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Name: James TF
Location: Brighton & Hove, United Kingdom
Occupation: VFX & 3D Motion Graphics Artist
Room size: 16 m² (172 ft²)
Cost of the setup: ~$12K
Social media: Instagram
Website: James TF
Hey, James! Tell us a bit about yourself
Hello! And thanks for taking some time to have a look at my workstation (or should I say maker station?) and hear a bit about what I do.
I work full time as a freelance visual effects (VFX) artist, as well as a 3D motion graphics designer (MGFX). I’ve been in the industry for around six years now.
For those of you who are clueless as to what that means. I’m typically tasked with creating special effects for TV shows & advertising and commercials.
It can be a super varied job. One week I’m creating black holes and space nebulae (I typically work for about 6-7 months of the year on a space documentary for Science Channel/Discovery), and the next week I’m animating a diaper commercial (yes, that’s happened, but thankfully only once!)
I got interested in Visual Effects from a pretty young age, mostly from watching the behind the scenes extras on DVDs of my favourite films at the time (LotR Trilogy, Star Wars, you know, the usuals for an 11-year-old).
I was big into video games too. More specifically, the modding scene on games like The Elder Scrolls series.
This eventually led me to create some of my own (in hindsight, very badly), but it had me hooked and wanting to learn more about how digital assets were created.
I realised the crossover of these two seemingly unrelated at first fields, and the rest is history!
I studied VFX at the university in London. After I graduated, I landed my first job at a relatively small studio focused on TV advertising.
After getting around three years of industry experience, I made the decision to start my own company and work on a freelance basis.
It’s been incredibly rewarding so far.
I’ll talk a bit more about how this happened further on. It ties in with the current coronavirus pandemic, and sparked the creation of my workstation/studio which you’re reading about!
If you’re interested, you can check out the kinds of things I get to work on from my studio over on my website.
I used to love working on side projects and creating short films in my spare time.
However, as I’ve become busier and busier with work, I find it hard to be sitting at a desk for more time than I need to be.
To add to this, I have a rare form of autoimmune arthritis. The best medicine for that is to move.
Thankfully, I’ve been symptom-free for quite a while now after developing healthy work habits to keep me moving, which tie into my workstation as well.
I’m hoping to get back into creating short films in 2022.
Can you describe your home setup?
|LG C1 48” OLED 2021
|Monitor light bar
|Philips Hue Play x2
|MacBook Pro 2021
|Bose Companion 3
|Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 250 OHM
|GMMK Pro /w MATT3O / DEV / TTY MT3 Keycaps
|Logitech MX Master 3
|Herman Miller Sayl
|Wacom Intuos Pro L
|TerraMaster D4-300 NAS
|Alexa Show 5
If I were to summarise my studio in a few words, I’d go with efficient, optimised, focused, laid-back & calming.
I think these are all important ideas to promote as a designer.
I started using this room two years ago. I’m still constantly moving things around to get the setup just right, but I think I’m finally content with its current configuration...
How long that will last though, who knows.
One of the perks of being a 3D artist is that I’m able to build a 3D plan of where I work. This helps to visualise how things will look.
This can sometimes help avoid dragging my sofa from one side of the room to the other at 2 am when I’ve had an epiphany of a “better” layout.
Looking at my workspace, there are a few things that make it work for me.
The key feature has to be the screen LG C1 48” OLED 2021.
I’ve always thought it’s all well and good investing in the fastest GPU/CPU to get the best performance on whatever software or games you may be playing.
However, the way you interface with that content is through your screen. If it isn’t up to scratch, then the money you’ve spent on the flashy internal hardware is in some ways wasted.
I’m keen on having a lot of desk real-estate too. My desk measures two metres wide (78,7''), and about 70 cm (27'') deep.
I found a designer on Etsy and he built it for me out of upcycled scaffolding boards.
There is also a fair amount of empty space in the centre of the room. This is by design too.
I wanted to have an open area that I can use to move around in. Whether this is for yoga, some basic stretching, or flailing around in VR.
As far as the other furniture goes, I like to be thrifty.
If I can save a penny, I will.
eBay was a source for almost all the furniture in the room other than the desk.
I think finding stuff on eBay or any second-hand market makes you consider items you wouldn’t have in the first place, compared to if you bought everything straight out of a catalogue.
It helps if you want to develop a slightly eclectic look. Plus finding a bargain is always fun!
Comfort-wise, as someone with some back issues, I can’t fault it. The previous chair I had was the IKEA Markus, which ergonomically was a little lacklustre.
It’s fantastic that you can adjust the resistance of the backrest as you lean back.
With my studio being on the 3rd floor of the house, it does get very hot up here. Especially with computers running at 100% load when rendering or running simulations.
The Sayl has an open mesh design to its backrest. With my Dyson Cool fan situated behind me, I stay sweat-free.
A great feature of the room is what was a walk-in wardrobe behind where I sit at the desk (this used to be my bedroom as a teenager!). I’ve since turned this into a mini ‘kitchen’ & a storage area for some old tech items.
This means when I’m working away on a deadline, I can make a quick coffee to keep powering through or grab a cold drink from the fridge.
This is also equally, if not more handy when I’m hosting a gaming or movie night with friends — keeps the beers cool and on hand!
The most recent change I’ve made to the room was rotating the desk by 90 degrees to be under the shelves instead of under the TV.
This massively helped open up the space.
A side effect this move of the desk has had is that in the morning, the sunlight bleeds through the shutters onto my desk. It looks really serene, although it does somewhat blind me.
Another small improvement I made recently was building an external power switch and housing.
It’s attached to the underside of my desk.
I made this out of some MDF boards I had lying around. I also built a riser to keep my PC off the carpet and dust-free.
One sneaky thing I included with this riser was leaving a section on the back panel open. In here, I’ve put a 6-way extension lead.
