Sophia Kyriacou is a motion graphics artist who's been working with Cinema 4D for nearly 18 years. She was the recipient of the 2017 Contribution to Motion Design Within the Broadcast Industry award, both for her work with the BBC and her own projects. We spoke with Sophia about her career as an artist and how Cinema 4D has changed the way she works…
Sophia began her career as an artist after receiving a First-class BA honours degree in Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Art. "I was always passionate about the moving image," she says. "I did some stop-frame animation, and had some success with a couple of little animated shorts that I'd worked on. For me, my passion was and still is storytelling."
That passion drove her to take on an MA in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins in London. "It was really from there that I decided, ‘Right, I want to do TV graphics. I want to work on the programmes that I was watching as a young viewer, like Newsround'."
After a brief stint at European Business News, she landed her dream job at the BBC in London in January 1998. Around this time she was mainly working with Adobe After Effects and the Quantel Harriet and Hal Express. After two years of working in weeklies, servicing Weekend Watchdog, Healthcheck and other specials, Sophia created a title sequence for a peak-time programme called Innovation Nation. She also worked within a wider workflow on other specials such as a title sequence for Final Frontier, an Open University/BBC Production.
Around 2001, Sophia started working on the high-profile Liquid News programme, a daily entertainment news round-up on BBC Three, where she was tasked with redoing the titles. "Somebody suggested, ‘Why don't you do it in 3D?' I'd previously dabbled a little bit with Cinema 4D and some other applications, so I kind of slightly sunk in my seat at the thought of doing a whole programme redesign which included titles, stings and wipes, and not forgetting the content style."
Sophia was handed a Mac laptop loaded with Cinema 4D and off she went. "I had about three months to work on the redesign. I just fell in love with 3D and Cinema, and I've been using it ever since. It's been a major tool in my workflow. It's just very, very intuitive."
Sophia was one of the first people to use Cinema 4D at the BBC, and also one of the first using After Effects – everyone else was using dedicated Quantel systems. "I think when people started to see the things that could be done using other kit, it naturally generated interest," she says. "With the help of the operators I was able to transfer image sequences from hardware called the Edifis Discus Recorder, and get them onto the Quantel HAL to work on them."
With the Liquid News redesign completed, Sophia then started to do graphics ‘on the day' using Cinema 4D – in other words, the work had to be prepared that day for broadcast when the show aired in the evening. "That was quite tight," she says, "I used to get a little system going where I'd render really simple stuff in Cinema 4D with a black-and-white pass. I'd then composite it all together on the Quantel HAL Express, rather than finish it on the Mac, because it'd be quicker."
In March 2004 Sophia did a spot for the BBC World's coverage of the Oscars, using Cinema 4D's newly-introduced cel-shading module, Sketch and Toon. Then, later that year, she did the titles for the BBC's US Elections, which showed an exploding American flag made of glass. The shards fragmented into space, viewed from different camera angles, before reforming again.
Sophia joined the Children's BBC news programme Newsround in 2005, providing titles and graphics for the seven-minute daily show. "I did 3D on the day all the time," she explains, "Again, I had the kind of workflow where, just to make everything easier, I couldn't use global illumination or ambient occlusion, because it'd just chew up precious time."
These days, however, she wouldn't be without global illumination (GI). "GI's something I love," she says, "I use it on pretty much everything. When I render now with the Cinema 4D renderer, I have to have GI on everything. I really like lighting with the Physical Sky, too. I think it's an underrated bit of lighting. My passion and experience in photography has influenced my interest in GI and now hyper-real rendering."
Sophia employed Cinema 4D's Physical Sky on Paper Town, a short animation for the BBC News Business Unit in 2014, in which an entire town made of folded paper is seen to grow from the ground up – which was actually collapsing cloth-based meshes, recorded as a PLA sequence and then animated in reverse. It's one of the most complex pieces she's done, she declares. "It was quite intensive, with the Cappuccino tool and all the dynamics and the baking. But the thing is, once one was worked out, then it was the same workflow for everything. And then it became really easy after that." Paper Town was subsequently nominated for a PromaxBDA Global Excellence Award in New York.
Another example she cites is PM2.5, a 2015 explainer for the BBC's science editor, David Shukman. The sequence mixed 3D elements with video footage of Shukman on a Beijing street. "I used the Physical Sky, and that worked really, really well," says Sophia. "I had a rough idea of what time and where they shot it, and then wrapped the same shot V.T. [video footage] around the Sky object." The resulting lighting and reflections helped sell the notion of the CG elements belonging in the real-world scene. The sequence was nominated for a PromaxBDA Global Excellence Award for ‘Best Art Direction & Design: News Program Informational Graphics', earning Sophia a Bronze award.
As well as her work for the BBC, Sophia also undertakes freelance work for clients, and last year did a title sequence for an Arabic TV programme called Human Rights. "I built a fully functional zoetrope in Cinema," she explains, "and it just went down really, really well. The figures were Poser figures, but I kind of stripped them back and added walk cycles and stuff. I thought it was quite a successful project and incredibly well received, so I thought, I'm just going to enter it into as many awards as I can to help my own exposure as an independent. I was quite surprised that it won nine awards!"
However, the project Sophia is most proud of is the title sequence for BBC School Report (2017). "Basically, the concept is about putting the microphone brand through a process of manufacture which all comes together in the end. This compares to a real-life production team with varied roles and skill sets that all come together to bring the final production to the viewer. So you start off with the little granules that come out of the hopper, and then at the other end it spits out this plastic, unprinted microphone cube."
Inspired by Pixar's Wall-E – in particular the robots, M-O and Burn-E – and the mechanisms in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, the sequence employed Cinema 4D's dynamics plus some rigging for the robot arm and cabling.
On the subject of inspiration, in 2016 Sophia created a sting for the BBC's Spending Review brand, which was based on the architecture of the Guggenheim Museum. The spot, which turns the Spending Review logo into a layered ‘monument,' earned her a bronze at the PromaxBDA Global Excellence Awards in New York.
"With Spending Review I had to work from a pre-existing logo and make a new sting, which is no easy task," she comments. "I thought that I'd take the logo and make it look like the Guggenheim Museum. I messed around with the cloners, changing the scale and the height and so on, and it started to look quite dynamic from certain camera angles." The scene was set up as a template enabling an on-the-day designer to change the images in After Effects, using various mattes and exported cameras.
In terms of the future, Sophia already has a brand new pilot lined up and is as keen now on 3D as she's ever been. "I'm really interested in making things look real," she states. "So I can see myself getting interested in special effects and high-end projects, including film. I also have plans to work on animated film projects where I can explore further the art of storytelling and find interesting ways to engage with the audience."
Steve Jarratt is a long-time CG enthusiast and technology journalist based in the UK.
All images courtesy of BBC News, Additional material courtesy of Sophia Kyriacou.
Sophia Kyriacou Website
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