One of the outstanding infographics of 2010 was Cristóbal Vila’s “Nature by Numbers.” After the video was featured in the Data Drop’s opening series of posts, I made contact with Mr. Vila by email. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions. Mr. Vila runs a one-person design shop called Eterea Studios from his hometown of Zaragoza, Spain. He is actively seeking new clients.
Data Drop: What inspired you to create “Nature by Numbers”? Do you have a background in mathematics?
Cristóbal Vila: There are a lot of things that I find interesting. Nature and Mathematics (especially Geometry) are two of them. And joining these both interests was the origin of Nature by Numbers. No, I don’t have any special background in Mathematics. No more than any other guy who went to school.
DD: I’m curious about the soundtrack. Did you approach Wim Mertens about “Often a Bird” before you made the video, or did you get his permission afterward? How important is the choice of music to the video?
CV: In this case I chose the soundtrack at a very early stage in the animation process. This way I can better synchronize images with music. I consider music more or less the 50% of the final effect. If you have great images and a bad (or unfortunately chosen) music, the result is painful. On the other hand, a big soundtrack with poor images is pathetic. The difficult task is to find the appropriate music: there are great themes that could not work at all with your images, and vice versa.
DD: How long does it usually take you to make an animation? What’s the most challenging part of the process? The easiest?
CV: It depends totally on the animation (they are all different): Nature by Numbers was a personal project, not a commission, and for this reason I can work very calm and relaxed, unhurried. Since I developed the first script to the final post-produced movie, it took me 12 months, more or less. Obviously that wasn’t a full-time dedication. I passed 2-3 months on commercial commissions without opening one NBYN file.
The most challenging part was the research and development I had to do in order to animate all things “procedurally”, without using keyframes. It’s a kind of visual programming. The nautilus shell modeling was a challenge too: that interior part was really complex [ed note: see still image, above]. The easiest part in NBYN? Maybe texturization. That was not a difficult part on this creation.
DD: If you could recommend one piece of software to graphic designers, what would it be? Why?
CV: For 2D+“Static” Graphic Designers: Adobe Illustrator. Why? Simply put: it is a tool specially conceived for Graphic (and typographic) Designers, so powerful and so easy. For 2D+Motion Graphics Designers: [Adobe] AfterEffects. Very powerful, all is animatable, lots of filters and a great community on the Internet to help you. For 3D+Motion Graphics Designers: [MAXON] Cinema 4D. It’s robust, intuitive, powerful and easy to use. And for any kind of designer there is “the” tool. The ESSENTIAL tool, of course: Photoshop.
DD: How did you get started in your career? What advice to you have to students considering a career in graphic arts?
CV: I studied Fine Arts in Barcelona, and my first job was as Graphic Designer and Technical Illustrator at a studio there. These first years we worked without computers (you know: real Rotrings, real rulers and real aerographs and tints… :-), and then it comes the “Desktop Publishing Revolution” when I had my first approach to a computer: an old Macintosh II FX + Illustrator 88. These were my first digital tools.
Since then, I have worked at several graphic design studios and advertising agencies, first in Barcelona and then in Zaragoza [Spain], my town, working as a graphic designer, illustrator and art director. At first my tools were only Illustrator, Photoshop and QuarkXPress/InDesign. But then I discovered the “3D” world, about 11-12 years ago, and learning by myself as an autodidact I have developed a career as “3D artist” working with different tools.
I would give only two basic advices to graphic design students: to learn continuously and to work hard. And don’t forget a basic knowledge in color theory, composition, and such things that are essential to painting and photography: these are important concepts to graphic design and 3D too. It’s not only a matter of computers and applications.
DD: What qualities do you think make a web animation effective?
CV: Well, I don’t see myself doing exactly “web animation”. My animations, Nature by Numbers and others, are available on the net, as almost all today, but I don’t make “animations-for-web” strictly speaking. Anyway my opinion is: try to do something different. Don’t obsess on doing “great-incredible-spectacular” works, full of FX and such. People see incredible things on theaters and video-game trailers today, with gorgeous FX. It’s better to concentrate on doing “smaller and personal” things in order to capture the viewer’s attention. Well, that is what I try to do myself. Not sure if I get it.
DD: Your studio is a one-person shop. What are the benefits of working alone?
CV: Simply put: I do exactly what I want. Or rather, most of the time, I do what I can :-) Of course this could limit in order to the kind of project you can afford: not super-big projects, since timeframes tend to be small on professional commitments and teams with 4 or 6 people, obviously, could finish much sooner than me.
However, on the other hand, I don’t need to “waste” my time trying to convince to any boss or partner about if this design/solution is better than other: I deal only with my client. Usually I have almost everything in my head, and from there it flows quickly to my hands and the computer tools, without intermediaries that I have to convince, apart from clients.
DD: What do you want people to take away from “Nature by Numbers”?
CV: I have no great objectives about what people should think or perceive watching my work. My main goal is to enjoy what I do, in an honest way. I would also pursue that the end result is something of beauty and harmony. And if at the end of the process people enjoy it, what else I can ask?
DD: What are you working on now?
CV: As a personal project, I’m working on a project related to maths, geometry, art and MC. Escher. Long time until it’s finished… Very different from Nature by Numbers, anyway. I cannot say more.
DD: How should people approach you with project proposals?
CV: It’s simple: drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) explaining what you need. The more information I receive, the more accurate my estimate will be, assuming that I really can take care of it, depending on the time available and my technical/artistic skills. It’s a good idea to take a look at my website to check the type of work and style that I can develop.