We caught up with CG Spectrum’s latest 3D Animation Technical Assistant, Kris Krueger. They opened up about their motivation for wanting to become a 3D animator and how the diverse and supportive online animation community at CG Spectrum has inspired and encouraged them to grow as an animator.
Hello Kris! Tell us about yourself and your journey into the Animation field. How and when did you decide you wanted to become a Digital Artist, and what inspires you?
Part of me has wanted to be an animator since I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas as a kid, though it never really felt like a real profession. After studying so many different things at university and nothing really sticking, I got a job at TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival), where I got to know some people working in film and TV. That inspired me to try my hand at different things, and I seemed to have uncanny patience for animating, but I was still nervous. Then one night, I was watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; the scene where Peter Parker tells Myles Morales, “It’s just a leap of faith,” really struck a chord. I started researching schools the next day.
As for inspiration, I draw from all sorts of places. Find me better inspiration for key poses than a good comic book! I’m also a pretty big cinephile – film school vibes have definitely stuck with me – so I’ll often break down scenes or shots of all sorts of genres and styles to develop my knowledge. I especially think my love of absurd comedy comes through in my work! Give me something weird and wild from Adult Swim, or put some old-school Looney Tunes in front of me, and I’ll eat that stuff up!
'Entering a Room' animation by Kris
What has it been like learning 3D Animation? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced, and how have you overcome some of them?
Learning animation has been so much fun! It’s been a whole lot of work, too, of course, but what fun would it be if it wasn’t? All in all, it’s helping me grow in a lot of ways.
My biggest challenges have revolved around putting myself out there and reframing my perspective on a lot of things. For example, criticism doesn’t mean I’m not good enough — it’s an insight into areas I can grow.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s the courage to admit a gap in one’s ability. However, my fears around putting myself out there were met with friendly perspectives and encouragement, which helped immensely. I’ve also learned that these things are pretty common among students. For that reason I do all I can to provide an open, accepting, and welcoming community for students.
What software and tools do you use for your work and why? Could you describe your general creative workflow for us?
I’m sure most people won’t be surprised to hear that I primarily use Maya since it’s the go-to 3D animation software. For the most part, that’s what I use, with no additional scripts or tools once I’ve dug into a shot.
Given that I’m still a student and planning my own shots – rather than being assigned them – my process starts with brainstorming ideas. What is my intention, what’s my story, and who are my characters? Once I’ve dug through a few ideas and am ready to sink my teeth into the one that comes out on top, it’s planning time.
I’ll often sketch out some rough ideas, and potential story poses until it’s time to shoot reference. I’m a stickler for this. At this point, I’m framing my reference similar to how I envision the final product. Then I do my best David Fincher impression and shoot an absurd number of takes until I feel like I’ve nailed it or at least produced enough variation to draw from. I’ll then edit my best takes together and import it over to Syncsketch, where I’ll break it down with a draw-over and whatever notes I think I’ll need (often about timing).
Then I’ll pull it all into Maya and get started. Since I’ve done all that work upfront, the animation pretty much takes care of itself. I kid, of course, there’s still lots of work ahead!
I swear by how thorough planning saves time in the long run.
Now I just need to follow along with my key poses, breakdowns, and in-betweens. When I get into splining and polish after that, I make sure to keep a running list of things to address, from things that will make the most notable difference to little details. Then it’s a time management game, updating that list getting as much done as possible. The trick is not to fixate on anything for too long; just keep moving.
Can you share your favorite piece of work right now and tell us about it?
My favorite piece of work is one I submitted for the first animation challenge I’d lead as 3D Animation TA. The challenge prompt was ‘entering a room.’ To me, that is an essential acting prompt; where did your character come from, and where are they going? It’s an exercise in getting into the headspace of a character – what this became was one of my favorite acting shots. I’ll never forget shooting reference for this and being so timid to disturb people with what had to be at least an hour of constant door slamming. Bless their tolerant souls!
Anywho, I love horror and inhaled Looney Tunes as a kid, so naturally, I combined these influences into a tight little story. In the end, it’s hard to say how long I spent on it because, unlike most projects, I really gave this a lot of space to breathe as I chipped away at it bit by bit between other projects. I also can’t thank all the people enough, who gave me feedback on this one. I don’t know where this would be without it, but it sure wouldn’t be looking this good!
What brought you to CG Spectrum and what has your experience been like so far?
