Why CGI?

Recently we did a blog post about how our photographers got into photography and ended up here at TRG, and we got such an overwhelmingly positive response from our readers that we decided to do it all again.

CGI is a relatively more uncommon profession and skill-set in comparison to photography so I thought it would be extremely interesting to learn about how our own CGI artists ended up on a path that would lead them to choose CGI for their careers and how they ended up at TRG.


I sort of got into CGI when I was in early high school.  I was a pretty nerdy kid and I liked video games quite a bit (shocker, right?)  My brother encouraged me to try out a software called “Milkshape 3D” an early freeware modeling program used for making “mods” for the video game Halflife.  It did not really stick, probably because it was hard.  Fast forward to college. 

I took an intro to 3D modeling class (I think because it was required) and I ended up really enjoyingit. Thus my interest was piqued.  Again at the encouragement of my big brother I signed up to be a student volunteer at the annual computer graphics conference, SIGGRAPH.  The conference blew me away.  It is probably the most important event in my professional life.  I have pretty much spent every waking moment thinking about CGI since then.  A few months after I graduated from The Cleveland Institute of Art, I heard back from TRG (I had tossed in an application when I was still in school) that they needed a freelancer.  I was pretty excited about hearing from them, because I thought they (we, now) did the best work around.  I was actually on vacation at the time and I spent the mornings working on their CGI test.  Apparently they liked it because I got the job and here we are now!


I have always liked art, design, engineering and graphics and was always drawing and creating as a kid.  Legos were and still are my favorite toy.  In high school I took every art class available and in senior year more than half my day was in the art wing.  I than went to art school and studied industrial design because it was a perfect combination of design and engineering.  It was there that I was introduced to 3d programs.  I really enjoyed them and excelled in them because I understood 3d space and how things need to go together from multiple angles (the lego experience helped with this).  I than kept using 3d for industrial design projects and started using the rendering portion of the programs and because of my art training was able to get some really great results.  I continued using 3d as one of my many tools for personal and professional applications and have continued that until today.


I was initially drawn to CGI due to the fact that it was a mashup of two hobbies I had long been into.  Computer technology and fine art.  Working in 3D was something I slowly taught myself with tutorials found on the web and trial versions of software after high school. I had figured 3d would remain just that, a hobby while I pursued other options for a career.  Once I started college at Cuyahoga Community College I noticed there was a class offered in CGI.  I of course jumped on the chance to learn a little more about my hobby in a classroom environment.  Due to the lack of classes however I continued to work through a degree in visual communication, fine arts and information technology when one of my digital imaging instructors suggested I apply to be a retouching freelancer for TRG who he was currently a client of. On my interview I came in and was shocked to see none other than the program I had been learning (Newtek's Lightwave) running on many of the computers as I was shown around the studio.  I mentioned to the CGI manager at the time (Marty Horvath) that i had some 3D experience and went on with my retouching freelance interview. For several months I worked with TRG as a freelance retoucher when eventually I was given a chance at a CGI project.  Needless to say it went well and I have been in CGI since. 


My first taste of animation was when I was about 10 years old. I went to the Cleveland Science Center where they had a hands on exhibit where you could create a stop motion animation. I was able to take sequential still images of toy dinosaurs and make them “walk” across the screen, it was a revolutionary experience for me. Afterwards I begged my parents for a video camera that I could take pictures with, to no avail. During high school a girl that I was rather fond of wanted to tour Kent State Tuscarawas which had a Computer Animation degree. She asked me if I was interested and I jumped at the chance to go with her to see the school. We both ended up attending the program and I graduated 4 years later with a Bachelor’s Degree. Not really feeling like the program gave me the knowledge I needed to work in movies or video games I worked for a year and half to get into Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood, California. I was rejected the first year I applied; they said I needed to show traditional drawing skills. I enrolled into several local drawing classes at Stark State and Malone college to create as much content as I could for my portfolio. The following year I applied again and was accepted. I spent 2 years in Hollywood and graduated in 2008. Over the course of several years I’ve worked my way from being a 3D intern to now being the CG Supervisor here at TRG Reality. I now have the pleasure of working with a very talented group of artists and still feel that childhood magic every time I see something “walk” across the screen.


While spending my days as a full-time photographer, I began to take interest in what I was seeing in our fledgling CG department. Everything I’d done on the computer up to that point involved the manipulation of two dimensional photographs. Looking back, it seems so simple, but I was drawn to the idea of being able to build something on the computer and view it in 3D by rotating the object around. I decided that this was something I wanted to be able to do and began spending every spare moment I had learning the program by watching video tutorials and reading various documents I found online.

Because of my photographic background, the transition into CG was a natural fit. All the ideas and concepts I knew so well as a photographer became the foundation for everything I’d do in CG.


Well, I would argue that my addiction started when I was about 6 months old. My parents had bought a Nintendo Entertainment System, and I fell in love with a game called Captain Skyhawk. I'd say that was the initial kick. The second boost came in Kindergarten where they had an after school class to learn C+ pixel plotting. We would write code without the awareness of what we were learning, and it would print out a colorful design on the screen. This was beyond a fathomable level of cool for my 5 year old self.

In the mid 90's I loved Bob Ross, Bill Nye, and arcade games. So my love of art, science, and entertainment were merged into my dream career when a television show called Reboot arrived. It was the first fully 3d animated show, and I wanted to discover every aspect of how they were making it. Through middle school and high school I took every art and computer class. I played every video game I could get my hands on. If I wasn't playing sports or at school, I was interacting with something digital. I was accepted to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh in my sophomore year of high school, and I've been on the CG-3d train ever since.


I guess my journey into CGI started at a very young age and has evolved over the years. As many digital artists of today, a love for cinema and the vision of creating a means of enjoyment for millions of people has drawn me into this industry. When I was much younger, drawing, and a love for traditional animation, always lay heavy in my goals. When I got to college I started in the medical field and after a few unsatisfying years I decided to quench my creative thirst and pursue an animation degree at Full Sail University. It was there I uncovered a new passion for compositing and a love for this unseen craft. While the CGI industry is a seemingly cold medium the rewards are evident every time a person watches a feature film, or a television series I worked on and I can see the glisten of detachment in the their eyes - that they are truly engaged in the story and have been transported to wherever that particular story is taking place. While those projects come and go it is in those moments that I am reminded why I love what I do. Along the way I have had the opportunity to work with a plethora of talented individuals on a number of features such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2, Vacation, and Green Lantern. It has opened doors to explore other countries as well as my own while getting hired on productions for the television series GRIMM and exploring the automotive advertising world. For me this is another reason I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. My experience in film and at RTTag is what helped me play a permanent role here at TRG Reality while having the opportunity to configure one of the largest post production processes in my career thus far.

Do you have any specific CGI questions?  Ask us in the comments below, and maybe our next blog will answer it!