It was Premiere and After Effects 3.1 that got Tim Clapham hooked on animation. When a friend set out on his own and started his own business, Tim decided to work with him as a freelancer. His first job was for Lego. Most people know Tim through helloluxx, where he shares his in-depth knowledge from his beta testing days, and luxx, the studio version of Tim Clapham serving a world-wide clientele.
(gentle music) (upbeat music) - Lovely work.
- Thank you. - So Tim, tell me a little bit about how you got started in the business. The business of most graphics, that is. - Well, I was pretty fortunate because when I grew up at home we had a dark room. My dad was always a king photographer, and then when I went to study art at school, when I went to uni, studied fine art but I ended up doing film, time-based media. So I introduced to animation then, and we're doing mostly stop-frame animation, short film, on a bowl-ex. This was 21, 22 years ago.
We had one Mac for the whole course. - (laughs) - And it was a Mac SE30, so it was like the Mac classic. And all the video that we did there was done on video tape, it was like three machine edit sweep. And when I left, someone showed me Premiere, and I was like "oh my goodness." Non-linear editing. - You could do that? - Yeah, and a friend of mine was working in London, he was at uni with me as well, he started working at Digital Arts, and he came down to my house and introduced me to After Effects, and it was After Effects 3.1.
And I was like hooked from then. So that's how I kind of started, and I was working in an Apple Center at the time, - Oh, uh huh. - Doing digital scanning and stuff, and there was a friend of mine who was one of our customers, and he decided to leave where he was working and start his own business. And he pulled in a job for LEGO, and we got five TVC's to do for LEGO, and I just started freelancing for him then. And that was the first time I started doing 3D and stuff. - Wow, so it was the very first job you had ever gotten paid for? - That was the first, yeah that was the first job that we did as a professional 3D company, yeah.
- And at the time, so you mentioned After Effects, what 3D package were you using? - It's funny actually, because for that we used Light Wave. - (laughs) Oh yeah. - On a Mac, and it was terrible. - It was, yeah. - It was crashy, yes. It was so crashy. And the funny thing is that we were using PhonoCut Pro 1 to cut the shots together, and at the time that was bundled with Cinema 4D Go, and then from then that's when I started using Cinema.
So that was like version five I think. - So the marketing guys will be happy to hear that. (laughing) Actually the bundle worked. They got one! - I think it was Paul Bab's idea to do that bundle actually. So yeah, it worked for me. I've been hooked ever since. I use a few other packages of course, like RealFlow, anything that compliments you, but that's definitely my main weapon of choice. - So how did you end up in Australia? Because you're based in Australia, most folks know you from the Hello Luxx, your training website, which is in Australia, but you don't have an Australian accent.
- No, I was actually born in Belfast, in Ireland. But then I grew up in the south of England, and then I met a girl... - (chuckles) That's how it starts. - The rest is history, and now we're married with two children, so... - That's wonderful. - Yeah, she's a lovely lady. I moved to Sydney, I think I flew over there three or four times that year. - That gets expensive. - It does, yeah. - Cheaper to just get married. - Yeah, so I just stayed there in the end. (laughing) - I've got two daughters and a wife, so I think that's more expensive.
- (laughing) Yeah! So you made the jump from England to Australia to get married, but did you go down there with work in hand, or did you start over from scratch? - Originally when I moved over there, I worked for a company called "Hyper." That's the company that we did the LEGO job, and it was a friend of mine that started it, I didn't start the company, and then there were two other directors that were a part of that company, and they decided they wanted out of the company, so we bought them out, and me and Mark became the two directors.
Originally when I moved to Australia we were gonna continue working with Hyper, but I think he was a bit jaded by the industry by then, he decided he just didn't wanna do it, he decided to close the company down, and he went off and became a painter. - Oh wow. - And making prints and stuff, which is pretty nice, nice creative job, so I carried on what I was doing and started Luxx. So that's how Luxx was born, and originally when I first moved to Sydney, didn't really have any clients, but through all the stuff that we'd done with Hyper, and we had a blog with quite a lot of free training tutorials and stuff, so I had a bit of a reputation which was good, and when I first started Luxx, I used to just freelance quite a bit for Sydney companies.
- So Luxx, just to kind of backtrack just a little bit, most people know "Hello Luxx," which is the website that you do your training and tutorials and your blog, and your community outreach through, but Luxx is the studio version of Tim Clapham. And so how do you maintain those two, and how are they separate and different, equal, not equal? - Yeah, well I suppose the way that it started was... It started when I was at Hyper, and I was really fortunate because I was part of the BETA testing team for Cinema and stuff, and it was just when they introduced thinking particles, when they developed mograph, and that's a massive benefit, and also, very lucky.
