In Singapore’s CGI scene, the debate between polytechnic and university education is a hot topic. But, instead of a full-on “Diploma vs Degree” conversation, I’ll focus on the merits of poly vs uni education. And how much it affects employability in the private sector.

Firstly, how did this topic come about?

Recently, the Masonry Studios team visited NYP School of Design’s graduation show. The following day, our newly-hired sound designer, Russell had questions regarding the show. He asked about what we looked for in the animation graduates, if it differs between poly and uni candidates, whether university education is necessary, and if so, which path—poly or uni—holds the key to success. Great questions Rus!

Key Differences: Poly vs. Uni

Technical Skills are essential in our CGI Animation industry, and polytechnic education is very effective in technical skill training. Individuals with polytechnic diplomas train to have hands-on experience and proficiency with industry-standard tools. This makes them a valuable asset in a fast-paced CGI environment. In poly, I learnt then-cutting-edge technology, like motion capture and digital sculpting. Furthermore, I clinched wonderful internship opportunities at VHQ Media and Lucasfilm. The CGI capabilities I’ve acquired in poly gave me confidence to kickstart my 3D freelance career upon poly graduation.

However, the importance of Conceptual Thinking and effective communication cannot be overstated. This is where university education shines, nurturing students’ ability to think critically, articulate ideas, and engage in meaningful discourse. These skills are vital for effective collaboration, creative leadership and the business of creative services.

In my experience, that was precisely the situation. In poly, I struggled to articulate or expand on ideas. Regardless of how hard I tried, how painfully aware I was, or how encouraging my instructors were. I was a late-bloomer and was unable to grasp the idea of conceptualisation. The university environment and curriculum forced me to acquire those conceptual thinking and articulation skills. I’m forever grateful for the uni experience.

Okay, we get it, polytechnic teaches technical skills, and university teaches conceptual thinking.

But is it exclusive?

Creative Development

Creative Development

It turns out that the distinction between polytechnic and university education isn’t mutually exclusive. I’ve encountered individuals who defy these labels. They possess a unique blend of technical expertise, creative vision, and communication skills regardless of their educational background. I personally went through a linear technical-conceptual transition through poly-uni. That said, I was well aware of poly mates’ ability to generate, unpack and articulate ideas. So, it’s not always linear, is it?

Employability: Poly vs. Uni

Masonry Studios is a private-sector CGI animation and design company. When we recruit, it’s entirely based on the portfolio, with little regard to the education level. We seek quality individuals with both technical skills and conceptual thinking. It’s our requirement at our studio because of the way we operate; it’s not the same elsewhere.

However, I advocate for balancing both skills rather than focusing excessively on one at the expense of the other. I’m not suggesting a perfect 50:50 balance, but aim for a healthy ratio and never completely neglect either. Ultimately, having both helps us understand and build rapport with those who are differently skilled than us. It will make us a better team player. But I digress…

Conclusion: Poly vs. Uni

Is Uni Necessary?

So, is a university education needed to succeed in Singapore’s CGI scene?

The short answer is “no”…

But if your lack conceptual thinking and articulation, is hindering your growth as a creative, university education will be helpful. What truly matters is your self-awareness, dedication, and willingness to learn and grow. Whether you’re a polytechnic graduate with technical wizardry, or a university alumna with conceptual chops, there’s a place for you.

Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed individuals from both camps thrive and excel. Whether you choose to focus on technical skills, conceptual thinking, there are many opportunities to carve out a fulfilling career. Remember, it’s just work—take a deep breath, stay open to learning, and trust that you’ll find your place. At the end of the day, what matters most is finding fulfilment in what you do.

So, chill, embrace your journey, and keep creating! Here’s another related article, if you’re interested in a Guide to the Singapore Animation Industry.

Hey there, recent grads from ADM, NYP, or LASALLE! Whether you’re from any of these schools or just starting your journey in the creative field in Singapore, this article is for you. I’m here to share some tips to help you ace your creative job interviews and avoid common mistakes.

First off, let’s cover some basic job interview advice. You’ll definitely need to prepare your portfolio and showreel, practice answering typical interview questions, talk about your work experience, and have some relevant questions ready to ask. These are the basics, so now let’s dive into the specific details that matter in the creative industry.

Acing Your Creative Job Interview

Do Your Homework

Even ChatGPT will advise the same. Start by digging into the company’s vibe.

“What’s their work like?”
“Who are their clients?”
“Who are creatives who make up their team?”

Social media stalking? Absolutely encouraged! Understanding the company’s ethos helps align your values and ensures you’re speaking the same language during the interview.

