Liquid Lizard Dave Ashby tell us about his career path as a 3D character animation and motion graphics artist.
We interviewed UK based 3D animation and motion graphics artist Dave Ashby who goes by the name of liquid lizard. Well, who wouldn’t love some high quality amazing augmented reality experiences?! Recently we came across his Instagram profile where he has a good 35,000+ following and some really amazing 3D animations! Even though our magazine is focused on augmented and virtual reality, what caught our eye is the very high quality work he does which is just like the augmented reality of our dreams. He adds some really cool 3D character animation to real life videos. For the upcoming 3D character animation and motion graphics artists, we decided to interview him about his work and process. We are sure you will find some inspiration!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career path? How did you get interested in augmented reality? Where do you get your incredible ideas from?
My name is Dave Ashby and I’m a freelance 3D artist from Bristol in England. I’ve been in the design professional industry for about 20 years now and moved primarily into 3D about 7 years ago. My career started in print design as a graphic designer and over the years I moved into web design and then motion graphics as my goals and my working life changed.
I always had plans to learn 3D for my personal artwork, but finding the right program for your to work with is half the battle. I use Cinema4d to create most of my work, but I actually tried to learn it about 10 years ago but I couldn’t quite get my head around it back then.
Most people who have seen my work, will most likely know me for my 3D dragon characters and my real life Pokemon short animations from social media. However, that’s not usually the type of 3D work I do in my paid job. Most of the time, I’m creating prototype product videos and advertising campaigns in the marketing industry rather than character animation. My day to day tasks are quite varied, but I’d say character design and animation isn’t very common outside of my social media projects. I think this is down to the fact that creating a character for your brand is a tricky task, as that persona then becomes your brand, so you need to get it right. Plus, character modelling and animation (i think), is the most complex side of the 3D industry.
As for where I get my ideas for my 3D posts, I get influenced by the current time of the year, or what’s popular right now. A holiday like Christmas or Halloween naturally gives you some options for fun ideas, or maybe there’s a new game or movie out that people want to see more of. That’s always a good base to come up with ideas but sometimes a simple conversation with a friend sparks a fun idea. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if this character did that?’… If it’s interesting or fun, I’ll most likely give it a try, because I simply enjoy playing around with 3D tools and trying to see if I can pull off a tricky effect or animation.
How I got into augmented reality work, was actually very organic. Like I said, I go where the industry and my followers have the most interest. I was making fully 3D short animations for my two 3D dragon characters Razor and Lynks and I had some ideas around putting them in my actual life rest for a laugh. Treating them like pets. Over time, I noticed the AR related posts got more likes than the full 3D posts, so I made more and more. And then I wanted to try out of character ideas rather than using my dragons forever and pop culture characters started being another focus for me.
In these amazing 3D characters and videos that you create, even though not technically but in spirit you are creating augmented reality. Tell us about your process, how do you go on about doing it?
Once I have an idea, I just need a video to work with, however I may not have the right location or props for the task. So I would often ask friends to send me a video and describe what I was after. Once I have the video, I go through a check list to prepare the footage for 3D. If the camera is on a tripod, then it’s ready to use, but the best animations use a freely moving camera, which helps to sell the realism. But that means the footage needs to be tracked in 3D space, so a character can be put into the scene. No doubt you’ve seen this in real time, within some sort of AR app or face filter, where the AI of the program tracks a fixed point and attaches something 3D to it.
Getting good footage is the majority of what creates a good animation. Having several clear high contrast points of interest that the computer can follow, is the best way to sell the realism of a scene. Once the footage is tracked, then it’s time to animate the character through the scene. Obviously, the character would need to be setup with all it’s textures and bone structure with animation controls, to be able to be animated, which I a big task on it’s own. A lot of the characters I use are 3D game models that are practically ready to use and freely available online to download. I normally spend time improving the textures and adding my own controls before moving on to the animation phase.
Then I animate the character through the scene, making sure it interacts with any actors or props to really sell the realism and also to draw a distinction away from typical AR techniques. Any one can use a dancing 3D AR character from a pre-recorded app, but you won’t see many that actually look at you or shake your hand.
Once animated, I then sort out the lights in the scene to match the footage (a spot light, or sunlight, the direction, colour etc.) and setup any render passes needed for the editing phase. These passes help to crop out the character from the background or isolate an effect for colour correction later. Then we press render and leave the computer (usually over night), to export all the frames made up of hundreads of single PNG files which can take around 5-8hrs to export.
Finally (if everything exported well), I open Adobe Aftereffects to composite all the files together and over lay them onto the footage. Those passes from earlier help to colour correct individual parts of the scenes and balence out the colouring so that the 3D footage and renders all have the same colour space to create the illusion that it’s the same shot. I might then add some sound effects (from royalty free sites) and we’re done.
You are currently freelancing and working on interesting projects. What has been your most interesting project till date and why? Also, Razor and Lynks are the two very interesting and visually appealing characters you created. Will request you to tell our readers more about it?
As mentioned earlier, I rarely work on AR characters in my day to day job, however there was a large well-known tech company I worked with on multiple real-life advertisements that required overlaying 3D tech animations over real footage. I can’t say who because of NDA (non-disclosure agreements), but I guarantee you would have seen them on TV and it’s definitely the best work i’ve done in my career to date.
If I had to select my favourite posts from my social media posts, I think my recent video where I had a new dragon (Cynda), hatch after several teaser posts with all three dragons and myself were featured on screen together. The difficulty of this setup and the fact I get to share the space with three of my own characters makes it a special one for me. Not to get too technical, but the difficulty (other than filming it myself), is that Razor and Lynks are setup under a different render engine than Cynda, so I had to do two exports and composite all the parts into one. R+L are setup in the standard C4D engine, where as Cynda is setup in a GPU renderer called Octane. Most of my newer posts are all Octane and R+L are overdue for a redesign.
Where do you see augmented reality as a technology in future? How in your opinion 3D artists and designers can benefit from it?
For a time, I was worried that my posts would become obsolete as technology advances in AR and my pre-rendered posts end up looking as good as real-time apps. However, there’s something special about having a bespoke animation and you can interect with, touch or play with, that the AR industry will forever have limitations with. Yes the quality of the engine will improve and there’s some clever things you can do with code to interact with it, but remember that someone will need to setup, animation and code any animation in AR, which takes a lot of time and expertise to pull off.
I enjoy the speed at which I can create my content and I have made some AR instagram filters using SparkAR. I sometimes find I spend more time working on a filter then my pre-rendered posts as there’s a lot of unforeseen bugs to fix when working in real-time. That said, real-time AR is a powerful tool with lots of serious and fun applications for all. It’s difficult to say where it may end up out side of simple face filters, but personally I’d like to see AR used more in the games industry. PokemonGo is a good example of a basic AR technique used in a fun way. I even have some ideas on my list to create a score-based AR game within an Instagram face filter for example.
Overall, I think the unique selling point of AR, is interaction. If you can have an emotional connection with something fantastical and impossible in the real world, you’ve got something special.