Find out how special FX legend Aaron Sims propelled himself from creature designer to Hollywood director with the help of his sci-fi short
Aaron Sims is one of the most innovative and versatile concept artists working in films today. To industry insiders, he is revered for his multi-faceted approach to creature development and design. To audiences, he is the genius behind many of today’s most memorable movie monsters.
In the mid-80s, Sims moved to Los Angeles to begin his career as a special effects makeup artist for the film industry. His work quickly attracted the attention of legendary Academy Award winner Rick Baker, with whom Sims collaborated for the next twelve years.
During that time, Sims served as a leading special effects artist on some of the most popular, defining movies of the 1990s: Gremlins 2, Batman Forever, Mighty Joe Young and Men in Black.
In the late 1990s, Sims started working for another Academy-Award winner, Stan Winston, who encouraged Sims’ pioneering methods. In 2000, working through the Stan Winston Studio, Sims introduced his visionary design process to Steven Spielberg, and became the lead character designer for Artificial Intelligence: A.I.
With the same adventurous spirit that fuelled his willingness to embrace digital technology, Sims founded The Aaron Sims Company to work on other blockbusters such as The Golden Compass, I Am Legend, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans, Sucker Punch and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Now, the rights for Aaron Sim’s latest sci-fi short, Archetype, have been picked up by top Hollywood producer John Davis.
We caught up with Aaron to find out more about Archetype’s production and his advice for other 3D artists…
“RL7 is an eight-foot tall combat robot that goes on the run after malfunctioning with vivid memories of once being human,” says Sims. “As its creators and the military close in, RL7 battles its way to uncovering the shocking truth behind its mysterious visions and past.”
“I have always been intrigued with the idea of how robots would evolve once they become self-aware, or exhibited human traits,” he reveals. “There are many films that have entertained this idea and I was influenced by AI, I-Robot, and Blade Runner.”
Aside from writing the short, Sims wore many hats throughout the production: “I produced and directed it, created some of the art for it, supervised the visual effects…”
For animation he used Maya, rendered with V-Ray, and composited using Nuke.
Read a review of the software by clicking on the specific links above
Rather amazingly, out of the 63 shots, only nine of them didn’t have any visual effects. “From conception to the finished short, it took about a year,” Sims says. “It took a bit more time than usual because most all of the work was volunteered, but it was definitely a labour of love.”
“V-Ray was amazing for rendering the robots’ metal finish and creating a very real-life-like look. It’s also very fast.
“The project all came together in the end with compositing and Nuke was an amazing software and tool to get us through all the shots. Nuke is very customisable and we were able to create our own tools easily,” Sims continues.
The emotion and humanity in RL7 was a difficult part of the process: “This was the one thing we really needed to capture, creating a robot that was something the audience actually cares about,” says Sims. “Part of this was the actor, but it really came to life with the animation. This was a lot of work achieved by the lead animator Cameron Ward.”
Aaron's sci-fi short film, Archetype, has been picked up by producer John Davis: A production schedule hasn’t been created yet, but Sims thinks they might film it before the end of the year
When it came to the production, Sims found that working in CG was actually the easy part: “The greatest learning curve was working with the actors. Creating the look of the film or the world was the easy part, working and understanding the actor language was something I felt was the most useful thing I learned.”
“There were a total of 54 people who worked on Archetype. 32 people, including actors, worked on set and the other 22 people were all involved in the post-production.”
Whilst Archetype is an independent project without any studio involvement, Sims was fortunate to be able to draw on his contacts in the industry. “This short was all favours and friends; I wouldn’t have been able to make it without their help!”
Sims explains that it’s difficult to put a production figure on the short: “The exact amount is hard to say, but it was somewhere around twenty thousand. However, that only accounted for materials, camera rentals, random set costs, etc.”
Concept art for the feature film of Archetype: Sims was able to get the movie optioned without a full script so they’re currently in the writing phase
Sims found the transition going from creature designer to director quite difficult: “It’s a lot more work than just designing something, and directing a film; every decision made effects everyone’s ability to do their job efficiently and collectively to create something that tells the story.”
To market and distribute the short – “to get the word out”, Sims posted a teaser for the film in the Summer of 2010.
“I also decided to create a virtual campaign on my Facebook by posting stills and facts about the film every day for thirty days before the film was released in January. I used YouTube to host it and it just took off. Over 100K views within the first night!”
Archetype’s going to Hollywood
One of Hollywood’s most prolific producers, John Davis picked up the rights to Archetype in January 2012. We asked Sims to explain how this came about and what it means to him.
“It’s really a great feeling to know that all the hard work in creating a short that means so much to me was so well received by John Davis,” says Sims. “John has produced so many amazing films and I’m excited that I’ll be making a feature film with him, and that the film is one I came up with.”
For the feature film, Sims will be directing and overseeing the writing of the screenplay
“I was able to get the movie optioned without a full script so we’re currently in the writing phase,” Sims says. “A production schedule hasn’t been created yet, but I think we’d film it before the end of the year.”
We simply can’t wait to see it!
Aaron Sims interview
3D World: How did you break into the industry? Sims: I started in 1985 working as a makeup effects artist, where I was hired to design creatures for a film called ‘From Beyond’, then shortly after Evil Dead II, and many more as I’ve been in effects and design ever since.
3DW: What first inspired you to become a creature designer? At what point in your life did you make the decision that that’s what you were going to do? Sims: Alien was the first film and creature that truly inspired me as a child, as well as Star Wars. When these films came out that’s when I realized I wanted to design and create films one day.
3DW: When designing creatures and characters, where do you draw your inspiration from? How do you avoid cliches? Sims: It’s always a challenge to create something new and original. My inspiration always comes from the material and the project itself.
3DW: What is the most enjoyable project you have worked on so far in your career and why? Sims: I’d have to say that Men in Black was my favorite film to work on. I’m such a Sci-Fi fan. This was the first real film after many years of working on horror films.
3DW: What’s your favourite character design? Sims: Again, I would have to say the comical worm guys in Men in Black. I designed, sculpted, built and saw them come to life.
3DW: What advice would you give to aspiring creature/character designers looking to break into the industry? Sims: My advice to anyone wanting to become a designer in the film industry is to just work hard in making your designs unique, create your own voice, also create a blog, or website to show your work. Post some of your work on popular concept sites if you can, and you will get noticed.
3DW: What’s next for you? Sims: Making my own films. I’m hoping Archetype is just the beginning.