Snow: As I've transitioned to a more creative lead role, I find that as well as creating ways to bring fantasy visual ideas to the screen I'm now also developing and conceptualising them. As a Computer Graphics artist working more technically, I was very concerned with studying real objects and all the aspects that visually make something look real, and so would very much rely on the things around me, photographs, art etc. As a Visual Effects supervisor, I'm now more responsible for conceptualising the look of things, even when working with concept art and so on. Sometimes you're starting with real images and imagining how they might fit your fantastic subject matter, and in others you're starting with a piece of fantasy concept art and working out how to make the images believably real to an audience. To root the fantasy images in reality, and thus ensure they're still believable for the audience, I feel it is ideal to include textural and visual cues from the real world, to base the fantasy on a foundation of reality, at least in a visual sense. I'll also use art to stimulate my imaginative process . So I've made an effort to look at more art, and visual material, and used that art as more of an inspiration to get me thinking creatively than as a specific road-map to creating an image. My relationship to real objects as well as art and fantasy concepts is different now, and that is challenging and exciting.
Pricken: Einstein, who laid the foundations for his theory of relativity as a boy who used to daydream in school about what it would be like to ride at the tip of a beam of light, claimed that “imagination is more important than knowledge”. Much later he examined the implications of his pubescent fantasy scientifically and revealed the results in 1925 as his special theory of relativity. What, in your opinion, is the connection between serious creative talent and the inner world of imagination and fantasy?
Snow: Undoubtably having a rich inner world of imagination and fantasy is helpful to people working creatively. The question makes me a little uncomfortable, because it reminds me how people's creativity is somehow judged by the way they come across in the "outer" world, even by them. I was never any good at drawing, and, strangely in retrospect, I thought this would mean it would be hard to pursue a creative career, even 'though I'd always daydreamed and made up stories and fantasies as a kid, and enjoyed amateur film-making and photography. I trained in computing and film, and there was always a technical versus artistic friction in my life, even in my first few years working as an artist in television commercials and post-production. My technical background made me insecure about my creative side. I remember a friend talking about visiting someone's house and how they thought this person wasn't creative because they didn't have art everywhere. I'd hate to think what this friend would have thought of my gleaming white expanses of wall! So I'm reluctant to make pronouncements about what attributes someone needs to be a "creative talent". I look at their work - sometimes the most normal and quiet people have a rich imagination that you have to discover.
Pricken: Creatives describe the intensity and clarity of their mental images in a wide variety of ways. Many see their ideas as clearly in front of them as if they were real. Others describe these images as vague notions or unreal-seeming picture compositions. How would you describe the pictures created by your imagination and your mental picture worlds?
Snow: I definitely tend towards images as notions, or even as abstracted ideas. Often I'll almost be imagining it as a written idea, and actually find that writing the idea down helps me start thinking about what it will look like visually. This is handy for communicating ideas, but I used to worry that not having these intense mental images was a disadvantage for such a visual job. In truth, you're working with a whole team of people on a big visual effects picture, and often ideas are worked out amongst a group of people - some of whom are purely visual, others of whom are more practical, so you get the advantages of different approaches in creating the final thing. And as I've mentioned, I often use real objects and images as they key to getting my creative notion out into a visual form.
Pricken: Do you ever use the falling asleep phase to experiment with pictures or even perhaps develop new visual ideas? How would you describe this game with internal pictures?
Snow: I'd have to say no. I'll think about ideas at night when I should be sleeping, and often will be prevented from sleep until I've thrashed it through for a couple of hours and then leapt out of bed and recorded my idea. When I do get ideas on the verge of sleep (or even dream them), sometimes I'll awake and excitedly record what I think at the time will be one of the ideas of the century! When looking at it the next morning I discover that it is in fact rubbish. So beware!
Pricken: When you’re working on an idea for a visual effects project, do you adapt your ideas in your mind’s eye? Do you play around with your ideas or do you know right from the start what the end results will look like?
Snow: Usually I get an initial concept straight out, but need to develop the idea, visually and otherwise. And I've learned that it is sometimes best not to get too married to my initial concept , but allow for some change or remolding. Because of course sometimes your concept doesn't fit the director's vision, and it is not always clear why. You get used to developing a concept, but not putting all your eggs in that basket. You don't want to go all the way down the road straight away, because sometimes when you do, it is very hard to explore other roads. It can be hard on the ego, but that comes with the job.
Pricken: Thank you for the interview!