Self-initiated

 Around seven years ago, Ben Koppel was  reading an issue of Creative Review, when he  came across an ad for Maxon’s Cinema 4D  programme. He downloaded a demo, studied the  craft and a few months later, left his job as  a creative artworker in DDB London’s production 

Since embarking on his career change, Koppel has worked on idents for the Brit Awards, Olympic ads for Gillette and creative for Jean Paul Gaultier’s recent retrospective at the Barbican. In 2009, he collaborated with photographer Giles Revell on 100 Frames, a motion capture animation which conveyed the movements of dancers and gymnasts, and was later adapted for the British Gymnastics Association’s visual identity in 2012.

“Right from the outset I was fascinated with CG, and the things people could create with it,” explains Koppel. “I already had a very good foundation in using digital applications – my job at DDB involved retouching, page layouts and creating artwork for print – so I was able to understand it quite quickly,” he explains.

“In the beginning, however, I dedicated a huge amount of time to it, following video tutorials online and then creating projects of my own to put into practice what I’d learnt. I started to follow CG forums…and read all the documentation that came with the software,” he adds.

Alongside Koppel’s commercial work, he regularly experiments with self-initiated pieces, many of which are inspired by the body or the human form. Some of his most striking work includes his portrait studies, which feature detailed, angular skulls, heads and bodies, created with the help of photographs, anatomy books and measurements (mostly his own).

“It came out of my interest in [capturing] the body and the human form…it’s such a rich, interesting and beautiful subject,” explains Koppel. “I do a lot of self-initiated work at home – it’s how I got into all of this in the first place,” he says.

Koppel’s motion capture work with Revell is equally impressive: 100 frames (see more on p34), beautifully captured a sense of movement with fluid, abstract 3D shapes rendered in various shades. The project began when Koppel was introduced to Revell by fellow CG artist Richard Green. “Richard put me in touch with Giles, as he was looking to do something with motion capture and I had been experimenting with it at home. We met up, and he organised some sessions with a couple of dancers and a gymnast to record their movement,” explains Koppel.

“Giles then gave me the motion capture data [from the sessions] – a bunch of files that I imported into my 3D software to get simplified skeletons, with animation key frames in place, and I spent some time creating a rig that would stretch a solid surface over the figures’ motion for a number of frames during the animation,” he adds. “It was great to work on, and turned into a really nice piece of work.”

Koppel says he continues to work with Revell from time to time – “and of course, I follow his work, which is amazing. It’s very different working with Giles to, say, an agency, as he gives you so much freedom to see what you can come up with. There’s no pressure, which makes you feel really relaxed about what you’re doing,” he says.

Working with both ad agencies and design studios, including TBWA, AMV BBDO and Village Green, Koppel says the most challenging aspect of his job is proving himself anew each time – something any freelancer will relate to. “You often find yourself working with new people and you always want to do your best and make a good impression, as you might not be given a second chance.”

Usually, however, he is given a lot of artistic freedom. “Most art directors will be looking for as much creative input as possible from me, encouraging me to experiment and elaborate wherever possible upon their initial brief. They often draw inspiration from my experiments, which can allow projects to develop and unfold in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways,” he adds.

With commissioned work ranging from images of athletes bursting through walls to CG cars and neon lights, Koppel is used to taking on a diverse range of projects, but he prefers briefs which give him room to experiment. “A lot of ad work can be about producing a highly photorealistic image, which is a bit restrictive creatively,” he explains. “I prefer work that allows me to play and learn – with design briefs, it’s more about exploring different ideas. I could produce hundreds of images in a week, instead of working on just one highly polished picture.”

In the seven years since he started a career in CG, Koppel says interest in the field has “exploded”. “When I began learning, I didn’t really know any CG artists, other than Richard [Green]. Now, there are a lot more people doing it. Practically all of those I’ve met have been self-taught…and as the software becomes more sophisticated, so does their work,” he adds.

Koppel has also noticed a growing demand for CG design from brands and creative agencies, leading to more demand for freelance CG artists. “I think there’s a greater awareness of the value of it…once companies start using and understanding CG, they get inspired and think of hundreds of other things they could do with it,” he says.

This does, however, lead to increasingly demanding briefs, another reason that Koppel believes self-initiated work is so important. “A lot of the time people think software can do magical things. It can, to a point, but only when the person behind it is awesome…I spend a lot of time doing personal projects, because I want to improve my artistic capabilities, and make software do what I want it to,” adds Koppel. His key advice for any creatives looking to establish a similar career in CG is simply to “devote a lot of time to it”.

“Not only will this help you build an original portfolio, it will teach you to think for yourself and discover new things that you won’t find in tutorials. Don’t neglect traditional forms of artistic training, too – drawing, photography and sculpture will all help make your CG work better.”

benkoppel.com

 

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