5 Minutes With... CG Supervisor Craig Tonks


5 Minutes With... CG Supervisor Craig Tonks

5 November 2021

From procedural modelling to bloodthirsty turtles, we take a quick trip into the mind of CG Supervisor and FX Specialist, Craig Tonks

Can you give us an overview of how you got into this role?

I’ve been very fortunate to work on varied projects in the past that blur the lines between many different VFX disciplines. This has given me a very unique view on how we can approach projects; much like a mad scientist.

Primarily I come from an FX background but rather than explosions and destruction I was involved in a whole mix of tasks including Environments (Interstellar), Animation and Crowds (Cure for Wellness) and Procedural Modelling (Terminator Genisys). That odd background and some lucky timing meant I could start looking at all CG areas of a production and not just FX.

Did you always aspire to work in the VFX industry?

Not for a long time! I’ve always pursued things I enjoy and pivoted away from things I have no passion for, as I think that passion is the key to being successful at anything. I was doing physics and chemistry at A-Levels but couldn’t enjoy it, so moved to a multimedia course at a nearby college. This led to a university course that let me try all sorts of things out such as photography, design for print, animation etc.

Finally, I started looking at a career in VFX and enrolled on the prestigious MA Digital Effects course at Bournemouth Uni, only a short trip away from the office.

In your opinion, what qualities do you need to be a CG Supervisor?

The role is all about people, so good communication is essential. Making the magic we do involves tonnes of complexity and ambiguity at every step and my job is to clear away the fog, which could be helping a junior artist with a software issue or helping a client understand how we can achieve their vision. A team that’s happy and clear on their tasks is the ideal situation!

What is it like to work at Outpost as a CG Supervisor?

Outpost is an ideal size company for this role! The projects continue to vary from grounded and realistic work like city environments to far more fantastical challenges. The scope of work also means that I can be very hands-on and flex my creative skills with one project then delegate all the work to an extremely talented team on the next one.

Can you talk us through some of the highlights of your career?

People get bored of me mentioning Interstellar, but to work on such an impressive Nolan movie and receive an Oscar, Bafta and VES Award for the work has set a high bar. I have no idea how you surpass that, but I hope to find out!

And what about the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

I think the greatest ongoing challenge for me, and I suspect most artists, is a mental one. The work we do is both extremely personal to us yet also a service that only clients have the final say on, so it’s important to find balance and an ability to let things go.

Other unhelpful thoughts include: Am I even good at my job? Are my software skills becoming irrelevant? Why am I stuck on this terrible film?

It’s more important than ever you find a company that supports their team’s mental health like Outpost does.

You specialise in FX – how do you find references / inspiration for that kind of work?

If you keep your eyes open, there’s creative reference and inspiration everywhere! I love photography and my signature move is to be amidst a very photographic environment, say a forest, and be found contorted on the ground trying to photograph some moss because it “caught my eye”.

At FMX you described a crowd simulation as being like a Caravaggio painting – do you see value in studying the old masters if you want to work in VFX in 2021?

Knowledge is everything! I say learn as much as you can about as much as you can, and art history in particular is a great area to have some knowledge of. Remember too that no-one knows everything though, you don’t have to have seen every painting and name every painter that ever existed. Just follow what interests you and keep your eyes open for new things.

What excites you most about FX as a discipline?

FX is so tremendously varied and interesting. And it tends to be a catch-all phrase for a much larger area of production, so whilst you think it’s just Fire and Destruction it can involve tight integration into far more areas like Environments, Creatures, Vehicles etc.

I see it more as being a problem solver; the get out of jail free cards when other departments reach their limits.

Where do you see FX and procedural techniques going in the future?

I think we are going to be following much of the industry into AI and Realtime tools. We can already achieve extremely high realism which will continue to improve, but I expect the emphasis to be on how fast and efficiently they can be generated.

Do you have any advice to give artists looking to get into FX?

Creativity and control is the key. Remember that anyone can use pre-made tools and render settings to make a nice image, but the challenge is controlling what you make to hit the requests of a client note. Consider the Source / Speed / Size / Timing of what you’re making – could you adjust it if you had to?

Finally, some quickfire questions:

What’s the one thing you always keep on your desk?

A 3D-Printed Houdini pig’s head and a Lightbulb full of sand.

You can eat one thing for the rest of your life – what is it?

It’s hard to look past bacon.

What would be your superpower?

The ability to achieve a lot whilst seeming to do nothing.

You’ve got a couple of hours to kill – what do you watch?

Monty Python – Meaning of Life

What are you currently learning?

Recently started a book on Ancient Egyptian Magic!

Any pets?

I have 4 turtles, one of which (Smeagol) wants me dead and has a taste for flesh.

Favourite way to relax?

Video games and easy to watch tv. I mean one could argue murder documentaries and autopsy shows aren’t “easy to watch tv” but there we go.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Oh, that’s tough. Being just around Halloween I’m gonna say “Witch City” Salem.

What irritates you?

Foil food containers with those crimped corners. Lethal. Rip my finger open every time. I have to use a fork to peel them over now.

Guilty pleasures?

I wholeheartedly endorse all my pleasures.

Favourite song?

That’s far too tough but here’s 3 most played recently

Hell on Earth – Iron Maiden

Mary on A Cross – Ghost

Demons Are a Girl’s Best Friend - Powerwolf

Last present you bought yourself?

The game House of Ashes on Xbox! Huge fan of the Dark Pictures Anthology.

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