Categories: Animation Vfx and Game Cinematic Blog Animator Interviews Honorable Mention

Some thoughts of wisdom from the King.

So it seems that we have a very event filled 2016 behind us and a fresh new year ahead of us, well, almost fresh, it’s a few days old already. But, what goes without saying, is that with the start of 2017, a lot of us are starting college in this field, others have finished last year and are now looking for work – if they have not found a position yet.

This is where we would like to come in and give you a little gentle push of advice from an industry professional.

We have the amazing Sam King from Triggerfish Animation Studios to share some of his thoughts and insights as well as an experience or two. Without further stalling and stealing the limelight, over to Sam.

Click here to learn about Modelling a Fantasy Character, by reading this tutorial written by Sam for 3D Total.

Table of Contents

Please tell us about yourself, who you are and where you’re from?

I grew up in Cape Town and I am just your run of the mill, deeply uncool art nerd.

How long have you been in this industry?

I have been working in the industry for 12 years now, mostly in games and animated features. It’s been a great ride, but the vaguely terrifying fact I guess we all need to come to terms with is that you never stop learning. You can always do better. If I am feeling great about my work, I just go look at a Rubens painting and realise I am still a noob!

What role do you currently fill in your career?

I am currently the Art Director for Triggerfish Games Division. We are a team of 9, headed up by James Middleton with Darren Posen as our Animation Director. We do offsite games development work for anyone from small mobile developers to AAA console developers such as Electronic Arts and Disney.

Before Triggerfish Games, I was Production Designer at Triggerfish Animation Studios during the production of the 2015 television short “Stick Man”, based on the Julia Donaldson children book.  

What has been one of your most memorable experiences since you started in this industry?

Back in 2010, I was based in the UK and working on a Disney game. Our organisational structure allowed the leads to define the visual style entirely and I really enjoyed the process of working out how everything – environments, props, characters, and frontend – needs to look in order to work together.  I found out that I was very interested in art direction and design of the entire visual side of an entertainment experience. Everything on screen has to work well together, visual languages need to be found, and all of this needs to be communicated to the art team and owners for the process to run smoothly and well.

What has been some of your biggest obstacles that you’ve had to overcome to get here today?

The fast progression of the technology can feel overwhelming at times, especially when you feel like you have finally mastered something. I try and remind myself to just treat these programs as tools – learn them, use them, and discard them if ineffective. There really is no place for program loyalty.

While you were searching for your break, what has been some of your funniest moments that ended up being some of the best moments for your growth?

I went to the UK on a bit of a whim when I was 22 as I felt I had a better chance of working in games art. Randomly, I landed a job at a little company in Birmingham doing Ps2 games. I didn’t know anyone, wasn’t used to the harsh winters, or working overseas. It was quite a learning experience.

Another thing that has always been a great backbone to my creativity is I find traditional art very helpful and just relaxing as a break.

So I draw, sculpt, and paint.

I think if you are interested in the modelling, sculpting, texturing and concept side then this is all helpful stuff.

A lot of this stuff I do is kind of rubbish so I dont show it, but it is relaxing, helps me push out ideas fast. Something I have done in the past and that I want to do more is do really ridiculous loose sketches and then try to translate them to a full stylised 3d model.

It also gives me visual tricks that I can pull into my normal work if I want things to look more arty and not so ‘Cg’

What would you say is the most important attribute or aspect that every aspiring artist in this industry needs to strive towards achieving?

Discipline really is it. Hopefully passion drives the discipline. Those awesome artists you see are not really the recipients of a special gift. They have generally just worked extremely hard, investing many hours in and after work and have strategically chosen which are their weaker areas and how to improve on them.

Which superhero would you be and why?

The Taskmaster. He just looks awesome, cheesy and ridiculous all in one.

What advice do you have for any student starting their studies with this industry?

Follow your core skills always and don’t try learn what you think others are telling you. It is ok to specialise too, even if it feels as though the South African industry favours generalists.  Try to be excellent at a few things, maybe one or two even, not average at many.

Find an industry professional you feel is at the level you want to be at and make contact, most people are friendly and helpful. They may be busy, but you can find a mentor…for free! Give it a go, just respect their time if they can’t help.

What would you say to anyone, who can not study at an institution, but who would like to work in this industry?

Don’t worry. You may feel as though you are at a disadvantage, but it’s becoming easier and easier to overcome it. Online training centers like Gnomon, Schoolism and even online forums like polycount offer oodles of great top-end industry knowledge.

I have worked with plenty of incredibly talented self-taught artists. They just replace the structure of an institution with their own core discipline and direction.

What advice do you have for any students currently completing their last year in this industry?

If you want to be employed, tailor what you are doing to the style and feel of the employers you want to make contact with.  Also, choose a path; be it film, games, architecture, illustration. Commit to what you want to become, remove weak areas of your portfolio progressively to achieve that goal.

Look at where there are gaps in the industry, and tailor your skills to fill that gap.  For example, riggers are often in need. If you are a animator and rigger, you may want to polish your rigging skills as that may be something that is more likely to get your foot in the door.

Always be polite and don’t take anything personally. If your work is good enough you will find something eventually. If you don’t land a position, take the time to skill up, make your reel more impressive for the next time you get in contact.

Do you have 5 tips for our readers on creating an epic showreel?

  • Keep it short (2-4 mins)
  • Only show your best work. I can be two or three pieces even if they are all that make the grade.
  • Make it appropriate. To the studio and their style you are sending it too.
  • Music doesn’t really matter. Most leads / department heads turn it off.
  • Make your name and contact details clear. Remove any other intro fluff.
  • If it was a group effort, make it very clear what you contributed.

Generally realise that whomever is looking at your work may have limited time so make it short punchy and awesome with clear contact details if we like what we see.

To be honest, I don’t use a showreel! I just use websites and images. I think if you are interested in concept, sculpts, textures and maybe even lighting this would be ok.

Please give us 5 tips for presenting your work and yourself to potential studios

  • As with the showreel keep it to your best work and make it appropriate.
  • Communicate clearly what roles you are interested in and where you want to go with your work.
  • DO NOT plagiarise work. The industry is small and leads or seniors generally know who did what so just don’t even go there.
  • Remain happy and professional.
  • Do not be late. Everybody is a busy as you are.

What’s your beverage of choice? Coffee, tea or beer?

All of them!

What do you think is a good way to approach a potential new connection online?

For example, you’re browsing Facebook or LinkedIn and you see someone who you would like to chat to about their work. How would you go about approaching that person and start building a connection?


It’s usually fine to do this. I do it and I encourage others to do it. People are generally friendly and helpful. If they are too busy though, just let them be and try someone else.


Do you have any role models who you would like to give a shout out to?


  • Pascal Blanche
  • Brom
  • John Howe
  • Alan Lee
  • Mike Mignola
  • Simon Bisley
  • Cassegrain Didier


The rest are mainly artists of the past, but I continually find their work inspiring every day:


  • Frank Frazetta
  • Caravaggio
  • Angus McBride
  • Peter Paul Rubens
  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini
  • Ambrogio Borghi
  • Gustav Klimt
  • Alphonse Mucha
  • Most of the Impressionist painters

Where can we follow your work online?

I keep a bit of a low profile, but you can try these:

You can find my Artstation here:


And my CG society portfolio here:

If we would like to contact you, where can we get in touch?

Just find me on Facebook / LinkedIn and add me as a friend or contact.

Written by Ruan Smit

Ruan Smit started Pixelsmithstudios with the vision of creating a new design orientated environment of sharing, learning and expertise development amongst local Animators,Illustrators,Game Developers and VFX artists in South Africa.

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