Meet The Crew - Ryan Nichols

'Meet The Crew' is a new interview series where we introduce you to the personalities behind The Great Wanderer Studios. Today we interview our studio manager, Ryan Nichols.


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Nana:

Hi Ryan! For context, can you tell us a little about your role at The Great Wanderer Studios?


Ryan:

I wear a lot of hats at The Great Wanderer Studios. I spend about half my time managing the business side of our studio and the other half keeping busy as a creative generalist & designer. On the business end, I work to ensure the smooth operation of all our different departments. I also act as a client-facing representative for our studio and typically the first point of contact for new clients. On the creative side, among other things I work on concepting, copywriting, graphic design, and 3D for both internal projects and client-facing work. At the overlap of my business and creative roles, I got to play a major role in our 2020 rebrand and new website. Both on the business side and the creative side, I am a proud card-carrying generalist. I get to do a little bit of everything to help things come together behind the scenes. I like to say I am a professional enabler for [our founder] Josh. He has a vision and it is partially my job to make it to reality.



N:

I know you have a keen interest in the latest technology. Is there a type of technology that you are very much excited about?


R:

How much time do you have? Two areas that are particularly exciting for me at the moment are artificial intelligence and real-time rendering. Artificial intelligence [AI] and machine learning are slowly starting to affect a lot of different steps in our pre-production and production pipelines. We use state-of-the-art AI tools to complete narrow tasks like generating 3D models from images, capturing motion data from video sources, or interpolating frame motion & enhancing animation resolutions. We also use custom AI tools for creative tasks like character look development and texture generation. Real-time rendering is exciting because tools like Unreal Engine open up a world of possibility and different applications for us as 3D creators. Advances in real-time rendering have pushed forward emerging fields like virtual reality [VR] and virtual production, both of which are areas our studio will be exploring more and more in the coming months and years.



N:

Could you elaborate on the difference between real-time rendering and normal rendering?


R:

Traditionally, when we produce 3D animation, we build models, add textures, light things - there is a whole production pipeline that is not unlike a traditional film set. But when it comes time to output the individual frames that will become the animation, we click a button and have to wait for frames to be produced. That can often take some time because we are dealing with light simulations and physics - all of which are computationally quite expensive. Sometimes to render out a single frame can take hours or even days. That can be terribly prohibitive. Real-time rendering is where the same types of 3D graphics are rendered in real-time. Instead of a computer taking hours or days to create images, it happens in microseconds, so animations can be rendered at the same speed they are watched, or 'real-time'. In a popular context, most people have seen this technology at work in video games. Traditionally, real-time graphics have not been of the same quality as their slower counterpart, but because of advances in both hardware and software, real-time engines can produce images these days that are often every bit as compelling and convincing as the slower renders. The team at Epic Games is constantly pushing the envelope with their industry-leading Unreal Engine. At The Great Wanderer Studios one exciting project we are developing right now is Lazerkid [working title] which is an episodic science-fiction series. With the advances of real-time rendering, not only can we produce the series at a fraction of the cost and time we could otherwise, but we can also create immersive experiences similar to games or virtual reality environments that fans and viewers can interact with.



N: The studio has grown a great deal this last year. Are there any new services or fields you are looking forward to exploring in 2021?


R:

In terms of new services, I am excited about our newly minted architectural division because even though we were doing a lot of our architectural work before, we now have the infrastructure and dedicated team necessary for us to take on bigger and better projects. Aside from that, we have some exciting work on the horizon that involves new partnerships and our explorations into cutting-edge VR and AR. I can’t say too much yet, but we can’t wait to share what we have been working on and 2021 already is poised to be a busy year.



N:

In regards to commission work, do you have a dream client?


R:

I think a lot of people in our industry want to work with the biggest brands and highest-profile clients. Of course, we would love to get to flex our muscle on a shoe commercial for a brand like Nike or Adidas, or produce a full campaign for a top tier car company, but at the end of the day my personal dream clients are not these big brands, but smaller and emerging brands that are not afraid to put their trust in us and let us make some bold creative choices for them. I think a lot of brands are very conservative by design. I’ve heard it said that good branding is the perfect mix of blending in and sticking out, but I find a lot of the time our customers' focus when we begin is more on the 'blending in' half of that equation. They want to do things that have already been done and proven successful in the world. It is really exciting when instead we get a client who puts their trust in us and is not afraid to take some chances because they believe in what we do because they have seen what we are capable of. They let us do things that are different, driven by new technologies, or even experimental by many measures. That’s really the type of client that I would love to go after, not the big unicorn brands but the emerging brands that trust in our abilities and aren’t afraid to be bold or different.



N:

How has the Covid-19 lockdown affected the studio? Have there been ups and downs?


R:

As a team, we work well remotely, and even before lockdown much of our work was done this way because it allows us to work efficiently and cost-effectively. Even if we're in one office we are often buried in our own workstations 90% of the time. On the positive end of things, the lockdown has really accelerated a shift towards 3D animation, which is a socially distanced and safe alternative to traditional production. There were a lot of brands and agencies that were hit very hard because they relied on traditional photography and film to produce their media. Out of necessity a lot of these clients had to scramble to find new ways to produce content and we were perfectly positioned to be able to help our partners in that regard. In a lot of different ways, the lockdown has moved a bunch of sectors into a virtual space and that's a space that we were already comfortably operating in as a studio. It has been really exciting because we've had a lot of opportunities come our way. A lot of the same clients have realized that there is so much benefit to using 3D animation for a good portion of their production pipeline that even as things re-normalize a lot of our clients plan to continue using the 3D animation in place of traditional video and photography.



N:

What kind of advice would you give aspiring 3D artists that want to make their breakthrough in this industry?


R:

Number one, create something every day. It might sound obvious, but the more you make, the better you will get. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Put yourself out there. Not everything you make will be great, but if you show up every day and you do the work, you will get better and greatness will follow. It doesn't need to be for a client either. A lot of the best work comes from passion projects & experimentation. Another thing I would recommend is for people to get outside their bubble and to work in a collaborative environment. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. It is really easy to stay in the bubble when you can sit at your computer and make whatever you want, but a lot of value comes from working with a team and being exposed to different ideas, techniques, and personalities. Sometimes my team is receptive to my ideas, but sometimes they have different ideas and opinions which challenge me, forcing me to go to bat for my creative choices and defend them on their merits. This helps me learn to better edit myself and anticipate criticism. And sometimes, someone else genuinely has the better idea and I get to sit back and learn from their brilliance.


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