Michael has been active in CGI and animation since the late 1980’s. From 1994 he ran Spike Limited, where he created animations and digital content for interactive products in the toy industry for big names such as LEGO, Hornby and Scalextric. Those were the days he was able to have his own render farm in a separate a/c room.

Michael later moved to working client side for 6/7 years until March 2016, when he came back to working for himself and started BluebottleCGI. His first big project was for Larry the London Bus, a start-up business with a new series of characters for children. He produced a 2 min introduction video for YouTube and the Larry website, and now he’s illustrating the 4th book in the series.

Ensure to render efficiently

We asked Michael why rendering is so important in his business – he explains it’s central to the process; rendered images are the ultimate deliverable. He gives some advice on ensuring a smooth render:

“You must test render early and often to minimise errors in the vital crunch time at the end of a project. You need to be constantly thinking and optimizing to ensure the highest efficiency.  Rendering is the end game; you need to have an eye on it the whole time. “

Michael doesn’t work with masses of rendering resource and tight budgets often make it difficult for him to scale up, so he has to work efficiently and ensure the machines are never idle. However, he knows there are far more options than in his Spike days as he’s been able to structure BluebottleCGI to take advantage of cloud computing and storage.

Choosing a reliable render service

The first Michael heard of YellowDog was through receiving a simple mail shot. He took a look at other providers but YellowDog ticked all of his boxes as they were well integrated with Maya and his initial contact with them was handled well. He said the memorable name helped too!

“The first time I used them I had a great welcome from Gareth. We struck up a good relationship as he’s personable, reliable and willing to negotiate.”

If it’s getting close to a deadline, Michael knows he can request the highest possible power from YellowDog and get the job done quickly. Pretty different to back in the late 90’s, when adding more power meant ordering new machines; now it’s just a matter of moving a slider on the YellowDog interface.

“YellowDog is great for flexibility and this is so important. For example, the ‘Meet Larry’ video was not on a tight deadline so I had time to let renders run at the most cost effective settings, safe in the knowledge that in a crunch I can turn the power up. These guys are great at ease of use; you can quickly go from client sign off to finished render. “

Cloud based rendering is the future

Talking about how rendering processes have changed over time, Michael says ‘It’s like riding a bike, not a lot has changed!’ Of course the capabilities of CGI software have far advanced from the late 80’s; but visually it’s possible to achieve so much more now.

“Fundamentally the process is the same; rendering a frame now takes about the same amount of time as it did in 1989. The content, the quality and the resolution have changed, but I’m still waiting the same time to see the results!”

Cloud based rendering is a huge boon for independent artists, says Michael. Not only does it give them access to massive rendering power, it also enables much greater collaboration between artists.

“As more and more content is required for Larry the London Bus, the business can scale without the need for a physical office. Independent companies and freelancers can work together, sharing project files via the cloud, tapping into cloud rendering services like YellowDog and managing the production process. Not having fixed overheads of a permanent render farm brings cost savings, flexibility and scalability. YellowDog are a big part of enabling this.”

Cloud rendering gives small businesses more creative possibilities. It enables them to meet bigger challenges; whilst having the ability to scale without the burden of a significant capital investment that is inflexible and often sat idle.

Tune in

We’re currently finding out what animators and 3D artists run on, so we put the question to Michael to see what drives him to deadline… He says BBC Six Music gets him through, with the like of Radcliffe and Maconie in the afternoons or if he needs to relax a little, there’s always Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service J