Blog Interviews Spotlight Students

Mason Smigel

Tell us about yourself!

My name is Mason Smigel, I’m a freshman starting my second quarter at SCAD. My main focus is on character modeling, rigging, and I have recently been experimenting with tool development in Python and Pymel. I’ve been lucky enough to work as a character modeler on the senior film Monkey Thief and as the lead character Technical Director on SCAD Animation Studio’s production, Bearly.

What area of animation do you enjoy the most and why? 

I love problem-solving, learning new things, and trying to find solutions to bugs that I never thought would be an issue. As frustrating as it can be in the moments it’s incredibly rewarding once you figure it out. But my favorite part is the collaboration aspect of animation. There is something really powerful about working on something much larger than yourself. It’s rewarding to see how collaboration allows for your work to become greater than the sum of its parts.

What is a challenge that you’ve had to overcome? 

Imposter syndrome is common amongst artists, and I struggle with cases myself. I’ve been lucky enough to jump right into the collaborative opportunities here at SCAD, but I worry that my skills aren’t where other people expect. Though that can be scary, it’s also very motivational. You do not have any room to get comfortable. I also struggle with the period of time at the beginning of a project. I’ve noticed this happens most often with modeling, but the first portion of the sculpture always looks HORRIBLE, you just need to push through the beginning stages to get to the final result. The anatomy master, Ryan Kingslien, called this stage “The Valley of the Suck” which I think fits pretty well.

What advice would you give yourself as a freshman? 

Being a freshman I don’t feel quite qualified to give advice but I can share some of the best advice I’ve gotten: 1. Now is the time to find what you’re really passionate about. Experiment and try everything scad has to offer for you (try visual effects and game design). 2. Do what makes you happy. Don’t get stuck doing something you don’t enjoy. 3. This one is for Riggers: “Rigging is just sculpting in motion” (-Wade Ryer) don’t think of a rig as a technical job, it’s an artistic one, the technicality just drives the art. 4. Do work outside of class – that way your reel will have different things that will stand out to recruiters. 5. And finally, “Stay humble” (-Professor Warman) being humble and honest can never hurt you. You always have something left to learn.

What inspires you during a difficult project? 

Working in a team is really awesome but can also be stressful, I know the work I do will directly affect other people down the pipeline. Especially early in the production this can be a lot of pressure, since the whole rest of the production is waiting on models and rigs, it can get overwhelming. I try to focus on how I can best do my part, to make the lives of the people after me easier. Even though the pressure can be tough, you have the excitement from the rest of the team, which is one of the reasons I love working on a team in the first place.

What experiences have stood out to you? 

Working on Bearly and Monkey Thief have both been amazing opportunities! I’ve learned so much from watching other people work and their processes and responsibilities. I feel incredibly lucky to have had these amazing learning opportunities. It’s been awesome to see the bonds formed by our crew, not surprising since we all pour our heart and soul into our project.

What are some things you are looking forward to this year?

I’m super excited to see Bearly and Monkey Thief shown on “the big screen” (literally) at the spring showcase this year.

What inspires you?

Working in a team! It gives you a new level of accountability, though I always try to hold myself to a high standard, that standard gets raised even higher when you have other people counting on you.

Have you worked on any projects outside of class?

Even though I always try to have a personal project to work on, recently I’ve spent most of my time working on Bearly so I haven’t had a whole lot of time for personal projects. However, for Bearly I have been working on developing a shot sculpting tool for Maya that I would like to share, it’s up on my website if you’re interested in downloading it!

What made you decide to go to SCAD, and when did you choose to go to SCAD?

In my freshman year of high school, I took a graphic design elective and I absolutely loved it. At the end of Graphic design II, we had the option to explore doing 3D graphics with blender and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I decided to go to SCAD in my sophomore year after researching the best schools for animation.

What type of studio would you like to work in when you graduate?

I really want to work in a team environment as a technical director or modeler! However, my dream has always been feature animation.

What has been the best thing about SCAD?

This one is easy, definitely the people. Everyone here is so friendly and all the professors genuinely care about your growth. The SCAD animation department is an awesome community.

What are your goals after graduation, and what goals do you have for your career?

My long term goal (at least for right now) is to work in feature animation. I always get excited thinking about all the fun technical and artistic problems they get to work out. My short term goal at SCAD is to be involved in as many projects as I can. I’ve grown so much as an artist from the past two productions and I’m very excited for future opportunities!

Do you have any advice for working as part of a team?

Always think about the people down the pipeline from you. If you’re a modeler talking to the rigger about extra places for loops will save you both tons of time. The same goes for riggers, always try to talk to your animators and see what they want in a rig. Try to simplify your rig so they only need to touch a couple of controls to get the base pose. Always be willing to go the extra mile for your team, they would do the same for you.

When in your life did you decide to choose animation as a career?

I had enjoyed working in 3D software as a hobby for a while but it wasn’t until I saw Zootopia that I began to think of animation as a career. It was at that time I started to grasp how the animation pipeline works. I remember sitting in the theater and naively thinking “oh I know how they did that” (I didn’t), this was an important revelation. I realized a team of people got paid to create the film. After that I started taking 3D animation much more seriously, with the goal of someday having a career.

Do you look up to anyone in the industry? And why?

There are so many people I look up to. One of the best ways to learn is from observing and studying the work of masters. Here are a couple of artists whose work I always look at for reference:

A huge thank you to Mason for taking the time to interview with us! Check out more of his work on his Instagram, Linkedin, Artstation or Website!

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