And because you get to see the tools, and you help developers with the tools as they're being made, you get it almost a year before it's released to the public, which is a blessing. The internet was more of a fledgling thing then, it wasn't such an integral part of every day life, and there wasn't that much training and knowlege out there, so I already had all this knowledge from learning with the developers, and I'm like "I'm juts gonna share "this, and give it out to the community." So that's how it really started, as a small blog. Just before I came to Australia I was approached with FX PhD, asked me to do some stuff for them, so I did, and then I decided to make some training for myself, and that's kind of how Hello Luxx was born.
I don't really manage that side of things very much, I create a lot of the content, but my wife, she is the main work horse for Hello Luxx, because I'm just so busy with production work, that she's kind of taken the reigns for that. - That's great though, you can work as a team like that. - Yeah it's good, yeah. - So do you find that the tutorial work competes with the studio stuff? I guess there's probably a tight rope that you're walking where you wanna maintain a presence on Hello Luxx, but you've also got the paying clients and things that are bringing in, I would imagine more money that way, through the production work.
- Yeah definitely, the production work is definitely my bread and butter, and the training is more of a side line. The thing with the training is that if there was ever any downtime in production work, then it fills a gap. So it's really useful for that. Like we just released the next particles training, and honestly I've been thinking I'm gonna do this since Christmas. - (laughs) - When do I find the time? And it's only because of the deadline of coming to Seagram and stuff, I'm like "have to do it, have to do it." You probably know in this industry, the hours are long.
Late nights. - Deadlines are a powerful thing though, do you find that you work better with a deadline? - I was gonna say I think it's good to have a deadline. Yeah, even if it's a self-initiated project, otherwise you can procrastinate forever, can't you? I think sometimes, I don't know what it is in this industry, but people always leave things to the last minute. It's like "oh yeah, we just wanna shoot this TV scene "for this huge company, multinational global company, "but we've only got a week to do it." It's like, "guys, you should have realized six months "ago when they approached you that you're gonna "need some 3D in that." But it happens time and time again, and that's just the nature of the beast I think.
- It really is, people leave that. So do you find that, and actually kind of getting back to the Australia line, do you find that most of your clients are coming from the continent there, or are you getting stuff outside, because of your... Tim Clapham is a very big name in the motion graphics world, I knew about you long before I started doing tutorials myself, and there's a certain amount of notoriety that comes around and that actually can spread your name for work that way.
So do you find yourself getting work mostly from the continent or from Europe, all over the world? - Everywhere, just all over the world really, yeah. I've been really fortunate to work with people like Discovery Network in Europe, with studios like Tendril, in Toronoto, done work for Singapore HBO, and obviously some of the local broadcasts and things in Australia. So it's really nice, you get to meet a lot of... Not necessarily meet physically, but the thing with Luxx is that I get projects on my own, and I've put in a few freelances, as and when I need them.
Other times, maybe I'll be working with a different studio, so I might be working with Patrick Claire at Antibody, or with Chris from Tendril, or with Ash Bolland on the American stuff. And you get to meet all these different creatives, and brainstorm with them, and it's really nice because it keeps it fresh for you, rather than if you're working on your own all the time it's easy to stagnate. - Yes, yes, yes. - It's definitely a good thing. - So the internet, when you first got started with Hello Luxx, you mentioned was a fledgling thing, so now it's become and integral part of really who you are and how you're getting work and communicating.
- Of course yeah, when we first started and we were working with agencies in London, we did quite a lot of work for Finish dish washer tablets and stuff like that, and some British companies. But it was always every meeting we'd be up in London. We'd deliver all the jobs on Digibeater. And my even review process would be like that. Now we can do a job and I'll never meet a client, it's just all done via email and digital delivery. Everything is done over the internet now, it's absolutely so integral to business.
- Yeah, do you find that in terms of working with freelancers, when you're pulling them in, are you bringing them physically in house, or are you paying that part of it forward, and working with people that are remote as well? - I think it really depends on the role of the freelancer, because one of the things, when we originally had Hyper we had seven staff at one point, but now Luxx is mostly just me, and I pull in special creatives who have a talent. So if I need a modeler or a storyboard artist or something like that, and you can get someone who excels at the one thing.
And I think that's almost a better approach, because you just find the right people for the job, rather than having a whole bunch of generalists. So if I've got some modeling that I need to do, I don't really mind where in the wolrd they are. It depends, if it's more of an art direction kind of role, then sometimes it's beneficial to have them in the studio with you so you can bounce ideas around, you can look over their shoulder and work together on it, but if they're just modeling a car or they're modeling a creature or something like that, it's irrelevant where they are.
You send them the reference and you send them the model. And I've got some great guys in Europe that I use for modeling, and they're very cost effective as well. - Yeah, that's gotta be a big deal. The cost of actually operating a studio and owning a studio and the overhead that goes along with that, is something that's pulling down a lot of the traditional big motion graphics houses that have... and the effects work. So do you find that at any point that not having a studio, not having a presence like that has been a limiting factor, or has it freed you up creatively? - I think from the old days where we had a lot of staff and we had a fairly big studio and a lot of equipment and things like that, it was tough when times when work was dry and we had to let a few people go.
