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The VFX Factor: Putting Skills into Practice with Ross Urien

Post Production
London, UK
The Mill London's creative director on trust and patience, the importance of planning and working with Yamaha

Ross Urien is a creative director at The Mill's London studio.

Ross works closely with artists across all disciplines, further enhancing The Mill’s diverse creative output to ensure the studio continues to win and craft the very best work. Ross has been at The Mill for over 12 years, starting as a 3D Artist and quickly moving up the ranks. 

She has worked on many notable campaigns for brands including, Heineken, Nike, eBay, Halifax, Jaguar, SSE, Samsung, Google Play, Huawei and PlayStation.

LBB> There are two ends to the VFX spectrum - the invisible post and the big, glossy 'VFX heavy' shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those? 

Ross> With 'invisible post', you’ve got to aim to keep the craft constant and really understand the process, you are essentially aiming to be perfect.

With 'heavy post' you’ve got to really understand the concept you are creating and design a visual vocabulary and language to go with it.

LBB> As a VFX person, what should directors be aware of to make sure you do the best possible job for them?

Ross> A clear vision from the director is essential for us to do our job to the best of our abilities. Also a good level of trust and patience really helps… you cannot rush the process.

LBB> VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where did you learn your craft?

Ross> Having worked in the industry for such a long time, I've grown to realise that you can learn techniques and skills in theory but you only truly begin to understand them when they are applied in a real scenario.

LBB> Think about the very, very start of a project. What is your process for that? Do you have a similar starting point for all projects?

Ross> Good planning is essential but so is flexibility, you’ve got to be ready to change the plan at any point and be able to deal with any issues that may arise along the way.


LBB> We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?

Ross> The budget of the project normally decides that for you…or the deadline.

LBB> Is there a piece of technology or software that's particularly exciting you in VFX? Why?

Ross> There isn't a particular software that excites me as there are a lot of options out there (many of them free). Software evolves over time, the software I used to learn my craft 20 years ago is no longer commonly used. Once again I think it comes down to flexibility and being adaptable to whatever software is being used at that particular time. 

LBB> Speaking of that, how have you navigated your role during Covid? Was there a big shift to remote? Tell us about your experience.

Ross> I am actually back to the office, I kind of prefer to be face to face with people. I did like some things about being remote, the first being the lack of commuting - it gives you a bit more time in the day and the second being a quieter environment (assuming your kids are in school all day). There were, of course, a few downsides to working from home: the blurred work/life balance and eternal Zoom and Teams calls.

LBB> Are there any lessons you've learned / experiences that you've had from working during Covid that you'll be looking to keep with you once things hopefully get back to some form of normality?

Ross> Many companies have realised that people actually DO work at home, there is a new level of trust. I think the flexible working environment is the path for lots of places.

LBB> How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time?

Ross> I come from a fine arts background, I wanted to be a painter, then I moved to design in order to make a decent living… My first proper job was in a quite well known design boutique working on XSI and Photoshop creating 3D illustrations and photography. Within that role I learned to strive for the highest quality and how to work in a professional work environment. 

LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?

Ross> To design and concept a fantasy bike logo for a Yamaha exhibition in Tokyo in 2002, it was the first time I translated a design into a 3D sculpture (it was a series of monograms made out of metal bones and bike gear)… I loved it.

LBB> From a VFX perspective, which ads have you seen recently that you've been particularly fond of and why?

Ross> I cannot point to just one…there is too much beautiful craft out there.