, but as they progress, they encounter the need to understand the business objectives and communicate their artistic vision in a language that clients can comprehend. I acknowledge this struggle and believe that Creative Directors play a crucial role in bridging this gap by translating the creative vision into terms that resonate with clients and stakeholders.

My approach is to elevate the conversation surrounding the creative process, moving beyond technicalities and focusing on the broader impact and results. By highlighting the value that creative campaigns bring to a brand, I ensure that clients feel confident in their investment and understand how it aligns with their business goals. This shift in perspective fosters stronger relationships between the creative team and clients, promoting trust, collaboration, and ultimately, the success of the project.


Creative direction is a multifaceted discipline that combines artistic prowess, strategic thinking, and effective communication. As a Creative Director, I understand that while the artistry is crucial, the ability to speak the language of business and marketing is equally important. By bridging the gap between the creative and the commercial, I empower my team to bring their vision to life while ensuring clients understand the transformative power of creative campaigns. My philosophy highlights the importance of effective communication, collaboration, and elevating the conversation around creative work. With my guidance, brands and agencies can navigate the ever-evolving landscape of creativity and make a lasting impact on their audience.

Bridging the Gap between Vision and Execution

In the rapidly evolving landscape of digital art and design, CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) art direction has emerged as a prominent and transformative discipline. With its unique characteristics and capabilities, CGI art direction sets itself apart from traditional film art direction and creative agency’s art direction. In this blog entry, we will delve into what CGI art direction entails, its distinctions from film art direction and creative agency art direction, and the significance it holds in today’s creative industry.

What is CGI Art Direction?

CGI art direction encompasses the process of directing and overseeing the creation and visual aesthetic of computer-generated imagery in various mediums, such as films, video games, virtual reality experiences, advertisements, and more. It involves collaborating with artists, animators, designers, and technical experts to bring imaginative and visually stunning worlds to life using digital tools and techniques. Animation art direction is crucial in creating captivating and visually appealing animated content. Researching visual styles is essential for providing art references and guidance to fellow designers. This article explores the significance of research in animation art direction and its role in developing compelling visual styles.

The Importance of CGI Art Direction

CGI art direction plays a pivotal role in shaping our visual experiences and pushing the boundaries of creativity. Its importance lies in the ability to transport audiences into awe-inspiring and visually immersive worlds, amplifying storytelling and emotional impact. By leveraging digital tools and techniques, CGI art direction empowers artists to express their imagination in unprecedented ways, facilitating the creation of breathtaking visuals that captivate and engage viewers.

The General Process

  1. Understanding the Project’s Context:

Comprehending the project’s context, including the story, target audience, and intended emotional impact, is crucial before starting visual exploration.

  1. Gathering Art References:

Collect a wide range of art references, such as illustrations, paintings, and photographs, to serve as inspiration. Analyze compositions, color palettes, lighting, and aesthetics to identify elements that align with the project’s vision.

  1. Creating Style Guides:

Develop comprehensive style guides that provide instructions for color palettes, typography, character design, and other visual elements. These guides ensure consistency throughout the project.

  1. Developing Styleframes and Key Visual Mock-ups:

Create styleframes and key visual mock-ups to refine the visual style. Styleframes represent key scenes, while key visual mock-ups showcase design directions for characters, environments, or props. These visuals allow for early feedback and iteration.

  1. Collaboration and Iteration:

Collaborate with fellow designers, animators, and stakeholders to refine the art direction. Regular feedback sessions and iterative processes help incorporate different perspectives and ideas.

Case Studies

Both “Razer Orochi V2” and “A True Storey – A Creative Manifesto” exemplify the role of CGI art direction in bringing imaginative and visually stunning experiences to life.

