University of Washington grad works on short films, video games and demos at Unity Technologies in Bellevue.

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Derek Shiu

What do you do? I am an animator at Unity Technologies [in Bellevue]. My daily tasks are pretty varied, but my bread and butter is animation. I take 3-D models of characters and manipulate their bodies with the help of computer software. I’ve worked on short films, video games and demos here at Unity and have animated everything from butterflies to cyclops spider robots. We take on all types of projects and utilize all sorts of animation — hand key, motion capture and facial tracking.

How did you get started in that field? It was in my student adviser’s office at the end of my sophomore year at the University of Washington that I learned about a short film capstone. Over the course of three quarters, a group of students learned about and emulated the short animated film production pipeline. We got to make our own short film from scratch! It was a fantastic experience, and our film premiered at SIFF. I became a generalist over the course of the year and learned the basics about everything from storyboarding, modeling, rigging, animating and post-production. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I enrolled and earned my animation certificate at Animation Mentor. Animation Mentor was an invaluable learning experience for me. I was taught the fundamentals and advanced skills of animation by the very best animators currently working at big movie and video-game studios.

What’s a typical day like? I’m usually animating something for multiple different projects. When I’m not doing that, I’ve taken up responsibilities as a rigger. Riggers create the skeletons necessary for our characters to move. Work as a rigger is much more technical and precise than the work I do as an animator; inaccurate placement of joints for the skeleton can really make things difficult for animation. The other time I have is spent in research and development. Our team works almost exclusively in VR and AR, and because it’s such a new medium, there aren’t very many standard practices. We are constantly stepping into the unknown and have to solve problems that haven’t been encountered before.

What’s the best part of the job? I have so much creative freedom at Unity, it’s really wonderful. I’ve worked at video-game studios, and while I was able to express myself creatively, all of it still needed to be approved through the chain of command, which more often than not, lead to changes that I did not have much say in. At Unity, we practice a flat structure. While we have titles and roles, we value each other’s opinions and all have input in what we do. We trust each other’s judgment and expertise. I guess the best part is having a team that works together and doesn’t have one person making all the decisions.

What surprises people about what you do? Most people are surprised at how little I draw on the job. I love to draw, paint and sculpt with all sorts of mediums, but I really only use the computer at work. VR is also something that isn’t widely available to the public yet. When I talk about it with people outside that field, it’s not unusual for them to be hesitant about how immersive it actually is or how viable VR can or will be in the future.

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