This keeps cable management relatively easy. Everything is routed in and out of this riser box and hidden away.
I also have a 6-way extension lead mounted under the desk just above the computer, which is daisy-chained to the extension lead in the riser below.
Thinking about future improvements to the workstation, I do need to move the TV mounted on my wall now that I’ve moved my desk. It’s currently something you’d see on the r/TVtooHigh subreddit.
And on the subject of that TV, it’s probably the next thing I’ll replace too.
After experiencing everything on the OLED HDR computer screen, it’s made all other screens feel not up to snuff!
What’s your favourite item on your desk?
I keep my desk fairly utilitarian. So picking a favourite item on there isn’t super easy.
They’re mostly things I would consider ‘tools’, but I really do love my GMMK Pro keyboard. That would be my choice if I was limited to my desk… or maybe the succulent.
I was also considering the Leopold FC980M at the time as an alternative, but with the GMMK Pro being tenkeyless, it freed up a little more space on the desk.
The shelving behind me has some more interesting items on it though...
Skipping past the many bottles of bourbon and scotch on the shelf (these would be fairly easy to pick as favourite items, but that feels like a bit of a cheat) I’d have to say my favourite item is a fossilised echinoid (sea urchin).
My biggest interest outside of visual effects is actually archaeology and ancient history, which I studied for two years at college before I made the switch to VFX.
I also have a collection of photobooks on space photography from both satellites and astronauts. As a space nerd, these rank pretty highly, too.
One last item I’d like to mention is the poster behind my screen.
It is somewhat obscured by the screen, but it’s actually a film poster I designed for my graduation film The Interstellar Medium which landed me my first job.
It’s a good reminder of where I started and where I’ve since got to in my career.
This film is a few years old now of course, but for anyone interested you can give the short a watch.
What does your typical day look like?
A typical working day varies in length based on what I’m working on.
I usually start work at around 9 am and finish at around 6 pm if I’m lucky.
Getting a night of good sleep is paramount for me.
I tend to get into bed at around 10 pm and usually wake up at around 7:30-8 am. Staring at screens all day can really disturb your sleep.
In the evenings I wear blue light blocking glasses. Although when I’m working on colour sensitive things, these aren’t ideal. They make everything slightly yellow!
I track my sleep on my Apple Watch. I definitely see a difference in deep sleep when I use the glasses.
I’m always getting to create something new, which keeps everything fresh.
I can start the day with a blank canvas, and by 6:30 pm I have an epic space vista in front of me.
That’s really satisfying.
As I mentioned previously, I have a fairly rare type of arthritis (Ankylosing Spondylitis) and moving is the best thing for it. So this is a very important part of my day.
I get to the gym most days over my lunch break and will do weight training and jump rope skipping. This means I usually have to eat lunch at my desk while I’m working, though it’s worth the sacrifice!
I also have an app on my phone called Seven. It gives you notifications throughout the day at set times and generates a quick 7-minute bodyweight workout.
I find it a great way to stop me from sitting down for hours on end, which is very easy to do when I’m fully absorbed in a shot.
Giving your mind a break from the task at hand is super beneficial.
In these break times for exercise, I often find myself figuring out problems in my head and being more productive when I return.
Depending on what I’m working on, I try to move somewhere other than my desk during the day, too.
Whether that’s the local coffee shop with my MacBook (which I sometimes remote into my PC with) or simply the sofa in my studio room to get a bit of a change of perspective.
If I’m not working in the evening, I’m most likely at my local bouldering gym.
But if I’ve got a rest day, I might fire up Steam and play some computer games instead.
I’m loving Halo Infinite at the moment. I’ve been a long time fan of the series since Halo: Combat Evolved but fell out of love with it over Halo 4 & 5. It’s been nice to return to the series.
I’ve also been playing Satisfactory recently. Although I think this game has some sort of black hole effect. Time seems to completely disappear when I get absorbed in building a factory…
That’s a sentence I wouldn’t have ever expected to say.
I’ve been working from my home studio since the first coronavirus lockdown in the UK, which was in March 2020.
This was also what prompted me to leave the studio I was working at previously and initiated the start of my own company.
In some ways, for me, the lockdowns were a very positive force. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have had the kick up the arse I needed to get out of my old job.
At the time (March 2020), I was renting a property in the town that I was working in, and because of the auto-immune condition, I was considered ‘vulnerable’.
This would have made living alone during a lockdown pretty challenging.
I made the decision to move back in with my parents that same day.
This meant moving out of my flat (that same day), renting a van, moving all of my possessions & furniture, and setting up my company the next day (and turning what was my bedroom about seven years prior into this workspace!).
That was a hectic afternoon/evening/night/morning but was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Your tips for working from home?
It can be hard to stay focused sometimes.
I definitely struggled with that at first.
What I do that helps is open the software & project file I’m working on before I’ve had breakfast.
I’ll get out of bed, go straight upstairs to the studio, and open up what I need to work on for the day.
This means after I’ve wrapped up with my morning routine, my work is already staring me in the face meaning I can get started with no distractions.
I personally find getting into the swing of things the tricky part.
But once I get stuck in, I end up finding it hard to stop, as the creative process is highly addictive.
You’ll have probably picked up from the previous paragraphs that I believe getting a change of scenery throughout the day is important.
Whether this is going to your local coffee shop to grab a quick drink, walk around the block once or twice, or fitting in that lunchtime gym session.
I find my days always feel longer and more fulfilling when I’ve been to a variety of places and done a variety of things.
If I’ve been sitting in the same position staring at a screen for eight hours, the day is gone in a flash.
In spite of that, if it’s one of those manic days where I can’t escape the desk, I’ve got a pretty great environment to be stuck in, that perfectly suits my needs.
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