Introducing: Adam Swaab
Adam Swaab is a Director and VFX artist based in Los Angeles. His work spans the mediums of film, television, and web. He is currently a Creative Director at Wolf & Crow. You can check out his work here: adamswaab.com
Houdini, Cinema 4D, Nuke, After Effects
Please, tell us a little about yourself Adam, do you freelance or run your own studio? What are your main philosophies and objectives?
Since 2013 I have been a Creative Director at Wolf & Crow. We’ve only been around a few years, but we’ve been able to produce some great work with a very diverse range of clients. I always approach my work with one objective – to put a great, highly polished piece on the screen. I go out of my way to take on difficult technical challenges and push into new territories with every spot.
What was the very first project that you worked on? What project are you most proud of?
My very first piece was a small looping graphic for the Radio Music Awards way back in 2000… I think I did a loop of a radio wave beating (and that probably took me two days to do!). As for what I am most proud of, probably two projects. I think the work I did, and we did as a graphics team at Digital Domain, on Tron is a career milestone. It was amazing to be part of that crew (Gmunk, Jake Sargeant, David Lewandowski, et. all), and I think the work we did really helped fill out the world of the film. On a personal level, shooting a commercial with the FC Barcelona soccer team, was a great opportunity, and was a project I was extremely happy to direct. It was a fantastic learning experience to handle a project of that size and scope, with that level of talent, and manage to pull it off.
Can you please tell us more about the project that you are most proud of, what were the challenges experienced and lessons learned throughout the project?
For Tron, we were given an incredible amount of leeway from Director Joe Kosinksy. We were a small little team, operating in a bubble inside of DD without a lot of oversite or layers of approval. We answered directly to DD’s CG Supervisor Eric Barba and Joe Kosinsky, so our ideas were never filtered through a third party. Joe Kosinsky comes from a graphics background, and he has a great visual sense and understanding of our work. It was amazing to work for him.
The FC Barcelona commercial had some unusual technical challenges. We had to instance thousands of objects onto particles systems derived from 3D rotomations of the soccer players, and each of these objects had to pass the diffuse color information from the players into the shaders of the particle objects. Because of the huge amount of geometry being instanced, we also had to create a system that would generate the geometry at render time, for maximum efficiency. We built a few custom tools in Houdini to allow us to do this, and it worked fantastically. Sharing these tools as assets with the fx team allowed us to easily version objects, shaders, etc. and keep the production moving forward any time a change was required.
How do you and / or your team approach its motion graphics and 3D animation work?
I really have one philosophy here – hire the right people for the job. We try very hard, not to just fill out job roles for a project, but to put the right people in those roles. We look for people who want to push to make the best product they can, not just press the buttons they’re told to press. We tend to have one or two really good generalists on a job and then put experienced people in departmental leadership positions, with junior artists executing their setups and finessing shots. I personally do a lot of my design work in 3D and set up comps in Nuke or After Effects, instead of Photoshop. I will even set up cameras and animation, and just render keyframes as boards to present to the client. This makes it very easy to start production once the boards are approved, since you’re not wasting time figuring out how to animate and recreate a designer’s collaged and heavily manipulated photoshop frames. It then becomes about finessing what you’ve started and pushing everything to a better level.
What tools/software do you mainly use? Why is that?
I have used just about every 3D application out there. About four years ago I tried Houdini, and I was hooked. It is an incredibly deep and complex program, but one where there are no limits. You can literally take it apart and build it back up to do anything you can think of. I love the procedural nature of it. I do a lot of commercial work, with tight turnarounds, and to be able to easily accommodate changes, and watch my systems respond to those changes without having to rebuild my entire files, is incredibly rewarding. It has gotten me out of some pretty tight spots and allowed me to make deadlines that would have been impossible to meet with another application.
What are the main challenges involved in running your business?
At this state in the industry, everything is about doing more for less. This is a constant struggle, keeping the quality high, while dealing the budget and time restrictions associated with typical commercial projects.
What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
More live action directing work! That has always been my goal, and it has been really exciting to get some live-action opportunities over the last couple years. I am trying to keep moving forward with my directorial endeavours, tackling larger and larger projects. The goal is to direct a feature film within the next five years.
Other Portfolio Highlights:
Nike Vapor Commercial (Director, Wolf & Crow, 2014)
Battleship (Motion Graphics Artist, Prologue), 2012