I’ve known Jayse Hansen since my early days with Creative Cow and it’s been exciting to see how his career has blossomed over the years. He’s got a warm heart, a great talent and is in demand, but was still able to take the time to give some thoughtful answers in this latest spotlight.
Where are you based?
I do most of my work remotely from my office in Las Vegas.
How long have you been in the industry?
I wanted to do motion graphics since about 2003 but I was doing all kinds of other work. So I didn’t really get into it until much later when I decided to go all in. In 2008 I quit my day job and never looked back!
Have you always been a freelancer? What do you like about freelancing?
You really feel in control of your destiny
No. I had some pretty cushy 9-5 type jobs. They were really good and paid well. I could wear whatever I wanted, come in whenever I wanted – but in reality they were just really boring and a bit soul-crushing because they weren’t challenging or very creative. So I planned for about five months to make the leap into full-time freelancing and it was the best decision. I’ve never been without great work, which, I think, is always the biggest fear when making a leap like that. But someone had told me, ‘Your worst day freelancing is better than your best day working in a cubicle for someone else’ and I must say, that is so true for me. Sure, it’s harder work in some respects but I think it’s much more rewarding because you really feel in control of your destiny.
What kind of formal training have you had?
I grew up pretty poor, so I couldn’t afford formal training. I never even considered it as an option. So instead I read lots of books by the greatest designers I could find, quizzed great designers in person and had them critique and pull apart my work, and learned online from great sites like Motionworks of course! I always have a drive to ‘master’ things and let that drive motivate me. Screen design for film, especially, has a lot of areas to master, from technical, blueprints, diagramming, mapping, engineering to medical, anatomy, neuroscience and, of course data-visualization.
What kind of training do you do these days?
A lot of online video tutorials. Software wise, everything changes so fast so it’s a good way to keep up and keep fast at your work. But for other things, nothing replaces books!
Which software do you use?
I keep it pretty simple: Illustrator, After Effects and Cinema 4D. That covers me in pretty much everything from rough design concepts to final composited shots for final delivery in the film. More recently I’ve added Zbrush to the mix for holographic UI design and quick concepting.
How long have you been using the software?
I made Illustrator my main choice for design
A pretty long time! I started with Photoshop in like 2001 making awful things with drop shadows, then moved to After Effects, added Cinema 4D and then more recently in about 2010 made Illustrator my main choice for design. It’s really great for very custom shape design such as icons and also for precise layouts, grids and radial designs. I’d say Illustrator and After Effects are the most used followed by Cinema 4D, especially more lately as my UI design becomes more volumetric and dimensional. I use those three on all my film work.
Do you use plug-ins?
Of course! I’m always on the lookout for speed increases. I’m also friends with some plug-in and script writers so I’ll try to suggest things that could make our particular type of work faster. Zack Lovatt of AEScripts worked with myself, Ash Thorp, Paul Beaudry, and Matt Greenwood on Robocop, and has since came up with great workflow scripts like Explode Shapelayers.
For Illustrator, I use Astute’s Illustrator plug-ins. They make Illustrator really great to design in. For After Effects I often use plug-ins to muck up the graphics. Effects like EFX-Chromatic Aberration, ReelSmart Motion blur, and then a few I had my good friend at Red Giant, Harry Frank, create for holographs – Point zoom blur and Color Glow. In fact Red Giant’s suites are awesome, especially Trapcode’s excellent Form and Particular. I tend to always find ways of incorporating Video Copilot’s mind-blowing Element 3d (a super-fave) and Optical Flares for holographic works. Yanobox Nodes with FxFactory is always rad to just play and get in the UI mood. We used a lot of all of those on Ender’s game for instance.
If you could choose only one plug-in what would it be?
Actually I like working without any plugins just as much. It’s amazing how much is already in After Effects if you use all the effects in non-standard ways. Stephen Lawes, co-founder and vfx madman at Cantina has taught me so many crazy ways of maxing out the built-in set. But I’d say Trapcode Suite has always been in my toolbox and I could always get a lot of mileage out of using it in creative ways.
Do you use stock footage/images?
