Spotlight On Andy Needham

I met the talented and cheerful Andy Needham a few years back at NAB and am excited to finally learn more about Andy’s approach in this latest Designer Spotlight. With over 10 years experience as a freelancer, Andy shares some sound industry advice.

Where are you based?

I’m based in London, United Kingdom where I have my own studio setup in King’s Cross.

How long have you been in the industry?

I’ve been in the industry for around 11 years now.

Have you always been a freelancer?

I have always been freelance with a variety of clients. I mainly work from my studio and occasionally on location. Being freelance has opened up a lot of new opportunities and I love the variety of work it brings. You can also choose when and what to work on and with whom.

What kind of formal training have you had?

When it comes down to it, I’m pretty much self taught.

I went to Nottingham Trent university and received a first class honours degree in Multimedia Production. It was a fun and diverse course during which we learned many aspects relating to multimedia from website design, DVD authoring, creating Enhanced CDs using Macromedia Director to 3D animation (using 3DS Max), video editing and basic VFX. We even touched on the legal and business side including a bit of copyright law. However, when it comes down to it, I’m pretty much self taught.

What kind of training do you do these days?

Sometimes I take courses over on FXPHD and I watch tutorials when I’m learning something specific. Since becoming an author on I actually check out a lot of the content there such as their photography and programming courses.

Which software do you use?

Amongst others there’s the usual suspects; Cinema 4D, Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator, mocha Pro, Nuke and of course After Effects. I’ve been using Adobe products since my time at university, so around 15 years. I can’t remember the version of FCP I used first probably version 3. I’ve been a Cinema 4D user since around 2006 so either release 9.5 or 9.6.

Are there any specific tools you use more than others?

Cinema 4D and After Effects are certainly the most used. If I’m tracking or doing roto, I go to mocha Pro.

Do you use plug-ins?

I used to be a bit of a plug-in junkie; I’d buy a lot and not always use them at first, however every now and then a project comes along and I can put it to use. An example being RE:Map by RE:Vision Effects; I bought the Effections bundle and hadn’t really used all the plug-ins apart from the essentials – ReelSmart Motion Blur and Twixtor – but a job came up a couple of months back and I was glad I could used RE:Map UV to fix a problem with a 3D render.

After Effects Curves is just fine most of the time.

Ultimately, a plug-in is useful if it saves you time or assists your process. You don’t have to use them on everything, for example, After Effects Curves is just fine most of the time — you don’t need to throw another colour correction tool on. In fact, it’s good to not rely on plug-ins as you might not have access to them if you’re working on location… I should practice that more!

If you were stranded on a desert island with only one plug-in, what would it be?

I have two answers, one for 2D and one for 3D. The 3D one is easy; X-Particles but I’m loving DEM Earth and Arnold Renderer. For 2D work, years ago I would have said Trapcode Particular, then later I would have said Optical Flares or Looks. My answer now without hesitation would be Genarts Sapphire. Expensive? Yes. But worth every penny in my opinion.

Do you use stock footage/images?

No, I don’t personally, only if the client has supplied it.

Do you shoot?

I want to shoot more. I mainly just capture images on my iPhone or Nikon D80. I’d love to get a camera like the Sony A7s and do some more filming. I used to film things all the time growing up and miss doing that.

What is your computer system setup?

I have several Macs and use 2 Mac Pros and 2 Mac Minis as a Team Render setup. My main machine is a custom 8 core Mac Pro 2013. I replaced the processor myself from a 4 core to a faster 8 core sold by OWC. At home I have a MacBook Pro.

Do you use a Wacom pen or a mouse?

I could not work without a Wacom pen. I use the small Intuos 5 Touch.

Do you experiment a lot with new tools/techniques or stick to what you know?

I’m always looking to learn new techniques and software so I definitely experiment. I like to go out of my comfort zone and try out new applications. I’m currently learning Houdini but it’s early days on that.

Do you look around for inspiration or you simply create whatever comes into your head?

Getting some fresh air can help my brain find the solution.

I do both. An idea can spark into life in my head but feel undeveloped. By looking around for inspiration it can help refine the idea and make it more fully formed. The Internet is great for inspiration but can be overwhelming too. If you are on sites like Pinterest you can get sucked in and lose focus of what you were looking for. My family and daughter inspire me, I get a lot of ideas from kids books and TV programs because I love the illustrations. Going for long walks and giving yourself time to reflect and process is really useful. You can take the opportunity to organise and clarify your thoughts. So if I’m stuck either creatively or on something technical, I find just stepping back from the computer and getting some fresh air can help my brain find the solution.

Can you tell us about a recent project that you enjoyed?

I really enjoyed working on the pre-game Halloween show for the Sacramento Kings because there were a lot of challenges to overcome such as character rigging and animation. I spent around a month creating a minute of 3D animation which was then projection mapped onto the court.

If you could only focus on one area what would it be and why?

I’d probably choose a visual style and just work on those kinds of projects, so the flat illustrated look for example. I’d mix those beautifully illustrated assets with 2D and 3D animations to create the overall look. Tweaking keyframes until the motion is just right is quite satisfying.

Could you share a specific technique that you use all the time in your work?

First knowing where your time goes is the only way to enable you to save time, so I time track my jobs with an app called Toggl. You can see how profitable a job was and if you break it down into tasks, where the time was spent. This helps when giving clients quotes for work too as you’ll have a point of reference. I also use a few utility apps for making small time savings. TextExpander, Renamer and Default Folder X are great. What they save over a period of time really add up.

I would also recommend making use of custom workspaces and learning the keyboard shortcuts. I like automating repeated processes and tend to dabble in scripting so I add basic tools to After Effects, Cinema 4D or Nuke sometimes too.

If there was one piece of advice you could give a beginner in this industry, what would it be?

If you’re starting out you want to be a good person to work with. You need to be able to communicate clearly and if you do good work and have the right attitude you’ll get repeat work.

Clear communication
is the key.

When you’re up against a deadline and the result might not be perfect to you, don’t panic. What you’ve produced is probably just fine. When you’ve promised you’ll deliver to a client something is always better than nothing. At least then you can develop the work. That being said, it’s a good idea to get something in front of your client sooner rather than later as you want to keep on track with what they’re expecting you to produce. Clear communication is key; keeping your clients informed and in the loop even if you’re going to be late delivering something is really important and clients appreciate it.

Email etiquette is also
very important.

Email etiquette is also very important. Always keep your emotions out of emails. If you’ve received some feedback and you’re angry you must never fire off an email in the heat of the moment. It will likely be counterproductive. If you strongly disagree you need to actually talk to your client to understand where they’re coming from so calm down and pick up the phone. You’ll get to the heart of the matter much faster than sending a stream of emails.

Don’t get overwhelmed by what you see around you and on the Internet. There’s a load of great work out there and I encourage you to study and learn from others. But remember to be confident in your abilities and know your worth.

What’s one other thing readers may find interesting about you?

I used to design video games and when I was 9, submitted a game idea to Electronic Arts. The game wasn’t made but I got to go for a studio tour which was a lot of fun. I might revive the idea and try and programme it as an iOS game. Or more likely I’ll hire a Unity developer!

I’m also a huge fan of Motorsport specifically Formula 1 and MotoGP and I love go karting too. If I was both crazy and talented enough I’d love to compete in either an F1 or MotoGP race.

To keep up with Andy take a moment to check out his website and be sure to follow him on Twitter.


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