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Richard Lyons is a senior VFX artist at The Mill in New York City. Lyons has more than 20 years of experience in visual effects and has collaborated on projects with some of the industry’s top directors, including Adam Berg, Christoffer Von Reis, Sebastian Reed, Stylewar and Johan Renck. Lyons supervised and led the post-production on Adam Berg’s highly acclaimed 2009 Carousel spot for Philips, which won several international awards. Most recently, Lyons was recognized by the Autodesk Flame Awards as one the world’s best Flame artists. Prior to his time at The Mill, Lyons owned Redrum, a post-production facility in Stockholm, Sweden, and worked as a senior VFX artist at Stockholm-based studios Syndicate Entertainment and Visual Art. He has worked with clients such as BMW, Volvo, IKEA, Volkswagen and Svenska Spel.


CGI and Common Sense

How did you discover you wanted to be in this field? Computer graphics interested me from a very early age, when I was designing and creating small sprites for my own crappy little computer games. As I progressed through school, the film and television branch of computer graphics was very appealing, yet totally inaccessible (media studies didn’t exist at the time). My career advisor told me that it was extremely unlikely that I’d get a job in film, and that maybe I should set my sights on something a little more realistic. I think this challenge was a driving force in defining my choices.

How did you get your first job? My first proper job was actually an apprenticeship at Quantel, makers of the infamous Paintbox. I applied with a ton of other applicants, but after a few interviews and aptitude tests, I found myself starting their 3-year apprenticeship program. It turned out to be the springboard for my career.

What excites you about VFX right now? The pace at which the major software vendors are changing. It’s no longer a one-horse race, and it looks as if the vendors who want to stay in the race have finally understood that they need to listen to the needs of the artists, rather than just telling them the way it’s going to be.

What tools do you find indispensable for your work? My Wacom pen! And obviously Autodesk’s Flame is what makes my living. Alongside this I use a multitude of other programs: Photoshop, Illustrator, Syntheyes, Nuke, PTGui, and my handy old friend Blender, when I need some quick 3-D without going through the usual pipeline.

Any fantastic plug-ins/tools you recently found that you would recommend? I’ve been playing around with some of the “matchbox” stuff in Flame that the Logik users group keeps putting out on Facebook. It looks really fun, and if I get some time in the near future, I might just brush up my programming skills and have a go at a couple of shaders.

What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on how you create in the next few years? Cost is probably the major factor in the industry these days. The guys who are doing cost-effective solutions on cheaper hardware are going to be the ones who do well. What really excites me is that some of the big studios are releasing a lot of their technologies into the open-source arena, a market (if that’s the right word for it) that is expanding more and more.

Where do your best ideas come from? I’d like to say common sense. The main essence of our job is fixing things and solving problems, not just making things look pretty. This is usually about sitting down with a client, hearing them out and then taking time to try and find the solution as well as ways to enhance their ideas.

What is the most important skill you need to succeed in motion/VFX? I don’t think that there is one “most important skill” as such. What makes a successful artist is an amalgamation of a lot of things. Social and client skills, however, count for an awful lot. You could be the best, most technical artist, but if you can’t listen or convey things to your clients, you're not going to get very far.

How does living and working in New York differ from living and working in Europe? There are many parallels, but I think New York has a more aggressive work ethic. It really is dog-eat-dog and survival of the fittest.

If you could work on any project, what would it be, and why? Some kind of synergy between the CGI world and the stage. Whether it be theater or a concert, I’d really like to work on something that would be used live. Stage productions blow me away—they’re the most inspiring things I know.