Tim Naylor’s Digital Character Hall of Fame

Tim Naylor has turned his love for creatures into an entire career. The 1997 Digital Media grad has worked as a Senior Rigging Technical Director and Creature Supervisor at Digital Domain and Industrial Light & Magic, where he helped bring some of Hollywood’s most memorable digital characters to life. He co-founded Creature Art & Mechanics, a design firm that develops advanced digital creature technology for the entertainment industry, and early next year he’ll be inducted into Full Sail’s Sixth Annual Hall of Fame.

“The thing that’s always fascinated me about creatures in movies is that their place in the story really represents a number of different things reflected in our own humanity,” says Tim. “As a kid, I was fascinated by what you didn’t see on screen – about how the creature needed to look and why it needed to operate they way it did. Even after 15 years I’ll still sit down by myself and find some creature-related movie and study it.”

We talked to Tim about some of his favorite digital characters – both those he’s helped to create and those he’s admired as a fan. Check out a few of his favorites below.

 

Davy Jones.
The tentacled sea monster in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Tim was a Lead Creature Developer on the film.
Davy was the first hero creature I worked on. It was such an exciting creature to work on because he used his tentacles to manipulate things. As a character, he had to carry the spirit of the classic octopus tentacle movement, yet still be able to relate human emotion through them. The tentacles were a little bit of a character within a character. When rigging the tentacles, we knew that the animators were going to want to be able to move them from the tip, the roots, and in the middle. I’m very honored and thankful to be able to do this small bit in that character because there was a ton of people that contributed to it.

 

Gollum.
A hobbit affected by the power of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Gollum was amazing. I was completely blown away. It was proof that we could create completely digitally-manufactured performances that audiences would talk about afterwards. Of course, Andy Serkis was a great actor who provided the voice, but there was a huge team of amazing Weta artists who worked on the technology too.

Megatron.
One of the robotic villains in Transformers. Tim was a Supervising Digital Artist on the film.
Transformers was my first supervisor role. We had to make more than 8,000 pieces [on Megatron] move, and Michael [director Michael Bay] wanted different parts of the robot to move individually based on what he saw in the dailies. So in a typical VFX pipeline, that meant it was kicked back to the rigger to change the piece. That’s all we ended up doing all day long, so we built technology that gave the animators the opportunity to rig on the fly. Whenever I see a Transformers character, it really reminds me of the team effort it took to make something that seemed so head-scratching and overwhelming work.

 

The Predator.
An extraterrestrial species from the 1987 film of the same name.
When I was younger, I was a sci-fi freak. I loved bad-ass creatures like The Predator and Alien. It wasn’t only their design I loved, but the function they played in the story too. These creatures amplified your experience with the story. Just the nature of how the Predator was designed and how it introduced itself … it just amplified how crazy that creature was.

Buzz Droid.
A weapon unveiled by the Separatist Alliance during the Clone Wars. Tim was Lead Creature Technical Director on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
My first character that I rigged while working at ILM was the little buzz droid from Star Wars Episode III that latched on to the spaceships and tried to drill them apart. I’ll always have an affinity for that little creature because I had to figure out how the animators could fold them up into a sphere. (The buzz droids came out of a sphere that popped open, and I had to figure out a way to get everything collapsed back so the sphere could close and the animators could pop it back open.) It was also the first time that I used vector math. I built a little system so that if the animator pulled one of the buzz droid’s legs down on the surface of the ship, it would stop in place so they wouldn’t have to worry about matching every frame.

Rocket Raccoon.
A genetically engineered, key member of the superhero team in Guardians of the Galaxy.
I love that character. I thought it had great personality and great dialogue. I wanted to hear what he had to say. I kept thinking, Where is he? What’s going on with him? Is he okay? It’s taken awhile, but the industry is getting the lighting, rigging, and all of the other disciplines together enough to make it believable that an audience would sit through 90 minutes of a photo-realistic character interfacing with other actors on set.

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