Yesterday I got the honor to sit down and chat with one of our most recent and successful alum, Jessica “Psy” DeLacy. She was really easy to talk to and had so much to talk about. Read on to see what we talked about in the interview!
Zombie: So Psy, where are you working right now and what is your job?
Psy: I work at Rhythm and Hues! I am a Technical Animation TD, and I’ve been working here since December of 2010. It’s my job to make cloth, fur, dynamics, and interaction look awesome.
Zombie: So what would be a typical day at work for you?
Psy: When I get to work in the morning, I usually have a few shots waiting for me that need attention, and I will work on these based on highest priority, aka what lighting wants first. Shotwork involves simulating clothing and fur, but for everything to work correctly I need to make sure all geometry is cleaned up and the characters are interacting with each other in such a way that the cloth can evaluate properly. Then there’s getting certain materials to act and feel a certain way: a sweatshirt on a chipmunk behaves differently than a kite tied to a penguin, wet fur will move differently on a character standing still than it will on a dry character that’s running, etc.
I have a whole toolset that I use to clean up geometry and make interactions play nicely together, but often I will script out tools that I use a lot to optimize them and make my workflow faster. Generally I will do this if I’m waiting for animation or feedback on shots, or if I have multiple simulations running that I am waiting for.
Zombie: Can you give an example of something that surprised you about your job when you first started?
Psy: I was genuinely surprised that they’re paying me to do this. I mean, this is fun – this is what I do on the weekends for fun. I guess I was also surprised how prepared I was – I was able to dive right in and adapt to the pipeline fairly quickly. Thanks PX!
Zombie: So what projects have you worked at at R & H?
Psy: At Rhythm I have worked on Hop, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Alvin 3: Chipwrecked, and currently I am working on Snow White and the Hunstman. So far Alvin has been the most fun, and the most challenging.
Zombie: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
Psy: Figuring out the monster shots and making them look good. When you work on a shot for weeks on end, and then see it on the big screen and it looks great – that’s an awesome feeling. I had this shot on Alvin that was a monster for tech: Simon unties a piece of seaweed from around his arm, ties it around his head, then rips off his sleeves. That shot took hours upon hours of doing RnD, testing out different ideas, building the rigs to allow for the sleeves ripping, getting the fringes on the sweatshirt and the fur to react correctly – it was a multi person effort, and at times quite frustrating. Seeing the final render of that shot caused high fives all around. Also seeing peoples’ reactions, especially kids. When kids in the theater are excited and enjoying the movie, I’m happy.
Zombie: Do you have any advice for students wanting to get into your industry?
Psy: Yes I do, You have to want it. It’s a competitive industry, and you can’t just expect to get a degree and automatically be ushered in. You really do have to work hard through school, and come out with a good reel and good communication skills. Get to know people, get used to working in a team, and be the person that everyone wants to work with. Always thirst for knowledge, and be passionate about what you want to do, and be willing to adapt to a new pipeline. It takes work and diligence, but you can get in, and you can go far, if you want it enough.
Zombie: What kinds of skills or abilities would someone need to get into your line of work?
Psy: For Techanim specifically, you need to have technical and artistic skills. You need to understand anatomy and have a good eye for how characters, cloth, and interaction should look, but also need to be able to write scripts and understand what’s happening under the hood during a simulation. Patience is also key, as sometimes you will spend days on a single shot getting it just so. There’s a lot of “well, object A needs to act like X until it hits object B. How do I do that?” And then you figure it out. It’s a lot like rigging in that it’s both artistically and technically demanding, requires a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, and can be a bit tedious at times. That’s probably why I love it so much.
Zombie: So how did Cogswell help prepare you for what you do today?
Psy: I’ll give you the same quote I gave to Bonnie, regarding Project X, because although Cogswell laid the foundation, Project X was really what prepared me for this.
“Project X was the most difficult, most challenging, and most demanding thing I’ve ever done. I loved every minute of it, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. When we started X, we were students. When we finished it, we were ready for the industry.”
Zombie: You have already said so much, but do you have anything else to leave our readers with?
Psy: Ah man, I could say so many things. I could talk about how awesome my coworkers are and how much fun we have at work. But instead I’ll try for something inspiring.
You can get here. You can get into the industry – whether you’re a modeler, animator, rigger, concept artist – you can get here. But it’s not easy. Please don’t be the person who coasts through school thinking that you’ll graduate and be welcomed with open arms. A degree is not a ticket in. You want in? Treat every assignment as if it’s going into your portfolio. Spend your time after class, your weekends, any time you have learning more and challenging yourself. Quit playing WoW and get involved in a student project. Compete amongst yourselves, team up – do something you think you can’t do. You’re a modeler? Study edge loop theory, model the same thing over and over until it looks amazing, get someone to rig it and critique the edge flow, and model outside your comfort zone. Concept artist? You should be filling sketchbook upon sketchbook. Draw from life. Draw from conceptual techniques. Take the shapes you see everywhere and make something from them. Take a sketchbook with you everywhere. You get where I’m going with this. And no matter what you are, don’t be afraid of critique. Accept it gracefully and don’t argue it – and most of all, seek it out.
Go forth and follow your dreams!
Zombie: Thanks Psy, keep up the good work!!!
For those of you who have never heard of Rhythm & Hues Studios, check out their website and check back soon for more alumni interviews.