Talking to Maryyann Landlord (TikTok)

Discussing animation tools, working with real-time engines, and more.

This week, I’m talking to Maryyann Landlord, a CG Generalist at TikTok.

Maryyann has worked as an artist, animator, and developer at Fable Studio, Disney Research, and Hanson Robotics. She and I have worked on several VR and real-time projects together, and I’m excited to share our conversation about animation tools, technology, and more below. 

Who are you?

I am an artist first, programmer second. I create experiences at the intersection of art and technology. For me, no matter the project, the concept and the story drive all the decisions. 

What do you do?

I contribute to the entire pipeline from ideation to production (2D/3D), to prototyping in the engine. Currently I work as a Computer Graphics Generalist at TikTok, collaborating with Interaction Engineers, Designers, and AI Researchers to find innovative ways to integrate new fields of research.

What skills do you need to do what you do?

Having a wide breadth of skills is super helpful in my position, since I need to work between many different departments. This would include anything from 2D design to 3D CG pipeline to programming/prototyping. 

No matter what specific slice of the pipeline you're interested in, I think it's absolutely crucial to find opportunities to collaborate with people from different backgrounds and experience. In between all of that is where innovation begins. 

What tools do you use?

At work I use Adobe Suite, Maya, Zbrush, and some TikTok in-house tools. Outside of TikTok, I use engines like Unreal and Unity for projects with interactivity. 

How does that compare to what other artists or studios use?

Some tools are similar, except for Unity and Unreal for movie studios. Bigger studios like Disney are starting to experiment with real-time tools, but the teams are small. Those tools definitely aren’t being used to make the big movies from start to finish yet. 

The traditional pipelines have been around for a long time. When studios are big, it’s hard for them to shift gears because there are so many moving parts. If new tools aren’t a full replacement for the older tools, it’s just too risky. 

What are the advantages of working with a new pipeline? 

You can do specific things faster, but there’s a caveat. I was able to move really quickly because I already had experience using other tools— way before I learned how to use real-time engines. For example, because I knew how lighting worked in Maya, I was able to achieve the look I wanted in engines like Unreal. 

In real-time engines, the feedback is instant because you don’t have to wait for renders, but achieving the results still takes time. You still need experience to achieve a specific look. 

Using a new pipeline allows you to step back and revisit why certain practices are set up a certain way— a chance to look at the bigger picture. You may find much better ways to reach your goal. Doing so also gives you a chance to learn new software that you can apply to a pipeline you’re already used to.

What are the downsides to using a new pipeline?

For people transitioning from traditional movie pipelines, there isn’t too much that’s new in terms of functionality. In game engines, you have to worry about draw calls, how you organize materials, FPS rates, and more. In traditional animation tools, those elements aren’t too big of a deal. 

In Unreal, there are differences in how you create materials, how you rig characters, and how you sequence animations. There are certain things that we take for granted with traditional animation tools that need to be built in engines like Unreal, but it’s possible. Just takes time to set up.

What are you working on next?

In my personal work, I'm exploring different ways of storytelling in VR. I'm directing an interactive narrative about the relationship between my grandparents and me. This project’s actually an example of something that combines a traditional CG workflow with a real-time engine pipeline. 

Learn more about Maryyann and see her other work on her website.


Thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or suggestions for me, DM me on Twitter or via sagarramesh.com.

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