Stay Chill, You’re Already Awesome

Remember, you’ve got the skills. From an employer’s perspective, I wouldn’t invite someone for a chat if their work wasn’t already impressive. The interview is mainly to make sure there aren’t any glaring red flags. You don’t need to keep boasting about your skills; your work says it all (whether it’s good or bad, we can tell). Keep the vibe cool, calm, and collected.

— Status Dance

At a job interview, there’s bound to be a play of status: Employer vs Job Seeker. Usually, the employer is seen as having more control since they’re the ones offering the job. Even so, my advice is to keep it leveled as much as you can. Neither should you be desperate for the job, nor be arrogant and play hard to get. Be yourself, and see if its a right fit.

Know Your Worth

Don’t shy away from discussing salary expectations. Generally, creatives feel some level of discomfort when talking about money, but anchoring your rate not only showcases your confidence but also reflects your self-worth. Aim for a figure that matches your experience level and the value you bring to the table.

Now, let’s learn to do the opposite.

How to Bomb an Interview for a Creative Position:

The Art of Fabrication

Nothing ruins an interview faster than being dishonest. Employers are pretty sharp, especially in fields like ours where we work with creative types and big ego all the time. It’s easy for them to spot when someone’s trying to act like they know more than they actually do. Pretending to know stuff you don’t is just asking for trouble. Once they start digging deeper with follow-up questions, your lies are exposed. Keep it real.

Negativity, Anyone?

Bad-mouthing ex-companies or throwing shade at former colleagues? Yeah, that’s a major no-no. Keep the gossip at bay and focus on the positives. Occasionally, interviewers may even bait you into it, so as to assess for toxic traits. Be careful. Remember, you’re here to shine, not to spread negativity.

Conclusion

Alright, now you’re all set! With these tips, you can gauge how ready you are for interviews. And here’s a bonus idea: try practicing with a friend acting as the interviewer. I personally find it a great way to get comfortable and gain confidence. Remember, the more you practice, the better you’ll be at nailing that creative job interview.

Stay confident, stay genuine, and let your creative spirit shine through! Best of luck out there!

Hey! I’m an old school CG artist from the days of CPU rendering and depth pass and zDefocus, and only recently got over the psychological barrier of doing in-camera DOF. My conclusion – it’s liberating. Of course, GPU render engines like RedShift is the real deal for this kind of workflow.

But for now, for those who want to give it shot at using Arnold for in-camera DOF, here’s a little script to quickly set up a focus assist locator which you can position as you wish. Just select the camera and run the script to get a focus assist locator. Hope it helps and let me know if you’ve some ideas to improve tool.

A simple tool to have viewport locator feedback for Arnold’s 3D depth of field. You can exactly direct the camera’s focal point in 3D space. It’s easier for me to see and animate this locator than to try animating “distance from camera” value. Hope you find this useful too. Cheers!

Ronald Fong MtoA Maya Arnold DOF Focus Assist Tool Demo 200px

//Author: Ronald Fong
//Date: 09 June 2018
//Usage: Just select your render camera and run the script. Enjoy!
global proc rf_aiDof() {
    string $cam[] = `ls -sl`;
    if (!objExists($cam[0])) {
        print "Ooops! Please select a camera! \n";
        }
    else {
        string $camShape[] = `listRelatives -s $cam[0]`;
        float $camPos[] = `getAttr ($cam[0] + ".translate")`;
        string $locs = `distanceDimension -sp 1 1 1 -ep $camPos[0] $camPos[1] $camPos[2]`;
        connectAttr -f ($locs + ".distance") ($camShape[0] + ".aiFocusDistance");
        setAttr ($camShape[0] + ".aiEnableDOF") 1;
        setAttr ($camShape[0] + ".aiApertureSize") 1;
        setAttr ($camShape[0] + ".aiApertureBlades") 5;
        string $creation[] = `ls -sl`;
        string $camLoc[] = `listRelatives -parent $creation[0]`;
        parent `listRelatives -parent $creation[0]` $cam[0];
        parent $creation[1] $cam[0];
        select -cl;
        print "Success! Position the focus locator as you please! \n";
    }
}
rf_aiDof();

It’s very time-consuming to manually create many ramp entries in Maya’s ramp node, so I wrote a little script.
This simple function can be useful to create a procedural circular brushed metal texture where we want a hundred alternating colors.