Not often but on some screens for films we do. It always depends on the films I guess. Each film will have a specific stock house we can go through, along with a person to help us research and pull footage/images that we need for the story. Then, because films need such far-reaching usage rights, they handle that with the studio lawyers. But for films like The Avengers we also used images from Nasa (searching for Loki and Thor etc.) and different ‘approved’ sources. For Rise of the Planet of the Apes we used Getty Images to help find images of happy kids and grandparents for a sequence where James Franco is describing how his new drug makes apes smarter and cures Alzheimer’s. What could go wrong?
Do you shoot?
Yes, I love shooting. Sometimes I’ll shoot just for myself but I’ll also shoot city images when I travel for quick mockup and concept designs of HUDs etc. Currently I’m in love with the Sony A7s and Rx100mkIV. They are dream low-light cameras and I just finished shooting all around Tokyo with them.
Actually that reminds me on The Avengers, Cantina’s VFX Supervisor Venti Hristova went to an airport to get generic crowd ‘security cam’ footage. We also shot lots of the ‘facial scan’ images of our team at Cantina with my iPhone. That way we had all the rights to hundreds of images we could flip through rapidly for the sequences where they are searching for Loki on the Helicarrier’s computers. We’d pose people in different looks to have more variations. We did similar on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay where we needed photos of sick people in District 13 for the hospital scenes where Peeta attacks Katniss. At the end of Mockinjay 1 you can clearly see a very ‘sick’ Sean Cushing, Cantina’s cofounder and Executive Producer. You can never have enough fake mug shots.
What is your computer system setup?
I clone everything twice daily
It’s always changing. We actually did all final shots on The Avengers with older, very low power iMacs. It was a lesson to me in keeping everything simple in order to render fast. You can do a lot with a little if you’re organized. But, because I’m usually not so organized, at home I have two 12-core Mac Pro’s with super fast PCIe SSD drives for render chugging with Cinema 4D. Nothing ever seems fast enough, but actually I do a lot of design and After Effects work on a tiny-but-maxed-out 11” Macbook Air. It looks and feels like an iPad, but it’s everything I need and it honestly seems just as zippy as the Mac Pro if you’re not rendering on it. I take that thing everywhere. I clone everything twice daily to two 12T external drives using Chronosync, because I can’t afford a system going down. Even the 8 hours or more it takes to come back from Time Machine is too long in such a deadline driven workflow. For portable drawing or sketching of ideas I also sometimes use a Surface Pro 3, which is actually really nice.
Do you use a Wacom pen or a mouse?
Mainly Wacom. I have a few small Intuos tablets for portability, but I really love the new Cintiq 27”. It’s just perfect. I highly recommend it over all previous Cintiqs. Sometimes I raise it up and stand while working. That might be my favorite piece of gear for working ever because it just gets you into the zone.
Do you experiment a lot with new tools/techniques or stick to what you know?
I’m addicted to learning and experimentation – but when I’m on a film I tend to try to stick with what I know – because things are needed so fast. But each film seems to have challenges I’ve never faced before, so it’s a fairly constant learning and exploring process. I think on Rise of the Planet of the Apes I created Neurons using about 6 different techniques until I finally found one that could do what the director was asking. I ended up using the Hair module in C4D to dynamically grow neurons in precise yet also random ways.
Do you look around for inspiration or you simply create whatever comes into your head?
Both. Initially I like to use just my head and ‘draw badly’ whatever comes to it. Just get the idea on paper. Then it becomes very clear what I need to research to flesh it out and make it look better.
Where do you find inspiration?
I go everywhere and look at everything. I love Pinterest but have to set a time limit! It’s too awesome, and you can get lost in endless journeys of appreciating everyone else’s art and design.
For UI’s in film, I’m inspired a lot by the story so usually I read the entire script of the film, and book of the film if possible, to see how everything fits together. It’s always worth taking that time to sit with some wine or tea or something and really delve into the story. That way later you can present your designs with purpose and thought behind them. I’ll also look at hardware devices used, such as an oscilloscope, or a retro radio receiver and imagine them redone as software. I’ll take shape language and terminology, grouping and hierarchy. My UI for the Experimental Military Lab in Big Hero 6, for instance, used a lot of hardware such as vintage Nixie Tubes etc. as inspiration.
