Get to know the artists | Phil Radford

By - - 3ds Max , Arnold , Flame , Maya , MotionBuilder , Mudbox , ShotGrid
8 mins
Last modification: 14 Oct, 2021

Welcome back! 

This week, we're headed to the UK for a nice chat with MayaGuy himself, Phil Radford! Phil helped create the jaw-dropping effects work in Mkali's Mission, notably the bunker explosion and the avalanche simulation. Learn about his unconventional journey into the industry, how he adapted to a new way of working from home, and more. Let's get into it! 

Joining us for the first time?
We’re producing an epic 3D sequence called Mkali’s Mission using each of the tools in the Media & Entertainment Collection and sharing the whole journey right here on AREA. Take a look back at earlier blog posts in this series to learn more. 

Tell us about yourself.
My name is Phil Radford, and I am a 3D and VFX artist based in the UK with 20 years of experience in the industry. I previously worked for the BBC, for postproduction studios, and briefly at Escape Studios where most of my work focused on TV channel branding, promos, games, and title sequences for corporate VFX projects and TV commercials.


Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


I currently work for myself under the company name Strangebox with clients spanning from around the globe. Some of my clients include BBC, Google, Virgin Atlantic, Volvo, Saddington Baynes, Vine FX, BBC News, BBC Sport, Virgin Media, Top Gear, Boux Avenue, and Channel 4 where I worked on commercials, title sequences, promos, marketing campaigns, and branding projects. Going freelance has also given me the opportunity to liaise with directors, producers, CEOs, art directors, creative teams, and business owners – so it is quite a wide net of experience.

I’m also known as MayaGuy on YouTube where I try to share my findings on using Maya and Bifrost. As a Maya generalist and VFX artist, my videos will cover everything from standalone 3D animations, tracked 3D elements into live-action, simulations, digital mattes, and object replacement/removal, motion graphics, and compositing.


Image courtesy of Phil Radford.  


What drove you to become a 3D artist? How did you get started?
I started my career in a printing factory working with machinery and poor grades from school, so my story isn’t perhaps your normal route into the industry. When I was younger, I was a skilled illustrator and would spend hours drawing odd characters and environments (even at work). I took my drawing abilities to Photoshop when it came out and entered several digital art competitions. I won a few of those competitions which led to my work being featured in magazines.

At the time, I was fascinated with the “making of” documentaries from sci-fi films and noticed that artists working on those films were using 3D packages. I decided to quit my job and go into VFX training full-time where I learned Maya at Escape Studios in London. Once the training was finished, I landed a contract with Escape Studios working as a 3D modeller, modelling buildings using Maya for an Atari game called Tycoon City New York. Working there allowed me to build a small showreel and with their help, I managed to get an interview with the BBC and the rest is history.


Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


Why do you use Maya and Bifrost? 
Maya and I have been together throughout my 20-year career, and we have grown together. I tried other packages (under duress) but could never get on with them as much as I do with Maya - we just seem to work well together. One of my favourite things about the tool is being able to find new ways of doing things that will lead me to create new kinds of effects. When I first started using Maya, it was considered a big player in the industry as it was used by all the big film production studios and TV stations - and it still is.


Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


When Bifrost was announced, I saw some of the early images from the dev team which blew my mind. I jumped straight in trying to figure out how to use it. I quickly found that it could do very different things from the standard Maya toolset. I was instantly hooked and pushed forward trying to learn as much as possible while sharing my early findings on both my MayaGuy YouTube channel and on Twitter. I have an inquisitive mind and I want to become the best artist I can possibly be. I feel that both Maya and Bifrost are allowing me to accomplish this. My favourite aspect of Maya and Bifrost is the ability to experiment and create awesome effects. 


Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


What was your approach to the effects work on Mkali's Mission? Walk us through your workflow.  
Start small with some lateral thinking.

Before any kind of simulation work took place, fundamental elements of a scene needed to be thought out and established. Elements like scene scale, collision objects, and emission objects all needed to be set up in a way that wouldn’t hinder simulation times going forward. For instance, stand-in objects needed to be created for highly detailed collision elements, and emission objects needed to have some detail or animation to create interesting initial forces.

With large-scale explosions, we needed to think about what we don’t see as much as what we do see. If an explosion was going off-camera, anything outside of that view had to be eliminated to save on system resources. Large cache files happen with large-scale explosions, so we had to consider drive space, drive speed, storage, and RAM early on to keep system resources running smoothly.

In terms of workflow, a good starting point for me was locating footage of real-life explosions for reference. Analyzing these real-life effects and those in blockbuster movies really helped with art directing the explosion.

From there – simulating and simulating some more was the only way to get going and see results. Understanding Bifrost’s combustion system was essential as it isn’t quite as simple as “plug and play”. Some attributes needed to be animated to heat up, cool down or stop certain areas of the explosion. As much as a simulation by its very nature is a simulation, we still needed to art direct rather than accept a given outcome. This process was the same for both the explosions and for the avalanche. Once I had a cached sequence, I would playblast elements, uploading MPEGs to ShotGrid for approval, and have weekly meetings to share my progress and any issues I had.



Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


Tell us about some of the challenges of working from home. Do you have any advice to share?
I have worked from home for many years, but usually, my children are at school and my wife is at work.  With COVID, everything changed, and we all had to adapt to a new way of working and living together. There were some scary times, to be honest.

As a father, I felt the need to enforce government protocols, which with teenage daughters and boyfriends, to boot wasn’t always the easiest thing to have a conversation about. As parents, we found ourselves often trying to relate government guidelines and keep everyone sticking to the rules with best interests at heart. At times, my wife had to set up alongside me in the office for work but also spent a lot of time without any work. As such, I spent more time drinking tea and having a longer lunch break than I usually would if nothing else for some companionship and support.

I found myself working much longer hours into the early hours of the morning in fact. I feel like the pandemic was always on my mind and I needed to busy myself through it. Working from home can sometimes be isolating from real life, but it comes with the territory of working for yourself. I would recommend getting a dog as it pushes you to get out of the house at least twice a day and you find yourself meeting new people you might otherwise ignore.


Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


If you could only watch one movie and TV show for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why? 
Toughest question on earth, but I have a cheat for this. We have a TV show in the UK called Google Box where you watch other people watching TV. It sounds crazy but it’s very entertaining watching other people’s reactions and opinions on TV shows, news events, and films. During the show, we also get to watch short snippets of what they are watching so that would enable me to sidestep watching the same show over and over and keep my viewing varied. Film - Star Wars.


Image courtesy of Phil Radford. 


See Phil create the explosion simulation in Mkali's Mission. 

Want to see more of Mkali's Mission? Visit our virtual animation studio to discover the different stages of the process and to get a glimpse at some real 3D eye candy.


Posted By
Published In
  • 3ds Max
  • Arnold
  • Flame
  • Maya
  • MotionBuilder
  • Mudbox
  • ShotGrid
  • Film & VFX
  • Games
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| 15 days ago
Maya Guy for the win! When are those new Autodesk sponsored Bifrost tutorials coming to YouTube? Soon I hope :)