//Author: Ronald Fong
//Date: 03 June 2018
global proc rf_zebraRamp(int $count) {
    $ramp = `ls -sl`;
    //Clear existing entries    
    int $entries = `getAttr -size ($ramp[0] + ".colorEntryList")`;
    for ($i=0; $i<$entries; $i++) {
        removeMultiInstance -break true ($ramp[0] + ".colorEntryList[" + $i + "]");
    }
    
    //Set alternate colors
    $currCol = 0; //Initialize current color
    for ($i=1; $i<$count+1; $i++) {
        $div = 1.0 / $count;
        $currDiv = $div * $i;
        $prevCol = `getAttr ($ramp[0] + ".colorEntryList[" + ($i-1) + "].color")`;
        setAttr ($ramp[0] + ".colorEntryList[" + ($i-1) + "].color") -type double3 $prevCol[0] $prevCol[0] $prevCol[0]; //Flush previous color
        if ($prevCol[0] == 0) {
            $currCol = 1;
        }
        else if ($prevCol[0] == 1) {
            $currCol = 0;
        }
        //print ($div + " " + $i + " " + $prevCol[0] + "\n");
        setAttr ($ramp[0] + ".colorEntryList[" + $i + "].color") -type double3 $currCol $currCol $currCol;
        setAttr ($ramp[0] + ".colorEntryList[" + $i + "].position") $currDiv;
    }
}
rf_zebraRamp("10");

Houdini’s alembic import module, by default installation, doesn’t work well with alembic files on the network.
You’ll notice that you can only load .abc files on your local drive, and not those on the network drive.

This can be resolved by adding this line to the houdini.env files:

HOUDINI_ACCESS_METHOD = 2

In case you’re wondering where your houdini.env file is, it’s usually located here:

C:\Users\<username>\Documents\houdini<version>\houdini.env

Have fun!

Problem:
The color node’s ‘Use Velocity’ is useful to create interesting effects. It works just fine with all other nodes with the MASH system, with the except the new Maya 2018’s MASH Dynamics node.

Solution (Part I):
The nice guy at Mainframe (North) explained that this was likely due to Dynamics ‘taking over’ the position data. The solver comes after the Waiter in the Node Editor so points are no longer where MASH thinks they are. Usually we can use the Node Editor to replug nodes between the Solver and the Repro/Instancer, but somehow the velocity information doesn’t flow through the network, and the development team is looking into it.

The Node graph at this point should then look like this:

For the full discussion, please find it in the comments section of this vimeo link
https://vimeo.com/214885829

Solution (Part II):
Through some experimentation, I managed to find a workable solution. This is to replug the nodes as advised in Part I, and include an additional Signal Node before the Color Node. Somehow, this forces the velocity information to flow through to the Repromesh. So at the end of it, the Node graph should look something like this:

MASH Color Node Use Velocity Dynamics

And viola! It all works with these Fallen Candies!

 

Here’s a quick MEL wiggle expression for Maya’s transformation channels.
This is similar to After Effects’ wiggle() expression.

Step 1. Go to Channelbox > Edit > Expressions…

Step 2. Paste the following

$wiggleF = 3; //Wiggle Frequency
$wiggleA = 3; //Wiggle Amplitude
$wiggleV = 1.1; //Wiggle Per Axis Frequency Variant
translateX = noise(time*$wiggleF)*$wiggleA;
translateY = noise(time*$wiggleF*$wiggleV)*$wiggleA;
translateZ = noise(time*$wiggleF*(1/$wiggleV))*$wiggleA;

Step 3. Adjust Frequency, Amplitude and per axis frequency Variant to liking

Note: By default, the translate Y and Z frequency has a 1.1 (and ~0.9) multiplication to vary the animation on all 3 axes to avoid spatial linearisation.

Heya fellow animators,

Money tips!

I’ve been getting many questions on how to charge for freelance animation work. While there’s no one answer (or figure) that fits all, as every animator’s skill and capacity is different, here are some general notes to help you get started.

1. Assess the scope
Before you come up with a figure, you’ll have to understand how much work you’ll be going through. Especially if you don’t work with a producer and doing the producing work yourself, certain costs get overlooked. On top of the actual creative work you may be handling a lot of producing work such as project management, coordination, client servicing, meetings, preparing quotations, invoices, vendor registration and the list goes on! These are some examples of work that are not entirely creative but work that comes with it. Producing takes up significant time and therefore should be taken into serious consideration.

