Makers At Heart | 2D Lead Carl Norton on what makes sporting collaborations unique & how he’s staying inspired

Community March 31, 2021

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In our Makers At Heart series, we introduce the people behind the projects to hear more about their inspirations, motivations and creative insights. We spoke to 2D Lead Carl Norton about what makes sporting collaborations unique and how he’s maintaining his inspiration while working at home.


Tell us a little bit about your role as 2D Lead and how long you have worked at The Mill?

September this year will mark my ten-year anniversary working at The Mill. As a 2D Lead, we look to cover a job from beginning to end. It depends on the job and the relationship with the director but I will always aim to be involved from a very early stage, generating ideas, the technical approach and how the project will be realised. Having an understanding of how certain approaches can be undertaken can be really important in steering the outcome of a project. Sometimes having good ideas on approach can open up avenues that hadn’t previously been considered and can lead to a collaboration in making something different.

We will advise pre-shoot and then supervise the shoot to make sure we’re getting everything we need to complete the project. Once we have an edit and material to work with, we will build a team to cover all aspects of the job and work together throughout. There’s a level of management involved as you become the gatekeeper for lots of different disciplines combining in the final product, as well as bringing everything together internally we will run regular meetings with the director and agency to collaborate on the direction the job takes.

You’ve worked on multiple sports projects, what are the challenges that these types of projects pose?

All jobs come with their own unique challenges. In Nike ‘Never Ask’ we were creating the stadium and crowd. We shot some rain in-camera to give interaction with the players but were left with large areas to fill with CG rain. The challenge here is to get the CG rain to match the in-camera rain as there really is nowhere to hide when combining the two within a single shot. We also had to find a way to bring the in-camera rain back over the stadium and crowd. Crowds come with the challenge of making something on a large scale that manages to feel individual and random at the same time. If the animation is too uniform it quickly stands out. We built in a large amount of break-up in what was happening within the crowd to hide any repetition and make it really believable.

Adidas ‘Create the Answer’ presented different challenges. As a studio shoot, there was a lot of scale needed to create the final environments. In the Pogba section of choreographed freestylers, we combined CG crowds with set extensions and CG footballs that needed to be perfectly timed out and animated to the players. We wanted to create something that had symmetry whilst maintaining a level of believable imperfection. Some of the scenes are created from multiple plates, giving some freedom to compose the shots. With so many balls filling the screen it became quite an exercise in working out where and when the ball should be infront or behind certain players – plenty of roto and painting!

Nike ‘Awaken the Phantom’ was another huge stadium job. Alongside the challenges mentioned above, there was a lot of smoke and atmospherics. In the final shot, we rebuilt the grass surface and had layers of CG smoke to be integrated as the main character is pulled into the abyss. As he runs his fingers through the grass there was a certain amount of interaction that we needed to keep. The CG grass had to match in look and be carefully integrated into the scene to hide any joins. As he interacts with the smoke he is pulled through, he had to be roto-animated to give the correct interference and layering in the final result.

What are the key differences in working with sporting clients compared to clients from other sectors?

On a technical level the role stays the same, however, it’s really important to have an appreciation and understanding for the work you’re creating and the intended audience. Clients will be used to working in this arena and it really helps the relationship with clients and directors if you bring ideas that are relevant. Broadly speaking sports jobs are very current and it helps to be in touch with the industry. I tend to find that sports jobs often open up opportunities for a range of contemporary effects, whether it be through Design, CG or even 2D effects. High energy and a young audience can call for a broader and cooler range of aesthetics, especially in an age of mixed media.


What is keeping you inspired?

I feel like there’s never been a more important time to find ways to stay inspired. As a company, we are so used to looking over each other’s shoulders, something that has sadly been temporarily taken away from us. I make sure that I continue to share work and talk to other people within The Mill, as well as staying on top of work coming out of different production companies.

No matter the campaign, I find that there are elements to extract and inspire future work. This can come down to any element of the work that we do. Sometimes I’ll find technical approaches that can be re-appropriated in different ideas or have elements that could lend to a larger idea. Other times it can be less technical, and more traditional in its inspiration. Great cinematography, abstraction or choreography. Really it’s about being immersed in the industry that we are in and the wider context of film, photography and art in general. We work in an industry that has no limits, so I don’t think you should ever restrict where inspiration can come from.

Apart from this, it’s all about getting on my bike and traveling around, who knows what you might see.

Check out more Makers At Heart features here and get in touch with our VFX team regarding any upcoming projects here.