In the case of the “Razer Orochi V2” project, CGI art direction was essential in crafting a bold Japanese visual identity for the product’s key visuals. Through the use of CGI techniques, the art direction team at Masonry Studios was able to transcend cultural and scale limitations. By presenting rendered and painted styleframes as part of the proposal, they effectively communicated their artistic vision to stakeholders and facilitated constructive discussions. This demonstrated how CGI art direction can bridge the gap between different ideas and styles, ensuring that the final visual representation resonates with the intended audience.

On the other hand, “A True Storey – A Creative Manifesto” showcased the versatility of CGI art direction by incorporating claymation as a storytelling technique. Despite the time-consuming nature of claymation, the decision to embrace this traditional technique was a deliberate choice to highlight the humanistic and handmade aspects of the creative process at Masonry Studios. Through tests and careful attention to detail, the art direction team successfully captured the tactile qualities of the clay figures, evoking authenticity and fostering a deeper connection with the audience. This demonstrated how CGI art direction can encompass a range of techniques and styles, including the integration of traditional methods, to enhance storytelling and create impactful visual experiences.

Both projects underscore the importance of CGI art direction in transforming ideas into compelling digital experiences. Whether it is through bridging the gap between stakeholders’ visions or incorporating traditional techniques to evoke a specific emotional response, CGI art direction plays a crucial role in shaping the visual aesthetic and narrative impact of projects. It enables artists and creative teams to push the boundaries of imagination, transcend limitations, and create captivating visual worlds that engage and inspire audiences.


Furthermore, CGI art direction enables filmmakers, game developers, and other creatives to explore uncharted territories, transcend realism, and bring abstract concepts to life. It serves as a catalyst for innovation, continually challenging artists to develop new techniques, master emerging technologies, and redefine what is visually possible.

In the realm of contemporary digital art and design, CGI art direction stands as a distinct and vital discipline. Its divergence from film art direction and creative agency art direction allows for unparalleled creative expression and the creation of visually stunning and immersive experiences. As technology continues to advance, CGI art direction will undoubtedly shape the future of visual storytelling, enabling artists to push the boundaries of imagination and craft digital worlds that captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.

MLOPs – Machine Learning Operators

Some wonder(ful) humans developed this Houdini plugin that allows us to use Stable Diffusion directly in Houdini!

Made some renders from the generated point cloud! MLOPs makes the whole process so convenient and opens up so much possibilities!

I just want to share that I did run into VRAM issues – after generating an image, it fully utilities and holds the VRAM hostage for that Houdini MLOPs session, so I cannot render using my GPU in that same H session. I work around it by restarting a H session to render.

Wonder if it’s only me facing this issue, or there could some memory management options in the next build?

Anyhow, it’s already very beautiful!
Thanks @therealentagma @sidefxhoudini @redshift3d




3d #aiimages #aiart #stablediffusion #sd #houdinifx #houdinihoudono #redshift3d #render #cgi #vfx #dalle2 #midjourney #midjourneyart #abstract #shapes #forms #curves #blender #blender3d #mdcommunity #blendercommunity

Art Student Dilemma

It’s graduation year at art school. Classmates believe that focusing solely on their craft will lead to success, and the money will follow. Is that true?

“Real artists don’t talk Money. We talk Craft!”

It’s a common notion amongst art students, and while it’s not entirely wrong, it’s also an unhealthy and naïve thought.

As a freelancer, not addressing clients’ needs can lead to dissatisfaction and lack of payment. As an employee artist, simply following the script can result in a mediocre story, and as a director, not explaining unconventional creative decisions can cause clients to worry. It’s essential for creatives to communicate the value they bring and deliver on their promises, rather than solely focusing on their craft.

Turns out, discussing money is healthier than avoiding the conversation. Yet, many artists steer clear of it due to their lack of understanding about the value of their services. Avoiding the possibility that your hard-earned skills may not be valuable is tempting, but it’s a form of avoidance that doesn’t solve the issue.

Let me explain.

