Dan Sollis

Motion graphics artist

Could you briefly introduce yourself/Company and describe your current role in the animation/3D/graphics/VFX/CGI industry?

Sure, I run a boutique visual effects and motion graphics business called "Digital Distortion.”  It sprang into existence in 2002, after I decided to go freelance. After spending a few years doing Post Production on Music Videos and Commercials for companies like Oil Factory and Partizan, I ended up getting offered some office space in Soho, London with a then up-and-coming production company called Pulse Films.  Since then I've changed offices a few times, but Soho has remained a constant. It’s a funny old place and it’s really been turned upside down in the last 20 years by developers, but there’s still something about it I love. It’s still quite buzzy!

50 years ago today titles

50 years ago today

How did you get started in your field, and what inspired you to pursue this career?

I think like a lot of people, at least of my generation - growing up as a kid in the 80s - I saw movies like The Last Starfighter and Tron and the whole idea of making animation and special effects using A COMPUTER (!!!) well, that was kind of mindblowing. Bear in mind that at the time both those films came out, we had 8-bit microcomputers at home! When I was even younger than that, I loved George Pal and Ray Harryhausen's films and all that incredible stop motion stuff and modelwork.  And so, I've always been interested in computer graphics and film special effects. And of course, I realised, well - you can actually get paid to do that sort of thing for a living!

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Who or what are your biggest influences and inspirations in your work?

I’m a huge sci-fi nerd. And well, er… That James Cameron is a bit good, isn’t he? Him and Ridley Scott absolutely defined 70s-80s sci-fi worlds with films like Alien/Aliens, Bladerunner and The Terminator. Modern day directors who are doing interesting stuff? Well, Neil Blomkampf and Gareth Edwards are both extraordinary - at least in terms of designs and visuals.  In terms of CG and motion graphics, I guess artists like BEEPLE,  Anthony Scott Burns and Ash Thorp. And who doesn’t love those swanky HBO titles sequences done by companies like Elastic.

What Projects have you used LightWave 3D on?

Any project that needed complex 3D elements. Admittedly, that’s a relatively small part of my workload. Clients don’t like paying for 3D CG, it’s a lot more time-consuming (and therefore - pricey) compared to just bodging something up in After Effects (2.5D is often enough!) But I have done a number of full 3D CG animations using LightWave for promos for the BBC, Discovery Channel, Quest and Ubuntu (who luckily didn’t insist on us using open-source 3D software!)


What initially attracted you to LightWave 3D software, and when did you start using it?

It was in my early teens, with my trusty Amiga, that I first started using some early 3D software. The giveaway of Imagine 2 on Amiga Format was my gateway in to 3D CG (Thanks Ben Vost! - it was Nick Veitch says Ben) Of course, around that time Babylon 5 came out, which blew me away when I saw stills from it. It truly raised the bar for TV CG effects and I wanted to use whatever software it was that could make those awesome visuals, so I jumped ship to LightWave (still on the Amiga) as soon as it was decoupled from the Video Toaster. My final major project at University was a fake movie trailer of my take on THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and it was the first project I used LightWave on (version 3.5, running on my Amiga 1200, with a 50Mhz 60830 and 4MB of RAM!)   Anyway, LightWave’s been a part of my toolset ever since. I've always liked its unique kind of just-get-it-done flavour, which I can talk about more later.


Mob Season

What are your favourite features of LightWave 3D, and how do they enhance your work?

Well, the After Effects integration is really good and very easy to use. It's very simple. It's not bidirectional in the sort of sense that the Unreal Engine is (a future feature request?) , but you can send cameras, nulls and lights from LightWave to AfterEffects (and vice-versa) very easily. And, you know, a lot of the time that is all I really want. It just works. Other applications like Cinema 4D have had After Effects integration for a while, but their implementation, while in theory is very deep, just seems a little bit fussy and overcomplicated at times when you just want to do basic stuff. Whereas the LightWave one is very, very straightforward and it seems to work pretty reliably as well. It handles baking keyframes really well.

On a more philosophical point of view, one of the things I like about LightWave - and I think that makes it pretty different to most of the other 3D apps on the market - is its heritage has always been film and television. It was designed originally as part of the Video Toaster. It was always aimed at people who make films, people who make stories. And this is very different to some of the other applications of the market, which all have their roots in things like CAD and scientific or engineering applications. It was first and foremost a tool for TV and Film - and I've always loved the way it handles cameras which makes directing virtual cinematography really natural. As a filmmaker who's actually shot stuff in the real world as well, I really felt very at home with it. I like that It uses TCB curves by default for animation (but also allows you to mix and interpolate other key types), which encourage a more natural sense of movement. And it's always used real-world units for measurement. It's again, incredibly useful and really relates to real film production. and I just I find it very frustrating sometimes to use other 3D software which doesn't have that mentality - because it just sort of feels like it's not been made by creative people like me.