Now I think it's much more flexible using freelancers. I do tend to turn away a lot more work than I'd like to, but then I just work such long hours already, and the thing is with having a lot of staff, you can end up just being manager. And I'd really like to be really hands on on all the jobs. So yeah, I mean I have a studio but my studio is in the loft of my house. I've got 12 machines up there, there's enough room for a few desks. So if we need people, then they can come and work there. - That's good.
Do you find yourself having to wear too many hats there working by yourself? That's the other danger of being a one person shop, is that you end up spreading yourself too thin. - Yeah, that's very true. It really depends on the project as well. But a lot of the projects that I get, they'll be a network broadcaster, and they'll have their own creative directors and creative team, and they'll just need me for, very often it will be they'll pitch the work to me that I've done on some boards, or they have done, so my role would really just be the 3D and the composite side of things.
- Mhm, mhm. - But yeah, I mean it is as a one man band I suppose you could say, it would be pretty limiting or pretty tricky to try and excel at being a director and doing the audio and doing the texture and the lighting and everything. You can't be that good at all of it, I think that's why you can pull in talent when you need it. - Do you consider yourself to be a generalist or are you... You know your title at Luxx is "owner, creative director." How do you introduce yourself? - I say director of Luxx.
But whether that's a creative director or technical director or both, I'm definitely a generalist. I have certain skills that I'm better at like particle systems, simulation, cloth fluids, dynamics, that kind of thing. I'm not the greatest designer in the world. If I need design done, I'll get people that just excel at creating artwork. I just think that you end up with a better result if you do that. - Is there anything that you really wish that you could have the time to get better at? - (laughs) Probably a lot of things.
- There's always something. That was one of the things I always found troubling was that you spend so much time being a jack of a lot of different trades, that I always wanted to be, sculpting was something I always wanted to get really into, and I just never have the time to do that. - Yeah, I mean to be honest it's always really hard trying to keep up with new technology. Then you kind of have to think of it as just a paintbrush really, or it's just an art box. If you approach a job thinking "oh I'm gonna "do it in 3D," I think that's probably the wrong way of doing it.
Although most of my stuff is. Also, my background is traditional animation, stop-frame, maybe I'd do it as a series of drawings, or maybe I'd do it all in After Effects as some vector work. It really depends. I wish I could do a lot more live action to be honest, but then obviously there's the big overhead of getting a production team and crew, and whenever I do work, which is with live action, I'm normally there was like the visual effects supervisor, and the 3D guy.
And it would normally be some other studio that would be producing the actual piece. - Yeah, yeah. That's one of the things that's been I think the biggest and best change technologically, is the access to really good cameras. And when I first started teaching at the Art Center, the students were being asked to be multimedia people, but even back then even Art Center didn't have enough cameras to go around for people. And they couldn't get the time they needed behind the lens to really get even mediocre at the craft.
And now that everybody has access to that kind of camera technology, have you thought about incorporating more of that in just yourself, going out and shooting things and experimenting? - Yeah, I would like to have more time to do personal projects, but generally, I'm just so busy with commercial jobs and then with family, and the tutorial side of things. Although I have this wish to create more personal work, just finding the time is not easy, it really isn't. - That kind of begs the question, do you feel ever like you're falling behind or that you need to, that there's some mythical thing that you're chasing that you can't keep up with, other than father time? - (chuckling) Yeah, I don't know.
I don't think so, I think when I first started out I'd spend a lot more time learning, I wish I had more time to learn new software, new technology, that is one of the nice things about doing the BETA testing. I'd BETA test for X-Particles, and for Adobe and for Maxum, so that forces you to learn the new tools because if you're not an efficient BETA tester they're gonna boot you off anyway. So I know it's a bit risky, but I tend to use BETAs for all my production work. - (laughs) - Yeah, it has bit me a couple of times.
When they first brought out Dynamics with R12, and like the developer was away for one week and I was doing this gig, and I got dodgy. There was a spelling mistake in that code somewhere. That week I was thinking "oh my God, "how am I ever gonna get this done?" But the great thing is that you have this relationship with your developers, and email to them and then bang, he just like recompiled, fixed that problem, and everything was sweet. I was like "phew." (laughing) - That is a bold move to actually try and use that for production, because that's one of those things they tell you right off the bat, "do not use this for production." - No, but the thing is I don't have any time and I wouldn't learn any of the new features, and I think that probably the best way to learn new features is to use them inproduction.
The most recent job that I did, actually did it all with the Video A3 BETA, and I've never really used, I've used Video A very slightly, but I was like "well that's gonna be a good way to learn the software." So that's what I did, and it was a bit of a challenge. - So is that the active piece that you had? Do you have it with you, we can take a look at it. - Yeah, sure.
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