I also love to talk to people
involved in the field
I also love to talk to people involved in the field. So for instance on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, I talked with several old-school hackers about how they would hack into communications, similar to what the lead character Beetee was doing to break into the Capitol feeds in order to send Katniss’ propaganda videos to all the Districts. This gives me a lot of solid ideas for legitimate functions and modules to include, rather than just random numbers and micro text.
I’ll also look at set design and production design of the film to get cues on how the design should be. For instance District 13’s screens were super lo-fi and semi-retro in order to indicate that our heroes were the underdogs working with outdated technology.
How did you get into screen UI design?
It took a while! I always wanted to work in VFX on films as I’ve always loved films and filmmaking. But I also loved design and motion design and didn’t think the two would ever mesh. Then I found out a friend of mine, Mark Coleran, was responsible for some of the most iconic computer UI’s in films I loved. So I designed a bunch of personal UI projects that were pretty awful, sent them to him and asked how I could get into it. I continued the learning process, and eventually he sent me a bunch of referrals. After quite a long while, Gladys Tong at G-Creative finally took a chance on me and I’ve been working in film ever since.
Is screen UI design as glamorous as we think it is?
I feel like I get to be a part of creating movie magic
Haha, I guess it depends on what you think! I’m not sure it’s glamorous but the geek in me always thinks it’s pretty cool that ‘work’ is reading a script for a new film, or going to the comic book store to research for an iconic character. And there’s definitely worse jobs than researching all of Iron Man’s flight surfaces and ordinance in order to create a detailed HUD design for him. On the flip side, it’s probably about a hundred times more work than most people think because you’re managing hundreds of moving assets PER screen. In VFX terms, that’s a bit of a complicated shot! And if you’re not good at mixing ‘Big picture overview plus micro detail perfection’, it might overwhelm someone pretty quick. And, there’s perhaps larger pressure and time constraints than most designers might think. But other than that, yeah it’s a pretty sweet gig. I feel like I get to be a part of creating movie magic: screen and holographic designs – which have always been some of my favorite parts of movies. I also like that the work will live on in Blurays and products for years and years. So yeah, I feel extremely lucky every film I work on.
Can you tell us about a recent project that you enjoyed?
Big Hero 6, with the amazingly great team at Disney Animation, was so fun and enjoyable. I got a call from Disney’s legendary art director Paul Felix asking about collaborating on creating the tech in this new world. We experimented a lot with setting the design language and it was like playing the whole time. When you go to Disney Animation Studios, you totally get it; they all work in a giant fantastical toy-box everyday. They totally know how to bring out the absolute best creativity in everyone and that’s why their films are so loveable. They all completely love what they do, they’re the best at what they do, and it’s completely infectious.
I was honored that they featured my designs not just in the film – but also on the character poster series for the release of the film in theaters, in books, on products like phone covers and wallets with Baymax, and in signage at Disneyland and Disneyworld. I felt like my work really became a part of Disney history with that film, and that’s kind of a dream come true for me.
If you could only focus on one area of design/production, what would it be and why?
Ah… I love it all way too much but I think I love the design part the most. It’s the part that I feel is really lacking in some screen designs. They always have sexy animations, and good compositing can hide a lot of cheats, but when the design is also good and thought out, and there’s depth to it beyond just random numbers and micro-text, to me that’s just super sexy.
Could you share a specific technique that you use all the time in your work, that may save readers time too?
Yeah there’s a time saver I’ve found that I use everyday. I tend to tweak my velocity curves a lot in both After Effects and Cinema 4D when animating screens. Since screen design is often hundreds of elements acting together, it definitely pays to have a faster way to do that. So in After Effects I always use an awesome script called Keysmith which allows a one-click manipulation of many keyframes at a time. In Cinema 4D I use the free Magic Curves plug-in to essentially do the same. I’ve also been using bView by Buf more and more lately. It’s a great free sequence viewer for EXR/DPX/JPG etc. image sequences that allows you to quickly compare previous versions, stereo offsets and different LUTs etc.
If there was one piece of advice you could give a beginner in this industry, what would it be?
If you’re not sure what you want to do, because there are too many equally great options, pick one thing at random and do it like crazy for a year. Go all in. It will either grab you and take you somewhere or something else will. You may also discover what you don’t want to do, and there’s value in that. Either way you’ll be making huge progress towards your future rather than just stalling because you’re not sure. Get going!
What’s one other thing readers may find interesting about you?
I spin fire!