Interview with a lens-cowboy

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This is one of my favourite interviews so far and I have literally been waiting for a stable internet to upload this one.


We feature VFX legend, Bradley Stilwell. I met Bradley at Knead in Kloof a couple of years ago and he really gave me a lot of good things to think about over the conversations we had.


He’s also been a great inspiration to my personal work and today, you get to read about this amazing man.

Now, not to name drop, but…

This awesome man has worked on titles like Lego Batman, Ninjago, Hotel Mumbai, Mad Max Fury Road, Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Gahoole and Black Sails.


So without geeking out too much about what Bradley has worked on, let’s get into the article and learn more about this man’s journey so far.


Do you have a specific art piece you are fond of and why?

There is a great deal of art I enjoy but some of my favourites include Rodin’s the Kiss & Winged Victory at the Louvre. I guess I have a thing for wings.

My favourite painters are John Singer-Sergeant, Alphonse Mucha, Klimt, Seurat, Picasso, Goya, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and others too numerous to mention here. I had an amazing trip to Barcelona and
fell in love with the work of Gaudi as well. In addition I love comic art so have plenty of contemporary artists that influenced me as a youngster growing up without even realising it:


There is a lot of great digital comtemporary work that I like too. One just has to check out I’m currently loving Paul Chadiesson and Jama Jurabaev’s work. Very Inspiring.


What is your favourite element about your work? Why?

Three things: Story, technology and people. It’s the convergence of these three things that make my work a joy. I love working with creative people. They inspire me, challenge me and bring a colour and variety to my work that I just love!


When did you realize this is something you would want to do fulltime?

I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker, since high school. Fate directed me to post-production but the love of film and story still lies at the heart of what I do. I still have dreams of being the next Spielberg. I can’t see myself doing anything else really.

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What is your favourite pastime outside art?

My family is my greatest love so they get most of my time. But when I get the time i enjoy cycling, gym, travel, the ocean or a good movie with my wife. I also love South Africa especially Cape Town so as a family we often visit town around the Cape. It’s really is a special place.


If you had all the time in the world and unlimited financial means – would you create the same art you create today?  Or would you create something different?

Good question. To think what we could create with unlimited resources!
I guess there are a lot of things that I would create if I had the means to produce them, but some of the most exciting creative experiences, for me, have been using whats at my disposal to the best of my ability, even if the materials are meager. So to answer the question, yes I probably would create something grander but i think I would still enjoy the creative journey just as much as I have to date.


What has been your biggest stumbling block in your journey, and how did you overcome that obstacle?

My biggest regret is holding back, not making the most of the time I had in my twenties. I was cocky and, like most young people, sure I had all the time in the world. I grew up in the old SA and I always felt like places like Hollywood just weren’t for kids like me. I think that’s another tragic consequence of the Apartheid era: shackled beliefs. I sometimes get given the opportunity to talk to young students and the one thing I try to impress on them is to never hold back! Just go for it! Time flies and every day is a chance to realise your dreams! Apply for that job at Lucasfilm or Weta or Pixar or whatever!
I also wasted a lot of my time and energy in nightclubs, getting drunk, doing drugs and getting caught up in the wrong crowd. Don’t do it! The first thing to go will be your professional reputation and your career. Shortly thereafter, your sanity, followed by your life. Save yourself the trouble. Rather spend your money on popcorn and movies.


How do you avoid burning out?

The film industry is a marathon, and it requires stamina, especially long form work. You can be the fastest, you might even be the best, but on large, complex, highly collaborative projects, I feel the person consistently producing reliable, predictable, quality work, will be not only the most sought after, but also the happiest. Ironically these people often turn out to be some of the best at their craft.
So make a life of it. Don’t overwork. Go home to be with your family or friends at the end of the day. Eat well. Sleep well. Do plenty of exercise or sport. Find enjoyment in areas outside work. Whatever brings a healthy balance to your life. Move away from the computer regularly. It’s not going anywhere!


What’s your favourite show to watch?