Knowing Your Value as a Freelancer

When I started out as a freelance 3D generalist, I focused on my craft and found myself struggling to find the balance of what works for my creative soul and clients. My internal push for rendering realistic images with believable imperfections wasn’t necessarily aligned with my client’s needs. “Realistic” wasn’t what they were looking for; “Flawless”, “Clarity”, “Perfection” are often words that sit much better with the rest of their campaign messaging.

If I don’t address the needs of my clients, they won’t be happy paying me, and I won’t be happy accepting payment knowing that they aren’t satisfied.

Knowing Your Value as an Employee

When I was a junior storyboard artist, I focused on my craft and found myself drawing panels exactly as the script says. Sounded like a responsible thing to do, but the stories fell flat. I changed my approach and arranged for discussions with the director to break down the script, to ensure logical plot, interesting character arcs, conflicts, emotional beats etc. before I pick up my pencil. Worked like a charm!

If I continued to imagine the job of the story artist to be simply drawing panels based on what I read in a given script, and not attempting to improve the story when I see clear opportunities, then I’m doing a disservice to myself, my team and the company.

Knowing Your Value as a Creative Director

When I was a creative director, I focused on excellent visual storytelling of the commercials, and at times, clients worry about less conventional creative decisions. It’s not the client’s fault if I didn’t help them see why it’s important for their product messaging.

If I don’t help them to understand why certain creative approaches are more suitable for their messaging, no amount of stunning visuals will address their inner worries.

So, what’s the problem?

As creatives, we often believe that conflicts in a project arise because non-creatives fail to comprehend our perspective, and that it’s their duty to take the initiative. But doesn’t this attitude come across as entitled? Instead, why don’t we make an effort to bridge the communication gap by speaking their language and taking the lead?

And the solution?

In hindsight, it’s plainly obvious that we as creatives need to know our value proposition regardless of whether we’re a freelancer, an in-house artist or an executive creative director. Negotiating price, salaries, and articulating the value of our work to and for our clients – these need to be seen as part of our work. 

Focus on Understanding the Value you can provide

See, real designers communicate the value we provide to others, and deliver on our promises. As a creative, understanding the value of your creative work is being responsible to both yourself and the people you work with. You’ll find it easier to justify prices, salaries, and your clients have an easier time understanding what exactly you are here to help with.

So, take the time to determine the value of your creative work and communicate it to your boss/clients. It will lead to a more fulfilling and sustainable creative career.

How to Identify & Determine Your Value

Here are some questions to help you find your intrinsic creative abilities:

  • In past group creative projects,
    • Where do you find yourself most comfortably contributing?
    • Which contributions helped to propel the project forward?
    • What did you do to align every party involved in the project?
    • When people turn to you for help, what type of questions do they usually ask?
    • What are you naturally good at?

If you’re ready to dive deeper into understanding your value as a creative, this article is a good place to start: Understanding Your Value as a Creative: You Need to Know This.

If you’re already aware of this but still struggling with project management, consider adopting the approach of viewing yourselves as creative partners with your clients – this is the approach taken by Masonry Studios and it may be effective for you.

A video documentation on how to use the tool.

It’s Episode 3! In this video, I’ll show you how to set up a simple RBD simulation in Houdini and this time, as you’ve asked for it, I’ll cover the Redshift rendering setup too! I planned to keep the videos short, but to include the rendering setup, I had to add 10 minutes to the video length. Let me know if you prefer for me to cover the rendering setup each time, or simply focus on the simulation and keep the video bite-sized. As always, if you don’t know the basics of Houdini, check out Houdini Isn’t Scary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tsv8UGqDibc See you next Friday!


Welcome back to the series in Episode 2. In this video, I’ll show you how to create this classic particle disintegration effect in Houdini. I hear some of you will like a render setup portion to the video, but I wonder if it’ll make the video too long for you guys, let me know! In any case, I’ll try to incude that in Episode 3 and see how it goes ya? As always, if you don’t know the basics of Houdini, check out Houdini Isn’t Scary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tsv8U… Otherwise, have fun and see you next Friday!