I came to CG Spectrum after doing loads of research into oh-so-many schools: brick and mortar as well as plenty of online options. In the end, I decided on CG Spectrum because of the smaller class sizes. I’ve dealt with some pretty intense social anxiety over the years, and during the pandemic, that was naturally on high. I also knew that 'mentor time' would be key to growth, so maximizing that felt like the way to go.
Sure enough, I got to know my mentor pretty well, and she’s still one of my biggest cheerleaders.
Since coming on as a Technical Assistant, I’ve developed plenty of similar relationships with other mentors and students in the community. Those relationships are invaluable, as are all the thoughts, ideas, and feedback that come from it all. Also, the diversity at the school, not just the people but the programs, is invaluable. It’s been great!
What does your role as Technical Assistant involve, and what do you most enjoy about it?
For the most part, the Technical Assistant role revolves around encouraging students to engage with their craft, which in my case is animation. A good portion of that is helping students solve problems and providing an additional source of feedback. Another significant component is hosting events to develop a community, giving students a chance to flex their knowledge a little, share their work and get to know one another.
I get to see a lot of student growth, especially in confidence in themselves which is the absolute best! That inspires me, which gives me more energy to inspire them, and back and forth it goes, like an inspirational feedback loop.
You run fun Animation challenges for students in our community. How are these designed to help students improve?
Oh ya, I do that too, haha! Generally, the challenges I set up are designed to put students outside their comfort zones by giving a prompt that sparks thinking about animation in a different way than they perhaps have before. I’m a strong believer in the old adage that 'limitations breed creativity.' It’s inspiring to see all the ideas that stem from these challenges.
Let me jump back to the 'Entering a Room' challenge I mentioned earlier. The submissions included lots of great animation from students at a variety of stages in their animation journey.
Thomas Butler's animation version of 'Entering a Room'
One that stood out to me was the work of Thomas Butler, who had previously studied 2D animation so knew the ropes and absolutely brought it with this fantastically funny shot. I love the beats and acting choices of this so much, it always puts a smile on my face.
What do you think makes the CG Spectrum community so unique? How can students make the most out of their experience here?
The CG Spectrum community is unique by and large because of its diversity. And I don’t just mean the people, but what they study as well.
CG Spectrum offers such diverse course offerings that there’s a constant rubbing of virtual shoulders with people from all sorts of backgrounds and mindsets, from programming to modeling, digital painters to virtual production, and game design.
I think that’s what makes great art, you can hone in on what you love on your own time, but balancing your world views with challenging new ideas, that's what really sparks growth, and at CG Spectrum that’s always a click away.
There are a lot of ideas flowing, and constant opportunities to learn something new and get outside your comfort zones.
For all the artists reading who are inspired to follow in your footsteps is there anything you wish you knew when first starting with CG Spectrum?
Oh definitely! I suppose I knew this, I just hadn’t embraced it yet.
I wish I knew how okay it was to make mistakes and on top of that, just how immensely supportive the community of the school was and is.
I’ve learned more from my biggest mistakes than from my biggest successes, and if you think about it that way, how is it really a mistake? It’s a learning experience of the highest order. That said, I fully admit it’s still hard, but the more I embrace that it’s okay to fail, the less it really feels like a failure at all.
What other advice would you give to aspiring artists who are interested in starting a journey into 3D Animation?
I’ll repeat myself a bit, but never discount the importance of solid planning and good reference. Actually, let me rephrase: never discount the necessity of solid planning and great reference! It all pays off in the end, mostly in productivity and way fewer headaches.
Secondly, I’d say to be kind to yourself — treat yourself like a best friend, especially when you’re struggling.
Focus on learning first, and let the rest come when your skills are ready.
Give yourself pep talks, and recognize your limits and where you are in your journey.
Let us know where your career is headed. Where can we see your work?
I still have a few more itches I want to scratch as a student, so I plan on taking CG Spectrum’s Advanced 3D Animation Course. I’m dead-set on starting up before my TA tenure is up. Shortly after that, you’ll hopefully see my name in the credits of something on the big screen soon. In the meantime, people can see a snapshot of my progress on Instagram and Artstation.
Thanks so much for your time, Kris!
Interested in learning 3D animation and being part of a unique animation community?
If you love the idea of bringing characters to life, 3D Animation could be the career for you. By studying at CG Spectrum, along with a world-class education, you will also get to join our online animation community — a vibrant and supportive network of peers, industry mentors, and alumni. It's a place to collaborate, network, troubleshoot, and enjoy each other's work.Our Technical Assistants (like Kris!) and dedicated Career Development Manager also offer added value and support as you build your skills and develop your portfolio.
Take a look at our 3D animation courses and see how you can bring your dream career to life with us!