I’m currently watching 12 monkeys on Netflix and The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair on Showmax. I like a sci-fi and fantasy but my wife doesn’t. This is a good thing. In meeting her halfway I’ve been introduced to a lot of shows I wouldn’t otherwise see. Like good rom-coms!


How would you describe the work you do, to someone outside of the creative industry?

These days I simply call myself a digital artist or a VFX supervisor. If somebody pushes me for more info I can get into details quite passionately. I love what I do but I often have to stop myself when I catch them staring at me glassy eyed scanning the room for a refill. Then I quickly sum up by saying those two magic words: ‘Pixar Films’. If somebody’s in finance then I stop at ‘digital artist’.


What has been your most frustrating moment in your career, working on something, where you just put everything down and left the room?

I have made a point of never walking off a job. I have come close and I have dropped the ball many times but I have never stormed off a job. There was a recent project that saw me crack and lose it with somebody but I will always regret it. Once that’s out it can’t be taken back. However it’s not an easy industry, especially when large budgets are involved and jobs are running over. I try to learn from those experiences and hope that others will cut me some slack for my shortcomings.


How did you overcome this frustration to be able to return to the work?

The great thing about this industry is that people are very open-minded. We’ve all been there: bad day, trouble at home, feeling like a failure. The important thing to remember is that we’re not the only ones who feel like this at times. Most of the time it’s a simple matter of sitting down and having a good honest heart to heart. 90% of the time it’s a simple communication issue. People are incredibly gracious if you give them the chance. (They won’t be if you insist on being a dick though.)

On the other hand, after taking time to weigh up all factors, one might have to make the decision to move on. There are times when I realised that the project has run it’s course or that perhaps this particular work culture just isn’t for me. I believe it’s a mistake to expect each and every experience to produce a golden result. Don’t jump from one ship to another too often but don’t be afraid to have the confidence to value yourself enough to stand up and walk out if you feel you being genuinely compromised. As a younger man I made this mistake. It cost me dearly and I won’t do it again. You’re nobodies doormat.


If you could go anywhere in the world, on an all-expenses paid trip, where would you go?

Italy. I have never been but my wife has. It’s my eat, love, pray. Art, food, history, romance… they all seem to converge in Italy. One day… 😉


Every artist of any kind should make at least one trip to the Louvre in Paris.


What helps you to stay motivated when you feel depleted and you really need to meet a deadline?

Money! Make sure you get paid. I worked for free as a young man and it is so counter-productive. Don’t do it young people! You will never do your best work for free, unless it’s for yourself of course.
Other than that, make sure you believe in the project. We often have to take work without knowing what the film or series will be about but if you can try to land jobs that you agree with, that you believe in, then you will put your heart and soul into it, and the work will sing. It’s very disheartening to findout halfway through a project that it’s a personal or moral compromise.


What would you say is the most important thing an artist should do, when they approach you for portfolio feedback?


In terms of film and animation, I find lighting and colour the two things that can help a project most. If you spend some time on Artstation you will quickly discover that simple mastery of these two arcane disciplines are what set the men apart from the boys.
The greatest take-away from my time spent at Animal Logic was the countless hours spent in dailies with Craig Welsh and Grant Freckleton. I wouldn’t be a fraction of the artist I am today without them, and I am still only scratching the surface.


What do you think, is the most important discipline to develop that will help carry you in any of the career paths available to you?


That’s a life lesson in one question right there!
As I grow older I feel it’s becoming more important to be patient and tolerant with people. I think I feel this way because I suck at it! But my wife and kids, and my experiences with the many wonderful people I have worked with, have revealed to me that if I can grow in this regard, then it’s a good thing. It’s ironic that it’s not those I’m being tolerant with that stand to benefit most. That would be me.

As I move into more into supervising and directing, I think this is a key to successful team building. Is this not what collaborating is all about? It’s also a huge challenge for me, so stay tuned. 🙂


Where can we follow you online? and


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Co-Owner of Pixelsmithstudios. Specialising in creating content for digital platforms Working fulltime in marketing & Advertising Always meeting new talent

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