2. Define your own scope
Instead of just saying “yes” to a very vague scope defined by clients at early stages of a negotiation, help both parties explaining how you see yourself contributing. If you’ve listened and understood your clients needs, you probably have ideas of how your skills can help your clients. Think this through. With that, communicate how you will be helping them in your own words, clearly, fairly comprehensively, and without jargon. Not only will your clients appreciete the thought put into solving their problem, you also won’t be saying “yes” to anything you weren’t comfortable with. This also allows you to respectfully deline a scope creep should there be a request from somebody not informed of the agreed scope.

3. Bottom Line Charge
Don’t charge an amount where you cannot even pay for your living expenses like your rent, utility bills, food and your tools of trade like softwares and computers. Make sure those costs are covered, if not you’d definitely be undercharging. With that covered, you can then add a little bit more for small (or big) profit.

Hope you’ve found these tips helpful and if you’ll like me to elaborate on any of these points, let me know!
It’s ronald [at] ronald-fong [dot] com

Happy Freelancing!

Hello animators,

Students who are currently enrolled into an animation programme, be it NTU’s ADM, Digipen’s animation or NYP’s DMD animation or a similar programme,  must have a clear picture on where they are heading with their career and what lies ahead of them. Be responsible; be aware of industry expectations. I have been through a fair bit of schooling in this field and I have heard countless hearsay horror stories, unfounded speculations, assumptions, and mentalities that can cripple the industry like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s inconsequential to be complaining about difficult times or spreading the negativity; instead, let’s take action!

I understand and acknowledge that there are many common problems artists/animators face around the world, but I’ll like to emphasise that these observations and advice are in reference to the animation industry in Singapore, and dedicated to the Singaporean animation students. Enough disclaimers, here are a few pointers to get you started with understanding the Singapore Animation Industry.

1. Animation industry serves two distinct industries!
Being able to provide animation services allow you to dwelve into two similar-on-the-surface but very separate industries, the Entertainment industry and the Advertising industry. Examples of animation work in the Entertainment industry are the likes of Pixar animated features films, Hollywood VFX-heavy blockbuster films, children’s animated television series, and broadcast media falls loosely into this category etc. Examples of animation work in the Advertising industry are the likes of 3D product renders for laptop or headphone commercials, 3D product end shots for television commercials, and 3D animated demos of internal workings of medication, milk formulas… you get the idea. Both these industries require the very same skill sets to create attractive and nice-looking moving visuals. The market and job market for these two industries are also distinctly different. Students need to be aware of, and understand the differences in order to know how to train and position themselves.

2. Point 1 directly influences how you prepare yourself
Animation is a mega-godzilla-large discipline that involves storytelling, acting, design etc. and to the other end of the spectrum where you’re tweaking light samples to optimise your 3D renders. It’s extremely difficult to be an expert at everything, but you definitely can be an expert at a few of the sub-disciplines, especially closely-related skills.

As of the time of writing, there’s a huge demand for 3D generalists for the Advertising scene because products and their features need to look great in order to sell them. So that’s great news for animators going into the realm of 3D production work. In the realm of the entertainment scene, there needs to be strong push in IP creation and hence very strong pre-production skills like concept design and storyboard is in demand. That said, there are significantly less job openings on the pre-production side simply because it takes more people to work in production. Also note that some studios understandably outsource the production work to be cost-effective, and there also studios who strive to keep production in-house.

Of course, this is severely over-simplifying the economics of the business, but the point is to encourage students to get used to reaching out to the people who currently work in the relevant industry to find out if the industry’s demand aligns with what their interests. On this note, don’t just speak to one person (also don’t just believe everything I say here), speak to as many as you can, from as many different companies as you can to avoid overly-biased perspectives and misjudgements.

3. Awareness
This is not exactly a third point but a summary. I think the awareness of the industry a student wishes to get in to is very crucial for student animators. I’ve observed many pitfalls. For instance, I’ve seen many students who wish to work as a 2D hand-drawn animator in Singapore but the truth is that the job openings for 2D animation production in Singapore is close to non-existent. However, it’s not impossible to work as a 2D hand-drawn animator, we just have to be aware that 2D hand-drawn production has more presence in some places in Europe, and of course Japan. Students just need to be aware whether their interests aligns to the market’s demands to properly plan their education.

Hope this was helpful for some students. Of course, please share this information with your peers, stay motivated as a community, become professional and confident at your craft. Until then, keep animating, keep dreaming! Again, this is a post is based on my personal observation and experience in this industry. So, there may be things that you may not agree with based on your experience and I will love to learn from your experiences too. Feel free to drop me a message!

Hey, I’ve got a bunch of requests for the “hipster” color palette in use to start my digital doodles in Photoshop. So, here you go – Hipster Swatches

Photoshop Hipster Swatches