Meet the Speakers 2020: Simon Baker

Meet the Speakers 2020: Simon Baker
January 18, 2020 CG Futures

MEET THE SPEAKERS 2020: SIMON BAKER

Simon Baker is a 10 year VFX veteren of both the film and game industries. Having had the privilege to work at both Weta Digital and Weta Workshop on a range of incredible projects, Simon has consistently steered his career towards his evolving passions. Simon is a Senior VFX Artist with Weta Workshop’s Gameshop team, and when he is not making mixed reality magic at work, he can be found doing much of the same at his home in Wellington, New Zealand with his wife, and 3 year old son Charlie.

Q: Can you briefly walk me through your story – how did you get your start in the industry? What’s your current role like?

A: I ended up at art school in Dunedin studying photography when I was nineteen after having studied it passionately throughout high school. However, I was most drawn to digital media and cg, which became my focus before the end of my time at Art School.

In 2009, armed with a not so great demo reel from the odd freelance jobs I had picked up in the few months since finishing my degree, I applied for a position at Weta Digital. I had heard they were hiring for a small James Cameron movie called Avatar, and I managed to secure a position in their “Assistant Technical Director” program- where they basically hired as many recent grads from the country that they could. On Avatar, I quickly ended up working in the effects department, and loved it so much that I never left.

After a few years of working on movies, my true passion, games, started to create an itch in my mind. I started to throw myself completely into learning game development in my spare time. It was also during this period that VR tech was just starting to come online. I had gotten my hands on the developer kit for the Oculus Rift, as well as many other VR related hardware. Most of the game development I was exploring was targeting VR.

In 2015, I heard about a new developing team within Weta Workshop that was doing an AR related project. I got in contact with the Creative Director, Greg Broadmore, and showed him all of the game development work I had been doing in my spare time- including a demo I created with some friends specifically to resemble Greg’s work and our naive assumptions about what their project was.

After working on 18 film projects over six years at Weta Digital, I was hired as a Technical Artist on Weta Workshops Gameshop Team. Initially the intent was not for me to specifically do effects, but rather find areas that I wanted to work in, as a lot of my development work had been very general. However, once seeing the technology we were working with- and my prior experience with effects- I couldn’t not do effects in this new medium.

I was given the role of Senior VFX Artist and allowed to expand the team. Currently the vfx team is two, myself and Syros Pourlatifi, and we also lean very heavily on the work of our graphics programmer, James Brown.

All of the work we do now is very experimental and exciting. We have a lot of freedom to drive the vfx team in a direction that we want, to achieve the creative goals of the team.

Q: Tell us about your work. What are you most proud of?

A: When I was working in film, the specific aspect I enjoyed the most about effects- and which I was most proficient at- was destruction simulations. I also handled a very large amount of tree& plant simulations and destruction, as well as a lot of particle and rigid body simulations.

My work in real-time, has been focused on particles and shaders, as well as large amounts of integration support and tool building etc.

Among my proudest work, are the simplest particle simulations, where people cannot figure out how something was made, assuming a great amount of complexity was involved.

Q: Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?

A: We have had a very unique experience in our studio, as we were building our first game alongside the development of the technology (Magic Leap). As we were building towards a target hardware- that until late in development was in flux- we had to be very adaptable with our systems and design. This proved to be a huge challenge for every department within our team. However, now that the hardware has been released and our first game complete, our entire team has a very intimate knowledge of the hardware and that part of development, which is invaluable going forward as a team.

Q: What is your biggest source of inspiration?

A: Daily I will absorb myself in the ‘Realtime VFX’ forum and Discord, as well as peruse posts from amazing artists on Twitter. I am inspired easily and enjoy finding technical solutions to problems I may have faced in the past or had been thinking about.

Q: Any words final words of advice?

A: People often forget that a job interview is how the applicant and the interviewers can get a feel for if they want to work together. Being too formal or reserved often makes it hard to get a sense of who you are. Mistakes that I see too often, are people who have not researched the role or the company enough (or at all) and are relying on their credentials or experience to carry them through the process. Tailoring your portfolio and application is key to showing that you are interested in the role and the team.

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